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a. Philosophy


Aims. Philosophy seeks answers to questions in a core set of areas—logic, epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and political theory—characteristically emphasizing their normative dimensions, e.g., right behavior (ethics), good reasoning (logic), warranted claims (epistemology). Philosophy is also characteristically self-critical. Philosophers relentlessly scrutinize one another’s presuppositions and the adequacy of the methods by which inquiries into philosophy’s various domains proceed.

Content. In classical Greece the pursuit of knowledge per se was philosophy, where “natural philosophy” had to do with understanding what is typically thought of today as the empirical world. As the various disciplines developed, philosophy retained its core set of areas, which have the characteristic of cutting across the intellectual landscape. Maintaining its connection to other intellectual endeavors, philosophy spun off various philosophy ofs, such as philosophy of art, philosophy of religion, philosophy of law, philosophy of science, philosophy of medicine, and, of course, philosophy of education. These specialized areas pursue traditional philosophical questions identified within the endeavors under examination as well as particularized philosophical issues to which such endeavors give rise. A partial list of general domains of philosophical inquiry in education include the proper goals of education; the epistemic (cognitive) status of different aspects of curriculum and instruction; education, democracy, and social justice; citizenship education; multicultural education (pluralism in education); ethics of education, including the ethics of educational research; philosophy of science and educational research; the philosophy of mind (philosophical psychology) and the nature of teaching and learning; understanding as narratively structured; and the nature, scope and limits of reason and rationality.

Methods. Methods in philosophy of education, like in philosophy more generally, have a conceptual orientation. That is, philosophical investigation proceeds by tracing the implications of a given argument or picture of things, imaginatively testing it against contrary-to-fact contingencies, examining how it fits together with a broader conception of things, and so on. Though not unique to philosophical method, these features are relatively central to it, ranging from the work of logicians proving startling new things about the limits of logical systems, to phenomenologists attempting to drill down to unconditioned experience, to political philosophers describing the ideal conditions from which democratic and just deliberations would follow, to poststructuralists unmasking the role of power in determining scientific truth.

Beyond the general characteristic of a conceptual orientation, philosophical methods are too varied, nuanced, and contentious to be fruitfully enumerated and described. The choice of philosophical method is itself a rich source of ongoing philosophical examination and debate, consistent with the self-critical nature of philosophy mentioned above. But the issue of method is quite often interwoven with the development of a philosophical analysis as a whole. For example, a dispute between a poststructuralist philosopher of education and philosopher of education steeped in liberalism about the nature and extent of oppression in the public schools may be as much—or more—about methods of critique and analysis, and what these methods presuppose, as it is about competing views on oppression. Because method is typically interwoven in philosophical work in this way, philosophers of education rarely isolate and elaborate their methods in developing their analyses.


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