In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Philosophy of Education

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies and Collections
  • Encyclopedias
  • Societies and Journals
  • Futures of Philosophy of Education

Philosophy Philosophy of Education
Michael A. Peters, Marek Tesar, Kirsten Locke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 December 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0168


Philosophy of education is the philosophical study of education, often understood as a field of applied philosophy that draws from established branches of philosophy in epistemology, ethics, axiology, and politics to raise and address questions of educational aims, methods, and problems, and of educational policy, pedagogy, and curriculum. Like any field, it has multiple histories, approaches, and models of practice. It is a diverse intellectual enterprise with roots going back to the great philosophers of the Western tradition, most of whom engaged with educational issues in some way. Western education and philosophy is “heliocentric,” stemming from Socrates, who conceived of education as inseparable from philosophy and politics, especially in the preparation of the citizen, and as providing a foundation that is summarized in the Greek concept of paideia, denoting excellence and transmission of cultural norms. The field can be characterized by successive and overlapping historical phases, taking a formal turn in the post–World War II era, with the so-called analytic “revolution” in philosophy and the institutionalization of the field with the adoption of methods and approaches from analytic philosophy. In this article we have restricted ourselves to the Western tradition, beginning with the classification of classical to the early modern, even though the term “classical” might be considered in relation to Chinese, Indian, and Arab classical texts. Since the 1980s, philosophy of education has been more diverse, with the development of socialized fields and new areas of interest that are based around subject areas such as philosophy of arts education or around specific groups such as early-childhood education, or around political orientations such as feminism, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, citizenship education, and indigenous and intercultural education. The aim of this article is to acknowledge the histories and diversity of the field of philosophy of education and to point to lines of its future development.

Anthologies and Collections

Anthologies and collections on philosophy of education tend to draw on the rich philosophical history and its connecting points with education. Education in the age of the Enlightenment became based on scientific principles and was held responsible for embodying and transmitting various ideals, including universal access and literacy, individual liberty, and political unity. Rene Descartes was one of the leading French representatives initiating a scientific revolution who helped to define modernity as the search for certainty and defined a philosophy of subjectivity. Major philosophers in the Early Modern period included Francis Bacon and John Locke, who pioneered British empiricism, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and such thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment as David Hume, who either wrote specific texts or made occasional observations on education. Notable among Enlightenment philosophers, Immanuel Kant’s moral and political philosophy bequeathed a tradition that emphasized an ethics of autonomy as the basis of human freedom. In the early 20th century, John Dewey was a figure of major importance, both in the first period of “progressive education,” when he wrote Democracy and Education in 1916 (see Dewey 2008, cited under Dewey, Democratic Education, and the Origins of American Pragmatism), and thereafter in the 1980s, when his work was revitalized, especially at the hands of Richard Rorty, who extended pragmatism through his treatment of naturalism, liberalism, and ethnocentrism. R. S. Peters was one architect of the analytic revolution in philosophy, which was based on the “linguistic turn,” and he argued that it was the task of philosophers of education to clarify key concepts of familiar and theoretical discourse. His work and that of his colleagues in the “London school” reinvented the tradition of liberal education. The following texts attempt to cover the mentioned streams in the form of anthologies and collections that emphasize the breadth and depth of the philosophy of education. These collections deal with the nature and theory of the philosophy of education (Archambault 1972, Lucas 1969) or provide important and useful handbooks of philosophy of education (Siegel 2009; Bailey, et al. 2010; Blake, et al. 2003). In the two anthologies included in this section, original texts of key thinkers are included (Curren 2007, Cahn 2009), while Cahn 2009 follows each original text with an interpretative essay.

  • Archambault, Reginald D., ed. Philosophical Analysis and Education. International Library of the Philosophy of Education. New York: Humanities Press, 1972.

    This is a seminal text in analytic philosophy of education, emphasizing the importance of conceptual analysis of educational language as a preliminary to theoretical clarification. The essays are grouped into four major sections, including the nature and function of educational theory, the context of educational discussion, conceptions of teaching, and the essence of education. Originally published in 1965.

  • Bailey, Richard, Robin Barrow, David Carr, and Christine McCarthy, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Philosophy of Education. London: SAGE, 2010.

    A very clear and comprehensive overview of philosophy of education, featuring the work of English-speaking scholars. This handbook provides a clear overview of theory, practice, and key figures in educational philosophy, through well-edited essays. Very useful as an introductory text for students.

  • Blake, Nigel, Paul Smeyers, Richard Smith, and Paul Standish, eds. The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education. Blackwell Philosophy Guides. Oxford: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996294

    This edited volume provides an interesting overview of the development of the philosophy of education in the 20th century. In twenty chapters, various educational philosophers present their work on such themes as social and cultural theories, politics and education, philosophy as education, teaching and curriculum, and ethics and upbringing. A useful volume both for students and current researchers.

  • Cahn, Steven M., ed. Philosophy of Education: The Essential Texts. New York: Routledge, 2009.

    Ten seminal texts that contributed to the philosophy of education, from such classic philosophers as Plato, Rousseau, Kant, Wollstonecraft, and Whitehead. Each section contains the original text followed by a critical commentary. Well selected and edited, the essays and commentaries emphasize the historical and modern importance of these thinkers.

  • Curren, Randall, ed. Philosophy of Education: An Anthology. Blackwell Philosophy Anthologies 27. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.

    Intended to be a beginner’s guide to the philosophy of education, this anthology contains a wide range of works by philosophers from Antiquity to the present day, offering insight into the range of complexity of the subject. A well-edited book that highlights both traditional and current concerns in education.

  • Lucas, Christopher J., ed. What is Philosophy of Education? Toronto: Macmillan, 1969.

    In this collection, more than forty-five authors contribute to the question “what is philosophy of education?” This collaboration brings multiplicity and diversity of views on the subject to the forefront, raising many questions pertinent to the philosophy of education.

  • Siegel, Harvey, ed. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195312881.001.0001

    This excellent introductory text to the philosophy of education features key thinkers in the field and explores, in twenty-eight essays, various topics relevant to the philosophy of education. While the text features only Anglophone scholars, it provides a strong and well-organized overview relevant both to students and scholars.

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