• Faculty of Arts
  • School of Historical and Philosophical Studies
  • Current students
  • Undergraduate

Philosophy essay writing guide


This guide is intended to give new students of philosophy some preliminary advice about writing philosophy essays at university. For many of you, writing a philosophy essay will be something of a new experience, and no doubt many of you will be a little unsure of what to expect, or of what is expected of you. Most of you will have written essays in school for English, History, etc. A philosophy essay is something a little different again. However, it is not an unfathomable, mysterious affair, nor one where anything goes.

Just what a philosophy essay is will depend a lot, as you'd expect, on just what philosophy is. Defining philosophy is always a more or less controversial business, but one way to think of what is done in university philosophy departments is to think of the difference between having a philosophy and doing philosophy. Virtually everyone "has a philosophy" in the sense that we have many basic beliefs about the world and ourselves and use certain key concepts to articulate those beliefs. Many of us initially come to thus "have a philosophy" (or elements of several philosophies) often only unconsciously, or by following "what's obvious" or "what everybody knows", or by adopting a view because it sounds exciting or is intellectually fashionable.

"Doing philosophy", on the other hand, is a self-conscious unearthing and rigorous examination of these basic beliefs and key concepts. In doing so, we try to clarify the meanings of those beliefs and concepts and to evaluate critically their rational grounds or justification. Thus, rather than having their heads in the clouds, philosophers are really more under the surface of our thinking, examining the structures that support - or fail to support - those who trust that they have their feet on the ground. Such examination may even help to develop new and firmer ground.

Doing philosophy, then, begins with asking questions about the fundamental ideas and concepts that inform our ways of looking at the world and ourselves, and proceeds by developing responses to those questions which seek to gain insight into those ideas and concepts - and part of that development consists in asking further questions, giving further responses, and so on. Human beings across the world have been engaged in this sort of dialogue of question and response for many centuries - even millennia - and a number of great traditions of reflection and inquiry have evolved that have fundamentally influenced the development of religion, art, science and politics in many cultures. The influence of philosophical thinking on Western civilization, in particular, can be traced back more than 2,500 years to the Ancient Greeks.

In philosophy, a good essay is one that, among other things, displays a good sense of this dialectic of question and response by asking insightful, probing questions, and providing reasoned, well-argued responses. This means that you should not rest content with merely an unintegrated collection of assertions, but should instead work at establishing logical relations between your thoughts. You are assessed not on the basis of what you believe, but on how well you argue for the position you adopt in your essay, and on how interesting and insightful your discussion of the issues is. That is to say, you are assessed on how well you do philosophy, not on what philosophy you end up having. Nonetheless, you ought to make sure that your essay's discussion is relevant to the topic. (See Section 5.2 below on relevance.)

It is hoped that you enjoy the activity of essay writing. If you have chosen to study Arts, it is likely that you will have a particular interest in - even a passion for - ideas and the variety of forms and genres in which ideas are expressed and explored. The argumentative or discursive formal academic essay is one such form, and one which can be a pleasure to read and to write. Thus, the assessment that is set in philosophy courses is primarily an invitation to you to pursue what is already (or, hopefully, soon to be) your own interest in writing to explore ideas. However, your immediate goal in writing an academic philosophy essay ought not to be to write a personal testament, confession or polemic. Rather, you should primarily aim at articulating, clearly and relatively dispassionately, your philosophical thinking on the topic at hand. Nevertheless, the kind and degree of personal development one can gain from taking up the challenge to think and to write carefully, clearly and thoroughly is certainly something to be greatly valued.

This guide is intended to help you get started in the business of writing philosophy essays. As you practise your philosophical writing skills, you will develop your own technique, and learn what is appropriate in each particular case. So you may well come to "work around" many of these guidelines. Nonetheless, it is important that you pass through that which you seek to pass beyond.* In addition to your own writing, your reading of other philosophers will help you to develop your sense of what constitutes good philosophical writing. As you read, note the various styles and techniques that philosophical authors employ in their treatment of philosophical issues. Practice and studying good examples, then, are the most valuable ways to develop your essay writing skills.

This guide is, moreover, only one of many publications that introduce philosophy students to essay writing. Some others you may like to consult include:

  • A. P. Martinich, Philosophical Writing, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997)
  • J. Feinberg and R. Shafer-Landau, Doing Philosophy: A Guide to the Writing of Philosophy Papers, 2nd ed. (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2001)
  • Z. Seech, Writing Philosophy Papers, 4th ed. (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2003)
  • R. Solomon, "Writing Philosophy", Appendix to his The Big Questions: A Short Introduction to Philosophy, 6th ed. (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2001)
  • S. Gorovitz et al., Philosophical Analysis: An Introduction to its Language and Techniques, 3rd ed. (New York: Random House, 1979)

Also, the websites of many philosophy departments in universities around Australia and the world contain downloadable essay writing guides or links to them.

*This phrase is adapted from Jacques Bouveresse, "Why I am so very unFrench", in Alan Montefiore, ed., Philosophy in France Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 12.

What do I do in a Philosophy essay?

