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The Rigor of the Connection Between Philosophy and Education

** NOTE: The plain-text version of this article, below, has been corrected by the author to remove typographical errors generated by an OCR (optical character reader). Page breaks have been indicated in [square brackets]. Footnotes originally indicated by half-sized superscripts have been entered in [square brackets].


Kenneth R. Conklin, "The Rigor of the Connection Between Philosophy and Education," paper read at national convention of Philosophy of Education Society, Denver, April 1969. Published in PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION 1969: PROCEEDINGS OF THE TWENTY-FIFTH ANNUAL MEETING OF THE PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION SOCIETY, ed. Donald Arnstine. Edwardsville, Ill.: Studies in Philosophy and Education, 1969, pp. 127-131.



(Concurrent Session II - Section A)

Kenneth Robert Conklin
Oakland University

Most of us would agree that it is meaningful to assert that philosophy and education are connected. Yet, the meaningfulness of that assertion is open to question.[1] One type of philosopher would say that philosophy and education are connected just in case anyone has invented paradigms which connect them. The question whether they are connected asks about a matter of historical fact, and the possibility of determining the fact in a publicly verifiable way makes it meaningful to assert that philosophy and education are connected. This approach is weak because any capricious stipulation of a paradigm answers the question "yes." A different, perhaps opposite, type of philosopher would say that the question whether philosophy and education are connected is a metaphysical question which can be answered only by way of a priori investigation into the nature of philosophy and education. The invention of a paradigm which purports to connect them does not settle the issue, unless there is proof that the paradigm is a correct representation of the connection. This approach is weak because the question must go unanswered until the problems of metaphysics have been solved. It seems, then, that we are stuck either with arbitrary stipulation or with metaphysical guarantees, and both approaches are unsatisfactory.[2]

Most of us believe that there are connections between philosophy and education, and the interesting problem is to characterize those connections. The most rigorous sort of connection would be a logical one; i.e., the establishment of implication relations between philosophical and educational statements. At the extreme of logical rigor

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would be the computerization of philosophy of education. Axioms of a philosophic system would be encoded and fed into a computer, and the decoded output would be theorems in the form of prescriptions for education or descriptions of educational practices labeled "good." Computerization would be possible only if philosophic systems could be axiomatized, and that degree of rigor has never yet been achieved.[3] Some famous philosophers believe it might be possible: Russell once tried to axiomatize the philosophy of Leibnitz.[4] However, Godel's Proof[5] (that any axiom-system sufficiently complex to include arithmetic is incomplete and cannot be internally proved consistent) might apply to any axiomatization of a philosophic system, and the lack of completeness together with the lack of an internal proof for logical consistency would be a fatal shortcoming for any philosophic system. At least one writer has proposed that philosophy is related to education in the same way as scientific theories are related to observed phenomena.[6] Thus, a philosophic system could be regarded as an axiomatic-deductive system whose theoretical concepts are linked to observational labels by way of epistemic correlation (Northrop), correspondence rules (Margenau), or rules of interpretation (Hempel). Of course Godel's Proof would apply here in the same way as above, but the incompleteness and failure to prove consistency would affect only the axiomatization of philosophy and would not interfere with making the connection to education. However, there is an unavoidable arbitrariness here in the choice of a set of philosophic axioms, the choice of a process for logical deduction, and the choice of particular theoretical concepts to be linked with particular observational labels. This proposal is also bound up in the debate among philosophers of science concerning the status of theoretical entities. If theoreical entities are eliminable by means of Ramsey sentences or Craig's Theorem, then philosophy could be eliminated from educational discourse and the connection between philosophy and education would vanish.

If epistemic correlation is currently unattainable or in principle unsatisfactory, the next most rigorous type of connection between philosophy and education would be the syllogism. Both Burnett[7] and Frankena[8] have explored the possibility that chains of syllogisms be constructed where the conclusions of earlier syllogisms provide premises for later ones. Original major premises would come from philosophy, while minor premises would be supplied from the cultural or educational context. Terminal conclusions would be prescriptions for concrete educational practices or descriptions of practices to be labeled "good." Certain general dificulties in this approach have been noted by Sing-nan-Fen.[9] Bandman has made an in-depth study of the precise conditions which must be met if such syllogisms are to be acceptable,[10] and he seems to say that it is extremely difficult to construct syllogisms which are both acceptable and significant.

