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     We touch hereby one problem in which philosophy might have an interesting contribution for a theory of education. Educating does not mean developing structures of cognition according to their possibilities and nature in general. Their undiscriminating development may be incompatible with certain objectives and considered undesirable by a society. Moreover, the commitment of education is not only with children’s development, but equally strong with the preservation of publicly built and judged cultural traditions of knowledge which have taken forms as branches of sciences, philosophy, arts, capacities, etc. In sum, they are aspects of life which are considered, by educators, as valuable cultural inheritances in which we aim to initiate our pupils. Therefore, educating is not only opening paths for individual development to be realized according to his ‘cognitive nature’, but also taking care of the public and social world, keeping alive the social and historical traditions we value.

     This selection of certain aspects of our public, historical and cultural traditions is not a matter of any scientific theory, nor is obtainable by a deductive process departing from a description of any aspect of human life. It is a matter of coordination of values, and as Piaget wrote in his Illusions et Sagesse de la Philosophie, one of the specific grounds for philosophy. I do not intend here to claim that establishing aims for education is a matter for professional philosophers. Of course it should be a concern of a variety of social groups which interact with educational institutions. Nor will I propose the old idea that philosophy should provide a general and coherent view of the final objectives of education. Its relevant contribution, we suggest, is a more modest, but specific one.

     The idea, inspired by Israel Scheffler’s article Philosophy and the curriculum (1970, pp.31-42), is to point out how philosophies of (science, history, mathematics etc..) might have an interesting role to play in offering ground for discussion on general conceptions and selective principles of a discipline or issue to be taught at school. Philosophies-of are always second order reflections which spring from each specific (scientific, artistic, etc...) practice. They are not, of course, normative rules, but rather theoretical views that aim at describing, codifying, understanding and criticizing each of those practices from a general epistemological (or aesthetical etc....) point of view and, as such, they obviously might also, though not necessarily, influence those practices. But our question is not exactly the relationships philosophies-of have with their direct practitioners (scientists, artists, etc....), but with teachers who are suppose to initiate their pupils into these fields.

     If we take, for an example, a science teacher we could say ".. he needs to have a conception of the field of science as a whole, of its aims, methods, and standards; he needs to have principles for selecting materials and experiences suitable for novices, and he needs to be able to communicate both with novices and with scientific sophisticates...The teacher requires, in other words, a general grasp of science and a capacity to formulate and explain its workings to the outsider. The scope of this requirements is...virtually indistinguishable from that of philosophy of science". (Ibid., p.35/36).

     Thus an educator, just like a philosopher, needs a general view of the subject or issue he is teaching to his pupils. This general view embodies a form of thought, that is, a set of concepts, theories, modi-operandi, a range of problems and cannons of dealing with these problems which have historically constituted that particular knowledge. These mental habits, modi-operandi in their historical and logical aspects is exactly the field of work of philosophers-of. They do not have as objects the scientific (historical, artistic...) problems themselves, but the analysis and articulation of the forms of thoughts of an area.

     On the other hand, the teacher’s task is to initiate their pupils into the grasp of these forms of thought. An articulated and general view of these forms is not a necessary requirement to their acquisition as practical abilities, but it is highly involved in the task of choosing strategies to facilitate their acquisition by pupils. The contact of a teacher with the philosophy of his subject may offer him this articulated analysis and understanding of forms of thought and, thus, more clarity on his objectives. " Certainly, for his larger practical goal, the teacher needs more than clarity of objectives. Equally, however, no amount of educational experimentation or psychological information can substitute for such clarity".(Ibid. p.38).

     Moreover, the analytical understanding of a form of thought provides another important contribution to a teacher: cannons of criticism and evaluation of that particular area. Questions such as those of evaluating the epistemological warrant of scientific theories justifications, or of mathematical certainty, or of reliability of philosophical or historical reasoning, or evaluations of the functions of literature or the aesthetical value of certain forms of art are central topics of philosophies-of.

     As such, they may provide teachers with criteria of selection of items for curriculum choices, for a teacher’s commitment to the traditions of a particular field is not a blind and dogmatic one, but, on the contrary, requires from him a conscious election of certain valuable aspects of that particular tradition. Obviously philosophies-of "do not provide the educator with firmly established views of justification, on the contrary, they present him with an array of controversial positions. But this array, although it does not fix his direction, liberates him from the dogmatisms of ignorance, gives him a realistic apprehension of alternatives, and outlines relevant considerations that have been elaborated in the history of the problem". (Ibid. p.39).

     In sum, philosophies of may offer the teacher analytical understanding of the subject or ability he is to teach and, along with it, the necessary reflection to grasp a general view and some selective principles to operate with in his task of providing conditions of initiating his pupils in forms of thought considered worthwhile. As we suggested before, any attempt to build up a theory or a program of education relies, among other things, upon selective principles. If we are, then, to postulate the idea of a theory or program of education based on Piaget’s theory, his works on specific philosophies of (e.g.: Logique et Connaissance Scientifique and Psychogenesis and History of Science) should play an important selective and analytical role.


     As we have tried to demonstrate along this paper, the idea of an educational theory or an educational program based on Piaget’s genetic epistemology requires much more than simply transferring concepts and being acquainted with stages and mechanisms of cognitive development. His scientific and empirical researches had other interests than education, consequently, other perspectives and problems. Whether or not we can derive from his theory some interesting perspective for educational theory and programs is a question that cannot be answered a priori, it needs effective and hard work and criterious evaluation.

     However, if we do not carefully pay attention to the specific traits of educational process, our work will be in vain. Among these traits we pointed out that the educational process is an institutional one. Therefore specific researches on cognitive development and learning should be carried out in this setting, having in mind that the objectives of schooling cannot be simply reduced to the development of an individual. It is an educational aim of first importance to choose among the different social and historical traditions, values, knowledge and practices, those which are to be preserved. Not preserved to remain intact, but to be used by the new generations in the inevitable changes any living tradition has to go through, if it is to be a living inheritance.

     Finally we pointed out one specific role his writings may have if we are to think a theory or a program of education: the possibility of resorting to his writings on philosophies of different sciences to offer teachers an analytical and general view of each branch of knowledge they are supposed to teach. This possible field of research, linked to other specific theoretical and empirical inquires may offer researches and teachers a wide and articulated view of the educational process. Nevertheless, a program theoretically based on these researches should be evaluated as any other principle of action, by the pertinence of its moral aims, responsiveness to social problems and efficiency. We should, then, avoid the common and old fallacy which consists in thinking our programs ought to be right since we finally have the real concept of intelligence, of man, of learning. These are not objects to be discovered once and for all, like elephants and continents. Nor are they unequivocal guidelines for actions of any sort, no matter how interesting and accurate they might be.



Passmore, John. The Philosophy of Teaching. London, Duckworth, 1984.

Peters, Richard. (ed.) The Concept of Education. London, Routledge, 1968.

Ryle; Gilbert. Dilemmas.Cambridge, C.U.Press, 1957.

___________. The concept of Mind.London, Hutchinson’s, 1949.

Scheffler, Israel. The language of education. Springfield, C.Thomas, 1967.

______________. Reason and Teaching. London, Routledge, 1970.