Philosophy essay topics are not designed to provide an intellectual obstacle course that trips you up so as to delight a malicious marker. They are designed to invite you to "grapple with" with some particular philosophical problem or issue. That is to say, they are designed to offer you an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of a particular philosophical problem or issue, and to exhibit your own philosophical skills of analysis, argumentation, etc. These twin goals are usually best achieved by ensuring that your essay performs two basic functions (your understanding and your skills apply to both):

an exposition of the problem or issue in question (often as it is posed in some particular text); and a critical discussion of the problem or text

These two functions can, but need not always, correspond to physically or structurally distinct sections of your essay. See Section 5.1.

The expository ("setting forth") aspect of your essay is where you should make clear what the issue is and why it is an issue. Where you are dealing with an issue as it is presented in some particular text, your aim should be to make clear what it is that the author in question meant in their text, what they see as the issue and why they see it as an issue. This does not involve merely quoting or paraphrasing a text. Of course, occasional quotation and paraphrase may be appropriate - sometimes necessary - but these ought not to constitute the sole or major content of your exposition. Where you do quote or paraphrase, make sure you attribute your sources in footnotes or endnotes. (See Section 7.)

Exposition is, then, primarily a matter of developing in your own words what you think the issue is or what you think the text means. In all expository work you should always try to give a fair and accurate account of a text or problem, even when the exposition becomes more interpretive rather than simply descriptive. You ought to be patient and sympathetic in your exposition, even if you intend later to criticise heavily the philosopher in question. Indeed, the better the exposition in this regard, usually the more effective the critique.

An important part of exposition is your analysis of the text or issue. Here you should try to "break down" the text, issue or problem into its constitutive elements by distinguishing its different parts. (E.g. "There are two basic kinds of freedom in question when we speak of freedom of the will. First, … . Second, …", or "There are three elements in Plato's conception of the soul, namely... He establishes these three elements by means of the following two arguments... ") This also involves showing the relationships between those elements, relationships which make them "parts of the whole".

As well as laying out these elements within a text or issue, you can also (when appropriate or relevant) show how a text or issue "connects up with" other texts, issues, or philosophical and/or historical developments, which can help to shed further light on the matter by giving it a broader context. (eg "Freedom of the will is importantly connected to the justification of punishment", or "Plato's tripartite theory of the soul bears interesting resemblances to Freud's analysis of the psyche", or "Kant's transcendental idealism can be seen as reconciling the preceding rationalist and empiricist accounts of knowledge".)

An exposition of a text need not always simply follow the author's own view of what it means. You should, of course, demonstrate that you understand how the author themself understands their work, but an exposition can sometimes go beyond this, giving another reading of the text. (eg "Heidegger might deny it, but his Being and Time can be read as developing a pragmatist account of human understanding.") A given text or issue may well be susceptible to a number of plausible or reasonable interpretations. An exposition should aim to be sensitive to such variety. When appropriate, you should defend your interpretations against rivals and objections. Your interpretation ought, though, to be aimed at elucidating the meaning or meanings of the text or issue and not serve merely as a "coat-hanger" for presenting your own favoured views on the matter in question, which should be left to your ...

Critical discussion

This is where your thought gets more of the centre stage. Here you should attempt to develop a response to the issues which your exposition has made clear, and/or, in the case of a discussion of some particular text, attempt to give a critical appraisal of the author's treatment of the issue. In developing a response to a philosophical problem, argumentation is, again, of central importance. Avoid making unsupported assertions; back up your claims with reasons, and connect up your ideas so that they progress logically toward your conclusions. Consider some of the various objections to and questions about your views that others might or have put forward, and try to respond to them in defence of your own line of thinking. Your goal here should be to discuss what you have expounded so as to come to some conclusion or judgement about it. ("Critical" is derived from the Ancient Greek for "to decide, to judge".) Critical discussion is thus not necessarily "destructive" or "negative"; it can be quite constructive and positive.

In the case of a critical appraisal of a particular author's text, you can negatively criticise the author's arguments by pointing out questionable assumptions, invalid reasoning, etc. If, on the other hand, you think that the text is good, then your critical discussion can be positive. This can be done by revealing its "hidden virtues" (that is, by showing that there is more to the author's arguments and views than what lies on the surface) and/or by defending an author against possible and/or actual criticisms. (eg "Norman Malcolm argues that Descartes is mistaken in assuming that dreams and waking episodes have the same content.* However, Malcolm fails to appreciate the subtlety of Descartes' argument in the First Meditation, which allows Descartes to claim . . .") Just to expound an author's arguments and then say "I disagree" or "That seems right" is not really enough - you need to "have something to say" about it. Of course, by all means go on, after finding fault with some philosopher, to answer in your own way the questions tackled or raised by the author. (eg "Simone de Beauvoir's analysis of women's oppression in The Second Sex suffers from serious weaknesses, as I have shown in Section 2 above. A better way to approach the issue, I shall now argue, is to . . .".)

Where you are not primarily concerned with evaluating or responding to a particular text, your critical discussion can be more focused on your own constructive response to the issue. (eg "Having used Dworkin's account to clarify the meanings of the concepts of 'the sanctity of life' and 'voluntariness', I shall now argue that voluntary euthanasia is morally permissible because its voluntariness respects what is of value in the notion of the sanctity of life" - where you now leave Dworkin behind as a source and move on to give your own account.)

