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The Philosophy of Education

  • 14 Pages
  • Published On: 14-12-2023

The aim of this paper is to examine philosophical views on what the aims of education should be. It has highlighted different philosophical positions on this question. Furthermore, the paper has reflected on how these aims inform current educational practice and pedagogy. From the continued philosophical probing of what the aims of education are, several aims of education have been highlighted, including knowledge, vocational aims, character, cultural aim, all round-round development, complete living, and spiritual growth, becoming a good citizen, as well as achieving democracy (Marples, 2012).

The Knowledge Aim

A large number of philosophers agree that through education, individuals can develop their individuality or fulfil their possibility using the acquired knowledge (Alexander et al., 2013). Education philosophers believe that knowledge is the power through which things get done (Alexander et al., 2013). They are of the opinion that knowledge is what has made it possible for humanity to progress because it has made us resourceful. According to Socrates, an individual with true knowledge is the one who is virtuous and uses the knowledge to grow across all spheres of people’s lives including the economic, spiritual, moral, social and physical growth (Tweed and Lehman, 2002). All the great philosophers like Bacon, Comenim, Dante, Aristotle and Socrates propounded the importance of education as being knowledge (Paul, 2017). This knowledge aim implies the development or reasoning, mental thinking abilities, ability to discriminate and judge, and the development of problem-solving abilities, memory, intelligence and imagination (Paul, 2017). According to Paul (2017), wisdom and knowledge should help achieve the greatest good for many people and should lead to individual development, economic competency, civil efficiency, healthy life, better humanity’s welfare and richer living.


Idealism theorists believe that education should lead to the development of self and the mind of a learner (Kivelä, 2012). Therefore, these authors suggest that based on the Idealism theorist’s perspective, educational institutions should emphasise self-control, individual responsibility, individual freedom, self-realization, aesthetic judgments, moral judgment and intellectual activities. According to these theorists, learning or education-imparting institutions have the responsibility refine and define our knowledge about the absolute truth. The institutions are responsible for finding and training future leaders. Idealists believe that schools should be centres for knowledge accumulation and conservation or preservation (Kivelä, 2012).

The Vocational Aim

Today, it is felt that the aim of education is mostly to prepare people to be able to earn a living, live successfully and happily (Carr, 2005). This school of thought believe that above all else, education should lead to economic self-sufficiency. This position is in line with the ancient Greek model which states that education was for the purpose of developing well-informed citizens, soldiers and statesmen, as well as craftsmen who could do different forms of labour to earn a living (Zaphir, 2019). The school also says that the culture and knowledge a person will have attained in school will be useless if they cannot be self-sufficient and a useful member of their community. Therefore, proponents of education being for vocational purposes say that education should be used to impart information, skills and knowledge to make people self-reliant and not to be dependent on others (Carr, 2005). They also say that education should enable individuals to become productive people in society by preparing them for various occupations that suit their attitudes, interests, and abilities, as well as needs (Carr, 2005). According to Gandhi, true education should be an insurance for girls and boys against unemployment (Dash, 2018). This aim agrees with the argument put forward by Naturalism theorists who believe that education is for the mind and the body and that education should help develop a person as a whole and that it should provide individuals with the opportunity grow mentally, physically, aesthetically, emotionally and socially (Kristjánsson, 2016). Additionally, naturalism theorists believe that through education, individuals should have the opportunity to grow vocationally, get employment and a useful citizen in society (Kristjánsson, 2016).

Character Development Aim

Meanwhile, Välitalo, Juuso and Sutinen (2016) claim that character or mental quality is what education should most focus on and build. These scholars argue that education only becomes meaningful and valuable when it builds people’s character. One of the greatest educators known as Herbart, a 19th century educators supports the belief that role of education is majorly morality (Tao and Ling, 2018). Similarly, M.K. Gandhi said that education should aim at building character and developing virtue, strength and courage, as well as the capacity to be selfless when working towards the greater good (Dash, 2018). According to Gandhi, should education be successful in developing individuals’ character, then society will be able to care for itself (Dash, 2018). According to Dayanand Saraswati and other great philosophers found in the east like Swami Vivekananda, character development should be education’s greatest aim. Based on these philosophers’ postulates, character includes noble and the best qualities that can be cultivated efficiently through education (Sirswal, 2014). Additionally, moral qualities or morality, which is also part of good character, include temperance, conviction, will power, forgiveness, non-violence, self-control, freedom, fellow feeling, fortitude, courage, endurance, sincerity, justice, loyalty, courtesy, honesty, truthfulness and tolerance (Flanagan, 2006).

