Idealism as a Philosophical Approach towards Education

Idealism is a philosophical approach that has as its central theory that ideas are the only true reality, the only thing worth knowing. In a search for truth, beauty, and justice that is enduring and everlasting; the focus is on conscious reasoning in the mind. Plato, father of Idealism, promoted this view about 400 years BC, in his famous book, The Republic.
Plato is one of the world’s best known and most widely read and studied philosophers. He was the student of Socrates and the teacher of Aristotle, and he wrote in the middle of the fourth century B.C.E. in ancient Greece. Though influenced primarily by Socrates, to the extent that Socrates is usually the main character in Plato’s writings. At the heart of his philosophy is his “theory of forms” or “theory of ideas.” In fact, his views on knowledge, ethics, psychology, the political state, and art are all tied to this theory. According to Plato, reality consists of two realms. First, there is the physical (sensible) world, the world that we can observe with our five senses. And second is intelligible world, a world made of eternal perfect “forms” or “ideas” i.e. what we discover using the intellect.
The main focus of idealism is that ideas and knowledge are the truest reality. Many things in the world change, but ideas and knowledge are enduring. Idealism was often referred to as “idea-ism”. Idealists believe that idea can change lives. The most important part of a person is the mind. It is to be nourished and developed. Idealism emphasizes' individual and social aims of education. It gives importance to the aim of self-realization which leads the child towards perfection and enables him to realize the self.
Plato believed that there were four levels or approaches to knowledge and genuine understanding. They are illustrated in the Republic in the allegory of the cave and the divided line. Level one is guided by images, stories, guesses and opinions, level two is guided by practical common sense, trial and error approach or practical, level three is a theoretical scientific approach seeking to understand why things are as they are and finally level four is a philosophical approach, by which theories are themselves evaluated i.e. true understanding.  Plato believed that there are two worlds. The first is the spiritual or mental (intelligible) world, which is eternal, permanent, orderly, regular, and universal while the second is the world of appearances (sensible or visible), the world experienced through sight, touch, smell, taste, and sound, that is changing, imperfect, and disorder. These two worlds are imagined as existing on a line that can be divided in the middle: the left part of the line consists of the visible world and the right part of the line makes the intelligible world. Each half of the line relates to a certain type of knowledge: of the visible world which can only have opinion and of the intelligible world from which we achieve knowledge. These two halves are also further divided into two. The visible or changing world is divided into belief and illusion or imagination, which is made up of shadows and reflections. On the other hand, the intelligible world is divided into the intelligence or full understanding (ideas) and dialectics i.e. reasoning or judge.
In the visible world, Plato discusses that the things as shadows and reflections and thoughts about them, are very changeable and unclear. He means more than these physical shadows and reflections. In this world, he describes the sorts of second hand, uninformed views that people hold, not finding themselves about the world, but just believing what they are told, for example in the newspapers. On one hand, the commonsense views on the physical world and on the other hand matters such as morality fall under belief. Unlike illusion, belief is informed by a direct study of the world which is little clearer. It still takes the world as it appears for reality, so it isn’t yet knowledge.
In the intelligible world, knowledge has two divisions, reasoning and intelligence. Reasoning relies on assumptions and imaginations whereas intelligence does not. A good example of reasoning is geometry. In studying triangles, e.g. in proving that the three internal angles add up to 180°, students of geometry do not study the actual , imperfect triangles they draw, they create proofs using the idea (the form) of a triangle. On the other hand, intelligence is purer i.e. more perfect knowledge of the forms, which doesn’t use images and which treats the assumptions of mathematical reasoning as assumptions. By engaging in dialectic (judgment) - philosophical argument- we finally reach a vision, without relying on sensory images or assumptions. This type of knowledge has the greatest clarity and its objects have the greatest truth. Therefore to understand truth, one must pursue knowledge and identify with the Absolute Mind.
Plato believes that the soul is fully formed prior to birth and is perfect and at one with the Universal Being. The birth process checks this perfection, so education requires bringing hidden ideas (fully formed concepts) to consciousness. In idealism, the aim of education is to discover and develop each individual's abilities and full moral excellence in order to better serve society. The curricular emphasis is subject matter of mind: literature, history, philosophy, and religion. Teaching methods focus on handling ideas through lecture, discussion, and Socratic dialogue (a method of teaching that uses questioning to help students discover and clarify knowledge). Introspection, intuition, insight, and whole-part logic are used to bring to consciousness the forms or concepts which are latent in the mind. Character is developed through imitating examples and heroes.
Plato’s theory of forms is strongly based on what is real and what is not. What is real is thought to be perfect, but something cannot be real or perfect if it is always changing. He explains that the “World of forms” is very different to the “World of appearances”. The “World of forms” can only be understood by those who seek knowledge, not by those who do not wish to learn the truth.  The theory of forms makes a distinction between those objects that are real and those that are only real in our minds. His dialogues for e.g. the simile of the cave give us a story about moving up the line from illusion to intelligence and the consequences of doing that. It portrays knowledge as the process of leaving the cave and going into the sunlight. The people in the cave find their reality in the shadow cast in the cave and assume that there can never be anything beyond these shadows. These shadows symbolize how the world that we see is just a shadow or reflection of what is real. According to Plato, the real world is not what we see around us, it is only the “World of forms” that is real and unchanging. We only see the shadows of real objects; therefore we do not see things in their whole or entirety.
Idealism has emphasized the position of teacher. The teacher has been described as a living ideal and co­worker with God. He/she humanizes the child and develops high ideals and values in him. The teacher needs to develop eternal values in the child so that he may become an ideal human being. It stresses on self discipline and wants to develop child's personality through discipline. Idealism is a system that emphasizes the pre-eminent importance of mind, soul, or spirit. Through idealism, an educator can see the whole world entirely i.e. what is real and unchangeable.
"The Platonic idealist is the man by nature so wedded to perfection that he sees in everything not the reality but the faultless ideal which the reality misses and suggests..."
-- George Santayana, Egotism in German Philosophy.