* See Norman Malcolm, "Dreaming and Skepticism", in Willis Doney, ed., Descartes: A Collection of Critical Essays (London: Macmillan, 1967), p. 56.

Guide to researching and writing Philosophy essays

5th edition by Steven Tudor , for the Philosophy program, University of Melbourne, 2003.

This fifth edition of How to Write a Philosophy Essay: A Guide for Students (previous editions titled A Guide to Researching and Writing Philosophy Essays ) was prepared in consultation with members of the Philosophy program, the University of Melbourne. For advice and assistance on this and earlier editions, thanks are due to Graham Priest, Barry Taylor, Christopher Cordner, Doug Adeney, Josie Winther, Linda Burns, Marion Tapper, Kimon Lycos, Brendan Long, Jeremy Moss, Tony Coady, Will Barrett, Brian Scarlett, and Megan Laverty. Some use was also made of materials prepared by the Philosophy Departments of La Trobe University, the University of Queensland, and The Australian National University.

Disclaimer: University, Faculty and program rules

Please note: this booklet does not provide authoritative statements of the official policies or rules of the University of Melbourne, the Faculty of Arts, or the Philosophy program with regard to student essays and examinations or any other matters. Students should, therefore, not rely on this booklet for such information, for which they should consult the various appropriate notice boards, handbooks, websites, and/or members of staff.

Essay topics

What do philosophy essay topics look like? There are, very roughly, two basic kinds of philosophy essay topics: "text-focused" topics and "problem-focused" topics. Text-focused topics ask you to consider some particular philosopher's writing on some issue. (eg "Discuss critically David Hume's account of causation in Part III of Book I of his A Treatise of Human Nature " or "Was Wittgenstein right to say that 'the meaning of a word is its use in the language', in his Philosophical Investigations, Sec. 43?"). Problem-focused topics are more directly about a particular philosophical problem or issue, without reference to any particular philosopher's text. (eg "Is voluntary euthanasia morally permissible?" or "What is scientific method?")

There is another sort of topic, one which presents a statement and asks you to discuss it, where that statement is a "made up" or, at least, unattributed quote. (eg. "'Without belief in God, people cannot be moral'. Discuss.") I shall regard these as variations of the problem-focused type of topic. Where you are asked to discuss some such statement "with reference to" some specified text or philosopher, then that topic becomes more text-focused. (eg "'Without belief in God, people cannot be moral'. Discuss with reference to J.L. Mackie's Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. ") Occasionally, a topic presents an unattributed statement, but the statement is, in fact, a quote from a particular philosopher you've been studying, or, at least, a good paraphrase of their thinking. (An example of the latter: "'All the ideas in our minds originate from either sense perception or our reflection upon sensory information.' Discuss.", in a course devoted to John Locke, whose views are summed up in the quoted statement, though those words are not actually his.) Should you take such topics as problem- or text-focused? Rather unhelpfully, I'll say only that it depends on the case. You might ask your lecturer or tutor about it. Whichever way you do take it, be clear in your essay which way you are taking it.

The difference between text-focused and problem-focused essay topics is, however, not very radical. This is because, on the one hand, any particular philosopher's text is about some philosophical problem or question, while, on the other hand, most philosophical problems (certainly virtually all those you will be given as essay topics at university) will have been written about by previous philosophers.

The basic way to approach text-focused topics, then, is to treat the nominated text as an attempt by one philosopher to deal with a particular philosophical problem or issue. The essay topic will, generally speaking, be inviting you to do philosophy with that philosopher, to engage with them in thinking about the issue, whether that engagement proves to be as an ally or an adversary. The chosen text will usually be one which has been (or deserves to be) influential or significant in the history of philosophy, but the task is not to pay homage to past masters. But, even if homage is your thing, the best way to do that here is to engage with the master philosophically.

With regard to problem-focused topics, you will often find your exploration of the problem aided by taking some text or texts which have dealt with it as reference points or prompts. This is not always strictly necessary, but many of you starting out in philosophy will find it helpful to do so - it can help you give focus to your response to the question. (Thus, you might, in an essay on the topic "Is voluntary euthanasia morally permissible?" take it upon yourself to use, for example, Ronald Dworkin's Life's Dominion and Peter Singer's Practical Ethics as reference points. Or, in an essay on the topic "What is scientific method?", you might set up your answer via a comparison of the two different accounts in Karl Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Paul Feyerabend's Against Method.*) How will you know which texts to adopt as reference points or prompts, if none is mentioned in the essay topic itself? One way is to consider what texts have already been mentioned with regard to the topic in your course reading guide and in lectures and tutorials. Another way is to do some of your own research. On this see Section 4 below.

* In this guide, in giving examples of how to go about answering an essay question, I am not necessarily giving any concrete or reliable advice for any particular topic. The examples are primarily to do with the form or style or strategy you might find helpful.