S. Radhakrishnan believed that the problems being experienced in the world exist because education is no longer for the purpose of acquiring spiritual and moral values but simply for intellectual exercise (Dar, 2018). This school of thought believe that through character building, individuals will rise past narrow mindedness, fear, anger, and self-interest and will use the attained knowledge for the good of humanity rather than its dilapidation and destruction (Dar, 2018). Existentialist theorists also claim that education make people subjective and conscious of self through character development, to optimize their creativity and potential and to use attained knowledge to improve life quality for themselves and entire society (Koerrenz, 2017).

All-round Development Aim

This is also called the harmonious development purpose of education. Like character building, this school of thought believes that all-round development of an individual is equally important and it comprises of the aesthetic, moral, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical development a person’s development (Vansieleghem and Kennedy, 2011). According to the proponents of this aim, harmonious development of these dimensions of human life help people to become successful in different fields of life. This aim of education was first promoted by Rousseau (Jergus, 2018). This individual stated that education is a development process which leads to harmoniously balanced, rational, useful people who can live enjoyable natural lives (Jergus, 2018). Other philosophers who supported this aim, including M.K. Gandhi and Pestalozzi, claim that education is progressive, harmonious and natural development of a person’s innate powers (Mali and Patankar, 2017). These philosophers also suggested that harmonious development comprised aesthetic, moral, religious and intellectual development of an individual (Mali and Patankar, 2017). I believe that these views align with the realism theorists’ standpoint which states that the basic aim of education is to teach values and things which can result in good life (Bergh and Wahlström, 2018). Realism theorists believe that education should lead to good life that is in tune with natural moral laws, which emphasises living the right type of life, the good life (Bergh and Wahlström, 2018).

The complete living aim

Naturalistic philosophers of the 19th century like Herbert Spencer discussed this education aim in details (Saragih, 2012). According to this philosopher, education should result in whole or complete development of an individual so that they can face all life challenges in all settings and find solutions with great conviction and courage (Saragih, 2012). This philosopher argued that the main purpose of education should be to make people ready for life and be able to make the right ruling and behave appropriately in all situations. This philosopher claimed that education should tell us how to treat our bodies, manage our issues, raise or bring up our family, behave as citizens, use happiness sources that are supplied by nature, as well as how to make use of all resource to our greatest benefit for us and other people in society (Saragih, 2012).

Therefore, education should familiarize people with different means of making their lives complete and the laws which can facilitate this. According to supporters of this aim, education should pass people through activities which are associated with self-preservation, subjects like chemistry, hygiene, physiology and hygiene, sociology, biology and mathematics, knowledge that can help us in self-preservation (Lamichhane, 2018). Additionally, education should have activities that teach people about bearing and rearing children, like psychology, domestic science and physiology that are useful in understanding important principles of human growth and development (Lamichhane, 2018). Moreover, education should teach people about their political and social duties through subjects like economics, political science and history that can train individuals on how to carry out socio-political responsibilities to live properly. Lastly, this school of thought believe that through education, people learn how to use their leisure or free time in profitable ways by learning about drama, literature, painting, poetry, music and art (Lamichhane, 2018).

Spiritual aim

There is also a school of thought that believes that unlike the other aims of education, spirituality is the most important. Idealistic education philosophers, for instance, claim that the main purpose of education should be to improve people’s spirituality (Goldshmidt, 2017). They strongly believe that education should lead to the maximum growth of people’s spiritual potentialities because it is this growth that can strengthen the human mind and soul (Goldshmidt, 2017). Dr. S. Radhakrishan believes that education should neither be for world solidarity nor national efficiency. Instead, it should make people feel something deeper than just intellect, that is, feel like they are experiencing a spiritual growth (Dey, 2021). These philosophers believe that education should led to the growth of one’s soul and draw out the best and noble individual by inculcating spiritual values in individuals’ minds and to save humanity from disaster, destruction, suspicion, brutality, conflicts, fears, tensions, malevolent spirit, narrow-mindedness, disorder, chaos, violence, aggression, corruption and selfishness (Dey, 2021). By instilling good values in people, a nation’s pride can be brought back through education. The Perennialism theorists believe that education should aim at developing an individual’s spiritual and intellectual abilities to the best level to teach people everlasting ideas and enduring truths about the human world and their spirituality (Hartelius, 2017).

The citizenship aim

According to the Naturalism theorists, education should prepare people for indirect and direct self-preservation, to prepare them for parenthood and for citizenship (Liu, 2017). Based on this point of view, education should lead to a miscellaneous refinements in people’s lives. Therefore, education-imparting institutes should ensure that learners understand and master the means of preserving their physical health and general well-being (Barrow and Woods, 2006). To have good citizens, proponents of this aim believe that education should lead to a feeling of social duty and social responsibility, the love for one’s freedom, thinking of independence, a sense of foregoing one’s own interests for the greater good of the nation or community, freedom of expression, courage, and socio-political consciousness (Barrow and Woods, 2006). This aim seeks to ensure that such values are instilled in the minds of learners through organized and planned education systems (Barrow and Woods, 2006). Plato argued that the right form of education is the one which leads to good citizenship, meanwhile the other forms of education aimed to attaining bodily strength, mere cleverness, and wealth acquisition, apart from justice and intelligence, are illiberal and mean and not worthy of being called education (Gardner, 2018).