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Aside from the agonizing slowness of good syllogism construction, there are a number of factors which drastically reduce the rigor of this method. The law of non-contradiction does not apply to philosophy of education, in the following sense: both a premise and its negation may be counted as "true" while retaining a particular educational conclusion; also, both a prescription for education and its negation may be validly deduced from a given set of philosophic premises. The law of excluded middle does not apply to philosophy of education in the following sense: there are prescriptions for education such that neither the prescription nor its negation can be deduced from a given set of philosophic premises; also, if one wishes to maintain the "truth" of a given educational prescription he may be able to do so without either accepting or rejecting some particular set of philosophic premises. The failure of the law of non-contradiction has been amply demonstrated by Ennis[11] for both the educational implications of philosophic systems and philosophic presuppositions of educational programs. The failure of the law of excluded middle would follow from the application of Godel's Proof, and is certainly correct for the present extent of our knowledge.

It seems, then, that the rigor of the connection between philosophy and education is no better than the rigor of the connection between maps and itineraries. No map ever requires the acceptance of a particular itinerary; indeed, no map is ever sufficient by itself to produce an itinerary. One must know how to read a map before he can use it. In order to construct an acceptable itinerary, one must do several things besides selecting and reading an appropriate map: he must know where he is and where he wishes to end up, and he must take into account such side factors as whether he wishes to get there in the least time or with the least traveled distance or by way of the most scenic route. Different maps might be used to justify a particular itinerary, while one map might be used to justify conflicting itineraries. In spite of this lack of rigor, we believe it is rational to use maps in constructing itineraries or to revise maps so they more accurately represent itineraries which are actually traveled. The rigor of the connection between maps and itineraries is sufficient for rationality although weak enough that there is considerable mystery, and the same is true for the connection between philosophy and education.

The relation between maps and itineraries is strikingly similar to the relation between antecedent and consequent in the use of each of these devices: models, operational definitions, metaphors, and slogans. Philosophic systems or statements can be used as models, metaphors, or slogans for educational programs, while philosophic statements may be operationally defined to yield such programs.[12] There is also a loose sense in which we can make a "contextual implication" (Nowell-Smith) or pragmatic implication[13] where philosophy and education are assumed to be connected in a certain way because action which is

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thought to be rational could not be rational without such a connection.[14]

Axiomatic-deductive, syllogistic, and epistemic correlation methods are seldom used to generate new knowledge, even in mathematics and physics. Computerization is possible only after axiomatic-deductive and syllogistic methods have succeeded. These methods are in turn used to formalize, exhibit, or prove statements whose truth was already established or hypothesized by means of less rigorous devices such as models, operational deinitions, metaphors, slogans, and contextual implications. Furthermore, those less-rigorous logical devices all involve arbitrary verbal stipulations and are formalizations designed to express non-logical (i.e., non-verbal) connections previously known by some other means.

The non-logical connections between philosophy and education are therefore the most fundamental although the least rigorous. These nonlogical connections may occur as any of the following types: causal-correlational, aesthetic, or teleological. Words (whether spoken or written) may be viewed as physical entities, together with actions. There is thus an empirical correlation between a teacher's expressed philosophic opinions and his educational actions: both may be thought of as unwittingly caused by his personality dispositions.[15] Philosophic opinions and classroom interactions can each influence the other, without a teacher's awareness, by way of reconstructing the teacher's personality.[15] Likewise, there is an empirical correlation between the "philosophy of a nation" and its educational institution: both may be thought of as unwittingly caused by the cultural ethos (note especially the sociologies of knowledge espoused by Mannheim, Pareto, and Sorokin).[17] The philosophy of a people and the educational institution can each inluence the other by way of social reconstruction. There is an aesthetic coherence between the meaning of a philosophic system and the gestalt of an educational situation. Sometimes a teacher's observed actions clash with an observer's philosophic convictions, so that criticism is forthcoming; on other occasions, praise indicates a feeling of harmony between the two. In these cases a philosophic system is appreciated as a whole entity having a basic meaning which may be adhered to with emotional conviction, while an educational situation is similarly appreciated as a whole. There is also a teleological connection between philosophy and education in the sense that philosophic purposes are fulfilled by educational actions. A teacher may benefit from criticisms if it is pointed out to him that his classroom actions fulfill philosophical purposes which clash with his felt commitments.

In every case, the aesthetic, teleological, or causal-correlational connection between philosophy and education is present before it is ever noticed or verbalized. Once verbalized, the connection can be formalized, by means of one of the less rigorous logical devices, as a logical connection between statements. When many such statement-connections

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have been made, it may be possible to develop a chain of syllogisms, or an axiomatic-deductive system. In every case, however, the next-most-rigorous formulation of the connection is a formalized expression of connections previously established by less rigorous means, and the heart of the connection between philosophy and education is non-logical and hence non-rigorous.[18]


[1] Robert L. Wilhoyte, "Is it Meaningful to Assert that Philosophy and Philosophy of Education are Logically Related?" Educational Theory, XV (Jan., 1965), 13-18.