Researching your essay

To do research for your philosophy essay you need to do only two things: read and think. Actually, for problem-focused essays, thinking is the only truly necessary bit, but it's highly likely that you will find your thinking much assisted if you do some reading as well. Philosophical research at university is a little different to research in most other disciplines (especially the natural sciences), in that it is not really about "collecting data" to support or refute explanatory theories. Rather, the thinking that's involved in philosophical research (as part of one's preparation for philosophical writing) is more a matter of reflecting critically upon the problems in front of one. Researching the writings of other philosophers should, therefore, be primarily directed towards helping you with that reflection rather than aiming at gathering together and reporting on "the relevant findings" on a particular topic. In many other disciplines, a "literature review" is an important research skill, and sometimes philosophy academics do such reviews - but it is rare that philosophy students are asked to do one.

What, then, to read? It should be clear from your lectures and tutorials what some starting points for your reading might be. (All courses provide reading guides; many also have booklets of reading material.) Your tutor and lecturer are also available for consultation on what readings you might begin with for any particular topic in that subject. Independent research can also uncover useful sources, and evidence of this in your essay can be a pleasing sign of intellectual independence. Make sure, though, that what you come up with is relevant to the topic. (See Section 5.2 below on relevance.) Whichever way you proceed, your reading should be purposive and selective.

In the case of essay questions that refer to a particular text, you should familiarise yourself thoroughly with this text. Usually, such a text will be a primary text, i.e. one in which a philosopher writes directly about a philosophical issue. Texts on or about a primary text are called secondary texts. (Many philosophical works will combine these two tasks, and discuss other philosophical texts while also dealing directly with a philosophical issue.) Some secondary texts can be helpful to students. However, don't think you will only ever understand a primary text if you have a nice friendly secondary text to take you by the hand through the primary text. More often than not, you need to have a good grasp of the primary text in order to make sense of the secondary text.

How much to read? The amount of reading you do should be that which maximises the quality of your thinking - that is, you should not swamp yourself with vast slabs of text that you can't digest, but nor should you starve your mind of ideas to chew over. There is, of course, no simple rule for determining this optimal amount. Be wary, though, of falling into the vice of looking for excuses not to read some philosopher or text, as in "Oh, that's boring old religious stuff" or "She's one of those obscure literary feminist types", or "In X Department they laugh at you if you mention those authors in tutes". If someone wants a reason not to think, they'll soon come up with one.

Philosophical writings

Most philosophical writings come in either of two forms: books or articles. Articles appear either in books that are edited anthologies or in academic journals, such as Philosophical Quarterly or Australasian Journal of Philosophy. Some academic journals are also on the internet. Most articles in the journals are written by professional philosophers for professional philosophers; similarly with many books. But by no means let this put you off. Everyone begins philosophy at the deep end - it's really the only kind there is!

There are, however, many books written for student audiences. Some of these are general introductions to philosophy as a whole; others are introductions to particular areas or issues (eg biomedical ethics or philosophy of science). Among the general introductions are various philosophical dictionaries, encyclopedias and "companions". These reference works collect short articles on a wide range of topics and can be very useful starting points for newcomers to a topic. Among the most useful of the general reference works are:

  • Edward Craig, ed., The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (10 vols.) (London: Routledge, 1998)
  • Paul Edwards, ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (8 vols.) (New York: Macmillan, 1967)
  • Robert Audi, ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
  • Ted Honderich, ed., The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)
  • Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • Thomas Mautner, ed., The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy (London: Penguin, 1998)
  • J.O. Urmson and Jonathan Ree, eds., The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers (London: Routledge, 1993)
  • Edward N. Zalta, ed., The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (an internet-based reference work: plato.stanford.edu/ )

Note taking

Note taking, like your reading, should not be random, but ought to be guided by the topic in question and by your particular lines of response to the issues involved. Note taking for philosophy is very much an individual art, which you develop as you progress. By and large it is not of much use to copy out reams of text as part of your researches. Nor is it generally helpful to read a great number of pages without making any note of what they contain for future reference. But between these two extremes it is up to you to find the mean that best helps you in getting your thoughts together.

Libraries and electronic resources

The University's Baillieu Library (including the Institute of Education Resource Centre), which is open to all members of the University, contains more than 2,500 years' worth of philosophical writings. The best way to become acquainted with them is by using them, including using the catalogues (including the Baillieu's on-line catalogues and subject resources web-pages), following up a work's references (and references in the references), intelligent browsing of the shelves, etc.

In the main Baillieu Library, the philosophical books are located (mostly) between 100–199 in the Dewey decimal system, and philosophical journals are located in the basement. The Reference section on the ground floor also has some relevant works. The Education Resource Centre also has a good philosophy collection.

In addition to hard-copy philosophical writings, there is also a variety of electronic resources in philosophy, mostly internet-based. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy was already mentioned above. Links to other useful internet sites (such as the Australasian Association of Philosophy website) can be found through the Baillieu Library's web-page and the Philosophy Department's web-page.

A strong word of warning, however, for the would-be philosophical web-surfer: because anyone can put material on a website, all kinds of stuff, of varying levels of quality, is out there - and new-comers to philosophy are usually not well placed to sort their way through it. Unless you have a very good understanding of what you're looking for - and what you're not looking for - most of you will be much better off simply carefully reading and thinking about a central text for your course, eg Descartes' First Meditation, rather than wandering about the internet clicking on all the hits for "Descartes". Exercise your mind, not your index finger.

