Prominent Western philosophers have given lasting contributions to the subject matter: Socrates developed his famous dialectical method, Plato talked about diverse education and Aristotle saw education as a moral training. Rousseau, on the other hand, went against prevalent currents to argue that the true nature of education can be found in free pursuit of knowledge without social corruption.
How to educate the young most efficiently has been one of the central philosophical issues since the Ancient Greek period. Virtually every famous philosopher in the Western tradition has held a view on education and argued for it in his writings. However, final solutions to key issues have not been reached. Even though they were intellectually quite closely related, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle held diverging views on the issues of education, and the radical critic of Enlightenment, Jean Jacques Rousseau, together with his followers went against the entire Western tradition in terms of his views in this domain.
Socrates was one of the most famous philosophers and educators of the Hellenic period. Perhaps even more famous is his teaching method called the Socratic Method or Socratic Dialogue. In this method, the teacher uses questions and problematic observations to elicit arguments from the students. The method serves as a tool that shapes and polishes arguments (Noddings 1995, p. 12). Socratic dialogue is still practiced by educators, but it is effective mostly in the domain of hypothesis forming and argument building, while in the area of factual knowledge it finds little use.
Plato developed a Utopian view of education in his conception of the ideal state. He believed in diverse education, which meant that it is necessary to determine the inborn talents in different persons and develop those talents as much as possible. In his ideal state, some people would be warriors, others would be craftsmen and the most intelligent one’s would-be rulers. The height of human achievement is the ruler mentality equipped with knowledge of art, history, philosophy and mathematics (Noddings 1995, p. 13).
The contradictory part of Plato’s philosophy is that he believes that the highest positions should be given by merit while at the same time stating that the society should determine the educational route of each child.
Aristotle was mostly concerned with moral education. He believed that it is not enough to transfer cognitive abilities to children, but that the school has to instill moral character in the young. In line with his theory of morality as a habit, he saw moral education as a moral habit formation or a process similar to training. The right to question moral assumptions comes only after the person has already completed the necessary moral training and achieved the moral character (Noddings 1995, p. 15).
Rousseau was one of the thinkers that started to question the entire tradition of educational theory stemming from the origins in Ancient Greece. Because he viewed society as a corruptive force, his position was that the social environment should work as a facilitating factor in the learning process while avoiding all negative, corruptive influences (Noddings 1995, pp. 17-18). Learning should come from the inward impulses of the child and the opportunities for learning should cater to those demands.
In conclusion, the problems related to education do not cease to fascinate philosophers. Prominent Western philosophers have given lasting contributions to the subject matter: Socrates developed his famous dialectical method, Plato talked about diverse education and Aristotle saw education as a moral training. Rousseau, on the other hand, went against prevalent currents to argue that the true nature of education can be found in free pursuit of knowledge without social corruption.
Noddings, N. (1995). Philosophy of education. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.