Assignment no. 2 written by Daniala Sara Anthony
JOHN JACQUES ROUSSEAU (Naturalism) (1712-1778)
                Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born June 28, 1712 in Geneva and died July 2, 1778 in Ermenonville, France. He was one of the most important philosophers of the French enlightenment. He was born in a poor house of a watch maker he was not educated properly he received informal education by his father at home. At the age of 13 he was apprenticed to an engraver. However, Rousseau left Geneva at 16, wandering from place to place, finally moving to Paris in 1742. He earned his living during this period, working as everything from footman to assistant to an ambassador. In 1735 he worked as a tutor to the two sons of M. De Malby in Lyon. This job developed his interest in education and he was motivated to prepare his first treatise, called “project for the Education of M. De Sainte- Maria”. Sainte- Maria paid a great attention towards the early social training, being the elder of the two boys.  In 1742 he moved to Paris. There he became a close friend of David Diderot, who was to commission him to write articles on music for the French Encyclopedia. Through the sponsorship of a number of society women he became the personal secretary to the French ambassador to Venice - a position from which he was quickly fired for not having the ability to put up with a boss whom he viewed as stupid and arrogant. During his stay in Paris’ in 1750 a competition was held by the academy of Dijon he got an opportunity to participate in an essay competition. The topic of the essay was “Has the restoration of the arts and sciences contributed to the purifications of the morals”. He began his literal fame and anti social-bias by this opportunity. Themes of these essays were: that human are by nature good and it is society's institutions that corrupt them. The essay earned him considerable fame and he reacted against it. He seems to have fallen out with a number of his friends and the (high-society) people with whom he was expected to mix. This was a period of reappraisal. On a visit to Geneva Jean-Jacques Rousseau reconverted to Calvinism (and gained Gene van citizenship). He attributed the existing operations and corruption of the society to the advancement of civilization and that good people are made unhappy and corrupted by their experiences in society. He viewed society as "artificial" and "corrupt" and that the furthering of society results in the continuing unhappiness of man. In 1753 he wrote his second book “The Origin of Inequality among Men” here again he discussed about the cause of dissimilarity among men is the civilization.