Writing your essay

Planning and structuring your essay.

It is very important that you plan your essay, so that you have an idea of what you are going to write before you start to write it. Of course, you will most likely alter things in later drafts, but you should still start off by having a plan. Planning your essay includes laying out a structure. It is very important that your essay has a clearly discernible structure, ie that it is composed of parts and that these parts are logically connected. This helps both you and your reader to be clear about how your discussion develops, stage by stage, as you work through the issues at hand.

Poor essay structure is one of the most common weaknesses in student philosophy essays. Taking the time to work on the structure of your essay is time well spent, especially since skill in structuring your thoughts for presentation to others should be among the more enduring things you learn at university. A common trap that students fall into is to start their essay by writing the first sentence, then writing another one that seems to follow that one, then another one that sort of fits after that one, then another that might or might not have some connection with the previous one, and so on until the requisite 1,500 words are used up. The result is usually a weak, rambling essay.

There are, of course, no hard and fast rules about how to structure a philosophy essay. Again, it is a skill you develop through practice, and much will depend on the particular topic at hand. Nonetheless, it might be helpful to begin by developing an essay structure around the basic distinction between your exposition and your critical discussion (as discussed above). In this it will be important that you make clear who is putting forward which point, that is, make it clear whether you are presenting your own thoughts or are expounding someone else's. (Again, confusion in this regard is a common problem in student essays.) It can often help your structuring if you provide headings for different sections (possibly numbered or lettered). Again, this helps both your reader to follow your discussion and you to develop your thoughts. At each stage, show clearly the logical relations between and the reasons for your points, so that your reader can see clearly why you say what you say and can see clearly the development in your discussion.

Another key to structuring your essay can be found in the old adage "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Tell 'em. Then tell 'em what you've told 'em", which provides you with a ready-made structure: Introduction, Main Body, and Conclusion.

In your Introduction, first introduce the issues the essay is concerned with. In doing so, try to state briefly just what the problem is and (if there is space) why it is a problem. This also applies, of course, to issues covered in text-focused essay topics. Next, tell the reader what it is that you are going to do about those problems in the Main Body. This is usually done by giving a brief sketch or overview of the main points you will present, a "pre-capitulation", so to speak, of your essay's structure. This is one way of showing your reader that you have a grasp (indeed, it helps you get a grasp) of your essay as a structured and integrated whole, and gives them some idea of what to expect by giving them an idea of how you have decided to answer the question. Of course, for reasons of space, your Introduction might not be very long, but something along these lines is likely to be useful.

In your Main Body, do what you've said you'll do. Here is where you should present your exposition(s) and your critical discussion(s). Thus, it is here that the main philosophical substance of your essay is to be found. Of course, what that substance is and how you will present it will depend on the particular topic before you. But, whatever the topic, make clear at each stage just what it is you are doing. You can be quite explicit about this. (eg "I shall now present Descartes' ontological argument for the existence of God, as it is presented in his Fifth Meditation. There will be three stages to this presentation.") Don't think that such explicitness must be a sign of an unsophisticated thinker.

A distinct Conclusion is perhaps not always necessary, if your Main Body has clearly "played out" your argument. So you don't always have to present a grand summation or definitive judgement at the end. Still, often for your own sake, try to state to yourself what it is your essay has achieved and see if it would be appropriate to say so explicitly. Don't feel that you must come up with earth-shattering conclusions. Of course, utter banality or triviality are not good goals, either. Also, your essay doesn't always have to conclude with a "solution" to a problem. Sometimes, simply clarifying an issue or problem is a worthy achievement and can merit first-class honours. A good conclusion to a philosophy essay, then, will usually combine a realistic assessment of the ambit and cogency of its claims with a plausible proposal that those claims have some philosophical substance.

What you write in your essay should always be relevant to the question posed. This is another common problem in student essays, so continually ask yourself "Am I addressing the question here?" First-class answers to a question can vary greatly, but you must make sure that your essay responds to the question asked, even if you go on to argue that the question as posed is itself problematic. (eg "To ask ‘What is scientific method?' presupposes that science follows one basic method. However, I shall argue that there are, in fact, several different scientific methods and that these are neither unified nor consistent.") Be wary, however, of twisting a topic too far out of shape in order to fit your favoured theme. (You would be ill-advised, for example, to proceed thus: "What is scientific method? This is a question asked by many great minds. But what is a mind? In this essay, I shall discuss the views of Thomas Aquinas on the nature of mind.")

This requirement of relevance is not intended as an authoritarian constraint on your intellectual freedom. It is part of the skill of paying sustained and focused attention to something put before you - which is one of the most important skills you can develop at university. If you do have other philosophical interests that you want to pursue (such as Aquinas on mind), then please do pursue them, in addition to writing your essay on the set topic. At no stage does the requirement of relevance prevent you from pursuing your other interests.

