Higher Education

March 1, 2011

What place does philosophy have in education?

According to “many of the greatest philosophers of the Greek and Roman world [the role of philosophy in education] has three elements, closely connected, and all traced by Stoics to Socrates:-

1) Philosophical education is practical. It is the rational search for the best human life. Its subject is, above all, the study of moral and social conceptions, and its purpose (as Musonius later makes plain) is, through reflection, the amelioration both of the individual student’s life and, through the choices of educated individuals, of the surrounding society.

2) In philosophical education the pupil is active. It is not the passive reception of external truths, but the following out of paths of rational and critical argument—indeed, the enlivening and developing of the pupil’s rational soul. (For this reason, Musonius later stresses, it must be closely tailored, in each case, to the needs of the particular student, like the prescriptions of a good doctor.)

3) Philosophical education should be broadly distributed. It is appropriate to all who are by nature rational beings, that is, beings capable of practical and ethical reasoning. (Epictetus was a slave when he attended Musonius’ lectures. Later he became a free man and a distinguished philosopher.)”


Philosophy should be taught at every level. Start with six-year-olds and have it a compulsory subject for every student in every grade. The key here is Musonius’ assertion that philosophy is “to examine and inquire into how one should live well.” Kids could be asked to put themselves in another person’s shoes and then decide what to do in a given situation. Clarifying the situation would be part of the process. There must be a book about this somewhere. If anyone knows of one, please let me know in Comments.


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