     Rousseau's essay, "Discourse on the Arts and Sciences" (1750), argued that the advancement of art and science had not been beneficial to mankind. He proposed that the progress of knowledge had made governments more powerful, and crushed individual liberty. He concluded that material progress had actually undermined the possibility of sincere friendship, replacing it with jealousy, fear and suspicion.  He wrote that the decline and fall of ancient people coincided with the growth and knowledge among them. The days of their poverty, simplicity and ignorance were also the days of their strength, their happiness and their innocence. However he believed that Education is a necessary evil. ‘The
Social Contract” and “Emile” came up in 1762.
                 Rousseau's most important work is "The Social Contract" describes the relationship of man with society. Contrary to his earlier work, Rousseau claimed that the state of nature is brutish condition without law or morality, and that there are good men only a result of society's presence. In the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men. Because he can be more successful facing threats by joining with other men, he has the impetus to do so. He joins together with his fellow men to form the collective human presence known as "society." "The Social Contract" is the "compact" agreed to among men that sets the conditions for membership in society. The book Emile is based on a boy and how the sophisticated society of Europe came into being. Emile is the theme of the latter and discussed former and imaginary description of the education of a boy. (Khalid, 1974 & Grimsley, 1973)

          Aims and Objective of Education
                 Rousseau was the leader of the Naturalistic Movement. Rousseau’s philosophy was based on the principle that everything is good when it comes from God’s hand but due to its influence of the society it steadily degenerates.  He emphasized that traditional and formal education was manmade and therefore undesirable and he was against this educational system. He believes that education is the development of the child’s inner disposition and it is certainly not about imparting information or seeking knowledge. He also said that the first and the most important part of education, precisely that which the entire world neglects is that of preparing a child to receive education. Rousseau says that education comes to us by nature, man and things. Here he is regarding nature as equal to endowment. According to nature is repeatedly interpreted to the development of a child. The naturalistic hierarchy of educational objectives represents a complete reversal of traditional purposes of the school, chiefly, perfecting of man’s highest powers via study of literature, philosophy, and classics. (Rusk, R.R., 1956 & Khalid, 1974).
                 Rousseau said that a child is born good, free from all sins. After the influence of society he learns evil. In Christian era a child is born with mortal sin and therefore he was treated harshly. Rousseau focused on that period of a child where he develops different stages and builds his character.        (Khalid, 1974).
                 According to Rousseau as cited in Khalid, 1974, “Childhood has its place in the sequence of human life; the man must be treated as man and the child as a child”. He emphasized that a child has different capacity of learning and he builds his character gradually. He should be treated differently, not like adult humans and being a learner he should be given enough space to learn and grow on his own because in the end he is the result of the society. People are always looking for an adult in the society without even knowing what a child is. Rousseau was the first one to give childhood its rightful place. He felt the need of education according to the demands of a child. (Khalid, 1974)

                  Rousseau concept of education was also Naturalism. As a philosophy of education it was developed in the 18th century and was based on the assumption that nature represents the wholeness of reality. It was a concept that firmly believes that ultimate reality lies in the nature of the matter. Matter is considered to be supreme and mind is the functioning of the brain that is made up of matter. Nature, itself, is a total system that contains and explains all existence including human beings and human nature. The whole universe is governed by laws of nature and they are changeable. It’s through our sense that we are able to get the real knowledge. The senses works like real gateways of knowledge and exploration is the method that helps in studying nature.
            We are born weak, we need strength; helpless, we need aid; foolish, we need reason. All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education.
         ~Jean Jacques Rousseau
               Education must conform to the natural processes of growth and mental development. This root principle, already touched upon, stems from a concern to understand the nature of the child and follows from naturalism’s conception of the pupil. It is the makeup of the learner that determines the character of the learning process, not the designs of teachers of the learner or there simply will be no learning. (Grimsley, R. 1969) 
      Rousseau focused that Education should be pleasurable; for children they should have a good time when they are learning. This readiness for specific kinds of activity is evidenced by their interest. Consequently, interest in a subject and interest in ways of doing things are guides to parents and teachers, both as to subjects of study and methods of teaching for which children have a natural readiness at any given stage of development. (Grimsley, R. 1969) 