Citing Philosophical "Authorities"

There might be occasions when you want to quote other philosophers and writers apart from when you are quoting them because they are the subject of your essay. There are two basic reasons why you might want to do this. First, you might quote someone because their words constitute a good or exemplary expression or articulation of an idea you are dealing with, whether as its proponent, critic, or simply its chronicler. (eg "As Nietzsche succinctly put the point, 'There are no moral phenomena at all, only a moral interpretation of phenomena'.*") You may or may not want to endorse the idea whose good expression you have quoted, but simply want to use the philosopher as a spokesperson for or example of that view. But be clear about what you think the quote means and be careful about what you are doing with the quote. It won't do all the work for you.

The second reason you might want to quote a philosopher is because you think their words constitute an "authoritative statement" of a view. Here you want to use the fact that, eg Bertrand Russell maintained that there are two kinds of knowledge of things (namely, knowledge by acquaintance and knowledge by description) in support of your claim that there are two such kinds of knowledge of things. However, be very careful in doing this, for the nature of philosophical authority is not so simple here. That is to say, what really matters is not that Bertrand Russell the man held that view; what matters are his reasons for holding that view. So, when quoting philosophers for this second reason, be careful that you appreciate in what exactly the authority lies - which means that you should show that you appreciate why Russell maintained that thesis. Of course, you can't provide long arguments for every claim you make or want to make use of; every essay will have its enabling but unargued assumptions. But at least be clear about these. (eg "For the purposes of this essay, I shall adopt Russell's thesis* that ...").

* Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. R.J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973 [first German ed.1886]), Sec. 108.

* See Bertrand Russell, The Problems of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967 [first pub. 1912]), Ch. 5.

Philosophy is by its nature a relatively abstract and generalising business. (Note that abstractness and generality are not the same thing. Nor do vagueness and obscurity automatically attend them.) Sometimes a longish series of general ideas and abstract reasonings can become difficult for the reader (and often the writer) to follow. It can often help, therefore, to use some concrete or specific examples in your discussion. (Note that there can be different levels of concreteness and specificity in examples.)

Examples can be taken from history, current events, literature, and so on, or can be entirely your own invention. Exactly what examples you employ and just how and why you use them will, of course, depend on the case. Some uses might be: illustration of a position, problem or idea to help make it clearer; evidence for, perhaps even proof of, a proposition; a counter-example; a case-study to be returned to at various points during the essay; or a problem for a theory or viewpoint to be applied to. Again, be clear about what the example is and how and why you use it. Be careful not to get distracted by, or bogged down in, your examples. Brevity is usually best.

English expression

There's another old saying: "If you can't say what you mean, then you can't mean what you say" - and this very much applies to philosophical writing. Thus, in writing philosophically, you must write clearly and precisely. This means that good philosophical writing requires a good grasp of the language in which it is written, including its grammar and vocabulary. (See Section 9.3 for advice for people from non-English speaking backgrounds.) A high standard of writing skills is to be expected of Arts graduates. Indeed, this sort of skill will last longer than your memory of, for example, the three parts of the Platonic soul (though it is also hoped that some of the content of what you study will also stick). So use your time at university (in all your subjects) to develop these skills further.

Having a mastery of a good range of terms, being sensitive to the subtleties of their meaning, and being able to construct grammatically correct and properly punctuated sentences are essential to the clear articulation and development of your thoughts. Think of grammar, not as some old-fashioned set of rules of linguistic etiquette, but rather as the "internal logic" of a sentence, that is, as the relationships between the words within a sentence which enable them to combine to make sense.

Virtually all sentences in philosophical writing are declarative (ie. make statements), as opposed to interrogative, imperative or exclamatory types of sentences. There is some place, though, for interrogative sentences, ie. questions. (Note that, in contrast, this guide, which is not in the essay genre, contains many imperative sentences, ie. commands.) As you craft each (declarative) sentence in your essay, remember the basics of sentence construction. Make clear what the sentence is about (its subject) and what you are saying about it (the predicate). Make clear what the principal verb is in the predicate, since it is what usually does the main work in saying something about the subject. Where a sentence consists of more than one clause (as many do in philosophical writing), make clear what work each clause is doing. Attend closely, then, to each and every sentence you write so that its sense is clear and is the sense you intend it to have. Think carefully about what it is you want each particular sentence to do (in relation to both those sentences immediately surrounding it and the essay as a whole) and structure your sentence so that it does what you want it to do. To help you with your own sentence construction skills, when reading others' philosophical works (or indeed any writing) attend closely to the construction of each sentence so as to be alive to all the subtleties of the text.

Good punctuation is an essential part of sentence construction. Its role is to help to display the grammar of a sentence so that its meaning is clear. As an example of how punctuation can fundamentally change the grammar and, hence, meaning of a sentence, compare (i) "Philosophers, who argue for the identity of mind and brain, often fail to appreciate the radical consequences of that thesis." and (ii) "Philosophers who argue for the identity of mind and brain often fail to appreciate the radical consequences of that thesis." In the first sentence it is asserted (falsely, as it happens) that all philosophers argue for the identity of mind and brain; in the second, only some philosophers are said to argue for the identity of mind and brain. Only the punctuation differs in the two strings of identical words, and yet the meanings of the sentences are very different. Confusions over this sort of thing are common weaknesses in student essays, and leave readers asking themselves "What exactly is this student trying to say?"