[2] Bertram Bandman has characterized both approaches and proposed an alternative. See the abstract of his dissertation, "The Logic of Educational Questions," in Dissertation Abstracts, XXIII (Oct.,1962), 1385-86. See also his book, The Place of Reason in Education (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1966).

[3] P.H. Nidditch, The Development of Mathematical Logic (New York: The Free Press, 1962), Chapter 3, "The Idea of a Complete, Automatic Language for Reasoning," pp. 14-23.

[4] Bertrand Russell, A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz (2nd ed.; London: George Allen and Unwin, 1937).

[5] Kurt Godel, "Uber Formal Unentscheidbare Satze der Principia Mathematica und Verwandter Systeme I," Monatshefte fur Mathematik und Physik, XXXVIII (1931), 173-198. For a good discussion of Godel's proof in language which a nonmathematician can understand, see Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman, Godel's Proof (New York: New York University Press, 1958) .

[6] Michael John Parsons, "A Discussion of the Logical Connection Between Philosophic Theory and Educational Practice" (unpublished master's dissertation, College of Education, University of Illinois, Uribana, 1965).

[7] Joe R. Burnett, "Observations on the Logical Implications of Philosophic Theory for Educational Theory and Practice," Educational Theory, XI (Apr., 1961), 65-70. Also by Burnett, "An Analysis of Some Philosophical and Theological Approaches to the Formation of Educational Policy and Practice," in Robert E. Mason (ed.) , Proceedings of the Seventeenth Annual Meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society (1961), pp. 7-30.

[8] William K. Frankena, Philosophy of Education (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1965, Chapter 1. Also by Frankena, Three Historical Philosophies of Education (Chicago: Scott Foresman and Co., 1965), Chapter 1.

[9] Sing-nan Fen, "On Frankena's 'Introduction' to Philosophy of Education," in Francis T. Villemain (ed.) Philosophy of Education 1966: Proceedings of the Twenty Second Annual Meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society (Edwardsville, Ill.: Studies in Philosophy and Education, 1966), pp. 140-44.

[l0] Bertram Bandman, "The Logic of Educational Questions" (Ph.D. dissetation, Columbia University, 1962), abstract noted earlier. Book also noted earlier.

[11] Robert H. Ennis, "Assumption-Finding," in B. Othanel Smith and Robert H. Ennis (eds.) Language and Concepts in Education (Chicago: Rand McNally and Co., 1961), Chapter 11, pp. 161-78.

[12] The following references are especially useful:
Marc Belth, Education as a Discipline (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1965). Israel Scheffler, The Language of Education (Springield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1960).
B. Paul Komisar and James E. McClellan, "The Logic of Slogans," in Smith and Ennis op. cit., pp. 195-214.
Gordon Ross Eastwood, "Observations on Slogan Systems," Canadian Education and Research Digest, IV (Sept.,1964), pp. 208-18. See also by Eastwood "Philosophical Analysis and Language in Education" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1962).
Robert Sterling Swanson, "The Operational Deinition and Measurement of Educational Philosophy" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1955). Abstracted in Dissertation Abstracts, XVI (1956) , p. 717.
Donald W. Felker, "A Measuring Instrument for Philosophers of Education," in Villemain, op. cit., pp. 237-40.

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[Footnote 12 continued]

For a discussion of root-metaphors in philosophic systems, see Stephen C. Pepper, World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1942).

[13] Hobert W. Burns, "The Logic of the 'Educational Implication','' Educational Theory, XII (Jan., 1962), 53-63.

[I4] Carl G. Hempel, "Rational Action," Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, XXXV (1961-62) (Yellow Springs, Ohio: Antioch Press, 1962), pp. 5-23.

[15] For supporting evidence of an empirical nature, see:
Francis Edwin Peterson, Philosophies of Education Current in the Preparation of Teachers in the United States ("Contributions to Education," No. 528; New York: Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1933).
Gerald Edmund McDonald, "Educational Philosophies in Collegiate General Education" (Ed.D. dissertation, Stanford University, 1955). Abstracted in Dissertation Abstracts, XVI (1956), p. 82.

[16] Philip George Smith, "The Role of Philosophy in the Preparation of School Administrators" (Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1954). Abstracted in Dissertation Abstracts, XX (Feb., 1960), 3166-67.

[17] Raymond Holder Wheeler, "A Set of Postulates for Educational Theory," Journal of Educational Research, XXVIII (Jan., 1935), 321-33.

[18] The Present Paper is based on chapters 4 and 5 of my doctoral dissertation. See Kenneth Robert Conklin, "The Relevance Problem in Philosophy of Education" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana, 1967). See also "The Properties of Relevance Between Philosophy and Education," Educational Theory, XVIII (Fall, 1968), 356-64.

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