The Democratic Aim

Most quarters agree that education should also be used for the purposes of promoting democratic values in society (Eche and Ereba, 2020). Eche and Ereba (2020) claim that democratic values are fundamental or the pre-requisites for successful life in democratic societies that are built on democratic principles (Eche and Ereba, 2020). These include values like freedom, respecting other people’s dignity, promoting equality in all aspects of life, justice, believing in democracy, peaceful methods of change, co-operative living and empathy or fellow-feeling (Eche and Ereba, 2020). According to pragmatists, education should focus on the good life of today’s and future people (Pavlis, D. and Gkiosos, J., 2017). John Dewey claim, as a pragmatist, that education should be to teach learners to comfortable in learning settings to a level that learners are actually living their natural lives (Taysum, 2019). Through education learners should be taught how to self-determine and choose how and what they want to study in a particularly community framework (Taysum, 2019).

The culture aim

While this aim is important for, especially natives who still embrace their mostly unchanged way of living since the time of their ancestors, passing on of culture through education is not considered as highly important by some people, especially as compared to the other functions (Hviid and Märtsin, 2019). Culture includes the literature, religion, folk ways, tradition, customs, law, morals, art, belief and knowledge, as well as the habits and capabilities which people acquire from their society (Hviid and Märtsin, 2019). Nonetheless, there are some great education philosophers who believe that culture consists of numerous inter-related skills, goals, valued and knowledge (Hviid and Märtsin, 2019). It is believed that cultured individuals have refined personalities and have developed aesthetic tastes. These people live socially useful lives, are socially efficient, appreciate values and ideas and understand the thoughts that are good for their community. They assimilate their rich cultural experience and use them in meaningful ways to develop society (Hviid and Märtsin, 2019). According to Hviid and Märtsin (2019), culture entails the refinement of intellectual, physical, aesthetic and moral aspects of individual’s personalities. These authors opine that culture expands people’s outlooks, sharpens their interests, and promotes acceptable behaviours (Hviid and Märtsin, 2019).

Education philosophers are of the view that education helps people to acquire rich cultural practices, preserves and helps enrich it in new ways and activities (Hviid and Märtsin, 2019). The inherited rich heritage is then passed to next generations in meaningful and fruitful ways. These philosophers believe that education should be used to develop different attributes that are important for the evolution or transformation of cultured personalities because cultured individuals are invaluable assets in communities and society (Hviid and Märtsin, 2019).

Reflection and Conclusion

Indeed education should equip learners with the knowledge necessary to fulfil their potential and to progress across all spheres including the economic, spiritual, moral, social and physical growth. I also believe that knowledge is an important aim of education, because enables us to achieve self-control, individual responsibility, individual freedom, self-realization, aesthetic judgments, moral judgment and intellectual activities. Furthermore, I also believe that education would not be useful if it would not be used to prepare people to be able to earn a living successfully and happily. Of equal importance to knowledge, from my point of view is character development. Indeed the role of instilling temperance, conviction, will power, forgiveness, non-violence, self-control, freedom, fellow feeling, fortitude, courage, endurance, sincerity, justice, loyalty, courtesy, honesty, truthfulness and tolerance are some very important factors that make life go on in a peaceful way. Otherwise, the world would be in chaos. Education also helps people to acquire rich cultural practices, preserve, enrich it in new ways and activities and pass it to new generations. Clearly, by developing aesthetic, moral, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical development a person’s development, education plays a key role in forming an all-round developed individual.

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There are differences of opinions with regards to the importance of these aims. Naturalistic philosophers’ argument that education should be used to help people reach complete development and be ready for life by making right rulings and behaving appropriately is an important role in society today. Gaining vital information that make the human lives complete and the laws which can facilitate this, for instance on child birth, rearing, growth and development can indeed help bring up a society that understands the basic tenets of human life and what should be done to achieve healthy human growth and development. Spirituality is an important aspect of humanity and the role of education in imparting spiritual values that lead to spiritual growth and noble individuals can create a good society where enduring ideas and truths are promoted rather than vices like brutality, conflicts or fears. Education also helps create a democratic society where independent thinking and judgments are made and a nation with good citizens who seek personal development and the greater good for the whole society

This essay supports the view of James Beattie that education should be used, not to show people what to think but to train them in the process of thinking, to improve their minds and enable them to think independently rather than loading their memory with other people’s thoughts.


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