It will be assumed that you can spell - which is not a matter of pressing the "spell-check" key on a word-processor. A good dictionary and a good thesaurus should always be within reach as you write your essay.

Also, try to shorten and simplify sentences where you can do so without sacrificing the subtlety and inherent complexity of the discussion. Where a sentence is becoming too long or complex, it is likely that too many ideas are being bundled up together too closely. Stop and separate your ideas out. If an idea is a good or important one, it will usually deserve its own sentence.

Your "intra-sentential logic" should work very closely with the "inter-sentential logic" of your essay, ie. with the logical relations between your sentences. (This "inter-sentential logic" is what "logic" is usually taken to refer to.) For example, to enable sentences P and Q to work together to yield sentence R as a conclusion, you need to make clear that there are elements within P and Q which connect up to yield R. Consider the following example: "Infanticide is the intentional killing of a human being. However, murder is regarded by all cultures as morally abhorrent. Therefore, people who commit infanticide should be punished." This doesn't work as an argument, because the writer has not constructed sentences which provide the connecting concepts in the various subjects and predicates, even though each sentence is grammatically correct (and possibly even true).

If you are concerned to write not only clearly and precisely, but also with some degree of grace and style (and I hope you are), it's still best to get the clarity and precision right first, in a plain, straightforward way, and then to polish things up afterwards to get the style and grace you want. But don't sacrifice clarity and precision for the sake of style and grace - be prepared to sacrifice that beautiful turn of phrase if its presence is going to send your discussion down an awkward path of reasoning. Aim to hit the nail on the head rather than make a loud bang. What you are likely to find, however, is that a philosophy essay which really is clear and precise will have a large measure of grace and style in its very clarity and precision.

Remember that obscurity is not a sign of profundity. (Some profound thought may well be difficult to follow, but that doesn't mean that one can achieve profundity merely through producing obscure, difficult-to-read writing.) Your marker is interested in what's actually in your essay, not what's possibly inside your head (or indeed what's possibly in some book you happen to have referred to in your essay). So avoid hinting at or alluding suggestively to ideas, especially where they are meant to do some important work in your essay. Instead, lay them out explicitly and directly. Of course, you won't have space to spell out every single idea, so work out which ideas do the most important work and make sure that you at least get those ideas clearly articulated. In expounding a text or problem that ultimately just is vague, muddled, or obscure, try to convey such vagueness, muddle or obscurity clearly, rather than simply reproducing it in your own writing. That is, be clear that and how a text or problem has such features, and then perhaps do your best to make matters clearer.

Despite these stern pronouncements, don't be afraid of sometimes saying things which happen to sound a little odd, if you have tried various formulations and think you have now expressed your ideas just as they should be expressed. Philosophy is often an exploratory business, and new ways of seeing and saying things can sometimes be a part of that exploration.

The need for clarity and precision in philosophical writing sometimes means that you need to stipulate your own meaning for a term. When you want to use a particular word in a particular way for the purposes of your essay - as a "technical term" - be clear about it. (eg "In this essay, I shall intend ‘egoism' to mean ...") Also, be consistent in your technical meanings, or else note when you are not. Be wary, though, of inventing too many neologisms or being too idiosyncratic in your stipulations.

With regard to what "authorial pronoun" to adopt in a philosophy essay, it's standard to write plainly in the first person singular ("I", "me", "my", etc.) rather than use the royal "we" (as in "we shall argue that ..."), or the convoluted quasi-legal indirect form ("It is submitted that ..."), or the scientific objectivity of a physics experimental report. Nonetheless, stick closer to "I argue", "I suggest", "my definition", etc., than to "I wish", "I hate", "my feeling", etc. A philosophy essay is still something more intellectual and formal than a personal reminiscence, polemic, or proclamation. In terms of audience, it's probably best to think of your reader as someone who is intelligent, open to discussion and knows a little about the topic you're writing on, but perhaps is not quite clear or decided about the issues, or needs convincing of the view you want to put forward, or is curious about what you think about the issues.

Try also to use non-discriminatory language, ie. language which does not express or imply inequality of worth between people on the basis of sex, gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and so on. As you write, you will be considering carefully your choice of words to express your thoughts. You will almost always find that it is possible to avoid discriminatory language by rephrasing your sentences.

Other things to avoid:

  • waffle and padding
  • vagueness and ambiguity
  • abbreviations (this guide I'm writing isn't an eg. of what's req'd. in a phil. essay)
  • colloquialisms (which can really get up your reader's nose)
  • writing whose syntax merely reflects the patterns of informal speech
  • unnecessary abstractness or indirectness
  • unexplained jargon
  • flattery and invective
  • overly-rhetorical questions (do you really need me to tell you what they are?) and other flourishes

There are many guides to good writing available. Anyone who writes (whether in the humanities or the sciences, whether beginners or experienced professionals) will do well to have some on hand. Most good bookshops and libraries will have some. Among the most consulted works are (check for the latest editions):