                  One of the most influential book on political theory is and Emile in May 1762, a classic statement of education. The 'heretical' discussion of religion in Emile caused Rousseau problems with the Church in France. The book was burned in a number of places. Within a month Rousseau had to leave France for Switzerland - but was unable to go to Geneva after his citizenship was revoked as a result of the passion over the book. He ended up in Berne. In 1766 Jean-Jacques Rousseau went to England (first to Chiswick then Wootton Hall near Ashbourne in Derbyshire, and later to Hume's house in Buckingham Street, London) at the invitation of David Hume. True to form he fell out with Hume, accusing him of disloyalty (not fairly!) and displaying all the symptoms of paranoia. In 1767 he returned to France under a false name (Renou), although he had to wait until to 1770 to return officially. A condition of his return was his agreement not to publish his work. He continued writing, completing his Confessions and beginning private readings of it in 1770. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was banned from doing this by the police in 1771 following complaints by former friends such as Diderot and Madame d'Epinay who featured in the work. The book was eventually published after his death in 1782. (Rusk, R.R., 1956)
                      Emile is an imaginary description on the education of a boy named Emile possessed ordinary intellectual abilities. The aim of Emile education was to prepare him for life. Although Emile was selected among rich boys, Rousseau made an apology for the selection of the boy was rich and not poor. Rousseau justifies his choice by saying that it is the ordinary people that had to be educated and their education alone can serve as a pattern for the education as their fellow being. In Emile Rousseau discussed about three different phases of education; the natural or negative, the social or moral, the civic or politician. (Khalid, 1974)
                      Rousseau's gift to later generations is extraordinarily rich - and problematic. Émile was the most influential work on education after Plato's Republic, The Reveries played a significant role in the development of romantic naturalism; and The Social Contract has provided radicals and revolutionaries with key themes since it was published. Yet Rousseau can be presented at the same time as deeply individualist, and as controlling and pandering to popularist totalitarianism. In psychology he looked to stage theory and essentialist notions concerning the sexes (both of which continue to plague us) yet did bring out the significance of difference and of the impact of the environment. In life he was difficult he was difficult to be around, and had problems relating to others, yet he gave glimpses of a rare connectedness. (Herbart, J.F.1902).

Grimsley, R. (1969) Jean-Jacques Rousseau: A study in self-awareness. Cardiff, University of Wales Press.
Herbart, J.F. (1902). The Science of Education. Boston : D.C.Heath & Company.
Khalid, T. (1974). Education: An Introduction to Educational Philosophy and History. Karachi, S.M. Printers.
Rusk, R.R. (1956). Philosophical Basis of Education.University of London Press, London.

Assignment no. 3 written by Zohaib Gill                
Pragmatism and Education ---- John Dewey
Definition and Background of Pragmatism
Pragmatism originated in the United States during the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. Pragmatism in education came into prominence to fulfill an obvious need in the educational thought of America. With education becoming available to all men rather than to a select few, the country was searching for a way of viewing the educational process other than through the framework provided by the older elitist philosophies of education. As an outgrowth of the changes brought about by the Civil War, America was rapidly becoming an urban, multi-group society in which the ongoing dialogue of democracy was bogging down. Whole new languages were emerging as the nation became more industrialized and special interest group arose. One of the most important schools of philosophy of education is pragmatism. It is also as old as idealism, naturalism and realism since it is more an attitude, than a philosophy. In the fifth century B.C. Heraclitus said, one cannot step twice into the same river.  Thus, Reality is a flux, things are ever changing. This maxim is the basis of modern humanism. A famous sophist Gorgias used to say, Nothing exists and if thing exists we can never know it. This agnosticism has led to relativism in pragmatic epistemology.
The term “pragmatism” was first used in print to designate a philosophical outlook by William James (1842-1910).  James scrupulously swore, however, that the term had been coined almost three decades earlier by his compatriot and friend C. S. Peirce (1839-1914). The third major figure in the classical pragmatist pantheon is John Dewey (1859-1952), whose wide-ranging writings had considerable impact on American intellectual life for a half-century. Peirce and James traveled different paths, philosophically as well as professionally. The final member of the classical pragmatist triumvirate is John Dewey (1859-1952), who had been a graduate student at Johns Hopkins during Peirce’s brief tenure there. In an illustrious career spanning seven decades, Dewey did much to make pragmatism (or “instrumentalism,” as he called it) respectable among professional philosophers. According to Dewey, once philosophers give up these time-honoured distinctions, between appearance and reality, theory and practice, knowledge and action, fact and value, they will see through the ill-posed problems of traditional epistemology and metaphysics. Instead of trying to survey the world, Deweyan philosophers are content to keep their feet planted on and address “the problems of men.”
John Dewey’s Pragmatism (Instrumentalism) & Education
In his earliest philosophical phase, John Dewey, who has been described as the greatest as American philosophy, was a Hegelian idealist. While at the Johns Hopkins University he had fallen under the influence of George Sylvester Morris. During the first ten year of his college teaching (1884-1894), Dewey move from the idealist’s camp to the beginnings of a pragmatic philosophy which he was to characterize with the name of instrumentalism. During the twenty years immediately prior to the First World War, Dewey worked at refining his philosophy it into play in the arena of human discourse. Philosophy was, as far as he was concerned, a part of culture and the way we philosophized, as well as the things about which we philosophized, was determined in large part by this culture. While Dewey was certain not the first educational philosopher, he saw the relationship between philosophy and education in a new and wholly different manner that did his predecessors. In Democracy and Education, first published in1916, he tried to clarify the relationship. John Dewey’s philosophy and its educational implications are inextricably interwoven. As Dewey pointed out, he regarded philosophy as a general theory of education and for this reason placed a great deal of emphasis on epistemological and axiological considerations. His philosophy emphasizes the social function of intelligence that ideas are instruments of living rather than ends in themselves. Education is seen as basically a social process rooted in problem-solving and the exploration of the meaning of experience. Focus of research is to make an impact on the child’s life with regards to their individuality. Throughout the history of this philosophy, Dewey conducted experiments that fostered his thoughts and ideas. Each experiment reflected individual growth. There are several philosophers that were advocates of pragmatism. Francis Bacon had a significant influence on pragmatism. He suggested an inductive approach, which became the basis for the scientific method. John Locke was a philosopher that believed that the mind at birth is blank. He disagreed with Plato in that a person learns from experiences. Another philosopher was Jean Jacques Rousseau. He was interested in the relationship between politics and education. He believed that people are affected by the outside world, but are basically good at heart. Auguste Comte, who was not pragmatist, influenced pragmatism to use science when problem solving. Charles Sanders Peirce was an American pragmatist that never received the recognition he deserved. He believed that ideas were nothing until they have been tested in actual experiences. Another important philosopher was William James, who made pragmatism a wider public view. He believed that an idea must be tried before it can be considered good. The final philosopher, which is considered to be the greatest asset to pragmatism, was John Dewey. According to Dewey, no changeable absolutes or universals exist.
Dewey continually argues that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus the school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. In addition, he believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum, and all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning. Dewey makes a strong case for the importance of education not only as a place to gain content knowledge, but also as a place to learn how to live. In his eyes, the purpose of education should not revolve around the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills, but rather the realization of one's full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good. He notes that "to prepare him for the future life means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities". In addition to helping students realize their full potential, Dewey goes on to acknowledge that education and schooling are instrumental in creating social change and reform. He notes that "education is a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction". In addition to his ideas regarding what education is and what effect it should have on society, Dewey also had specific notions regarding how education should take place within the classroom. Dewey discusses two major conflicting schools of thought regarding educational pedagogy. The first is centered on the curriculum and focuses almost solely on the subject matter to be taught. Dewey argues that the major flaw in this methodology is the inactivity of the student; within this particular framework, "the child is simply the immature being who is to be matured; he is the superficial being who is to be deepened". He argues that in order for education to be most effective, content must be presented in a way that allows the student to relate the information to prior experiences, thus deepening the connection with this new knowledge. Dewey not only re-imagined the way that the learning process should take place, but also the role that the teacher should play within that process. According to Dewey, the teacher should not be one to stand at the front of the room doling out bits of information to be absorbed by passive students. Instead, the teacher's role should be that of facilitator and guide. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences. Thus the teacher becomes a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning within the subject area. This philosophy has become an increasingly popular idea within present-day teacher preparatory programs.
Many schools have used certain parts of the philosophy, but not many use it consciously. Most people were interested in using the practical parts than focusing on the philosophy. Pragmatism as an educational belief does not have everyone agreeing. Some believe that it is too vague and others believe it is too watered down.
After analyzing pragmatism, we feel that this philosophy best describes our teaching style. This philosophy was easier to understand and make connections. Pragmatism reminds teachers to individualize their instruction to meet the needs of each learner. One must remember to keep old traditions, but incorporate new idea.

Khalid, T. (1974). Education: An Introduction to Educational Philosophy and History.
           Karachi, S.M. Printers.
Bansal, S. Maheshwari V.K. & Agarwal S. Pragmatism and education:
Available from:
McDermid, D. (2006). Pragmatism: Available from:


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