  • J. M. Williams and G. C. Colomb, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995)
  • W. Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 4th ed. (New York: Longman, 2000)
  • E. Gowers, The Complete Plain Words, 3rd ed. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987)
  • R. W. Burchfield, ed., The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • Pam Peters, The Cambridge Australian English Style Guide (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  • Australian Government Publishing Service, Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers, 5th ed. (Canberra: AGPS, 1995)

Vocabulary of logical argument

Closely related to the above points about English expression is the importance of having a good grasp of what can rather generally be called "the vocabulary of logical argument". These sorts of terms are crucial in articulating clearly and cogently a logical line of argument. Such argumentation will, of course, be of central importance in whatever discipline you are studying, indeed in any sphere of life that requires effective thinking and communication. I have in mind terms such as these (grouped a little loosely):

all, any, every, most, some, none, a, an, the that, this, it, he, she, they if . . . , then. . . ; if and only if . . . , then . . . ; unless either . . . or . . .; neither . . . nor . . . not, is, are therefore, thus, hence, so, because, since, follows, entails, implies, infer, consequence, conditional upon moreover, furthermore which, that, whose and, but, however, despite, notwithstanding, nevertheless, even, though, still possibly, necessarily, can, must, may, might, ought, should true, false, probable, certain sound, unsound, valid, invalid, fallacious, supported, proved, contradicted, rebutted, refuted, negated logical, illogical, reasonable, unreasonable, rational, irrational assumption, premise, belief, claim, proposition argument, reason, reasoning, evidence, proof

Most of these are quite simple terms, but they are crucial in argumentative or discursive writing of all kinds. (Many are themselves the subject of study in logic, a branch of philosophy). The sloppy use of these sorts of terms is another common weakness in students' philosophy essays. Pay close and careful attention to how you employ them. Moreover, pay close and careful attention to how the authors you read use them. For further discussion of some of these terms and others, see:

  • Basic Philosophical Vocabulary, prepared by the staff of the Philosophy Department and available from the programs Office
  • Wesley C. Salmon, Logic, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1973)
  • Antony Flew, Thinking About Thinking (London: Fontana, 1985)
  • Graham Priest, Logic: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)
  • Joel Rudinow and Vincent E. Barry, Invitation to Critical Thinking, 4th ed. (Fort Worth, Texas: Harcourt Brace, 1999)

Revising your essay

It is virtually essential that you write a first draft of your essay and then work on that draft to work towards your finished essay. Indeed, several drafts may well be necessary in order to produce your best possible work. It is a rare philosopher indeed who can get things perfectly right on the first attempt, so be prepared to revise and re-develop what you write. Don't be too precious about what you have written, if it appears that it should be sacrificed in the revision process. There is usually a very marked difference between essays which are basically first draft rush-jobs done the night before they are due and those which have been revised and polished. Give yourself time to revise by starting writing early on. For most philosophy students, the greater part of the work in essay writing is in the writing, not in the preliminary researches and planning stages. So be wary of thinking "I've done all the research. I only need to write up my notes, which I can do the night before the essay's due". This is likely to lead to a weak, perhaps non-existent, essay (and very likely a sleepless night).

Stick to the word limit given for your essay. Why are word limits imposed? First, to give the markers a fair basis for comparing student essays. Second, to give you the opportunity to practise the discipline of working creatively under constraints. Skill in this discipline will stand you in very good stead in any sphere where circumstances impose limitations. Again, word limits are not constraints on your intellectual freedom. Outside your essay you are free to write without limit. But even there you'll probably find that your creativity is improved by working under a self-imposed discipline.

As a general rule, most student essays that fall well short of the word limit are weak or lazy attempts at the task, and most essays that go well over the limit are not much stronger or the result of much harder work - the extra length is often due to unstructured waffle or padding which the writer hasn't thought enough about so as to edit judiciously. If you structure your essay clearly, you'll find it easier to revise and edit, whether in order to contract or expand it. ("Hmm, let's see: section 2 is much longer than section 4, but is not as important, so I'll cut it down. And I should expand section 3, because that's a crucial step. And I can shift that third paragraph in the Introduction to the Conclusion.")

Plagiarism and originality

Plagiarism is essentially a form of academic dishonesty or cheating. At university level, such dishonesty is not tolerated and is dealt with severely, usually by awarding zero marks for a plagiarised essay or, in some cases, dismissing a student from the university.

When you submit your essay, you are implicitly stating that the essay is your own original and independent work, that you have not submitted the same work for assessment in another subject, and that where you have made use of other people's work, this is properly acknowledged. If you know that this is not in fact the case, you are being dishonest. (In a number of university departments, students are in fact required to sign declarations of academic honesty.)

Plagiarism is the knowing but unacknowledged use of work by someone else (including work by another student, and indeed oneself - see below) and which is being presented as one's own work. It can take a number of forms, including:

  • copying : exactly reproducing another's words
  • paraphrasing : expressing the meaning of another's words in different words
  • summarising : reproducing the main points of another's argument
  • cobbling : copying, paraphrasing or summarising the work of a number of different people and piecing them together to produce one body of text
  • submitting one's own work when it has already been submitted for assessment in another subject
  • collusion : presenting an essay as your own independent work when in fact it has been produced, in whole or part, in collusion with one or more other people

None of the practices of copying, paraphrasing, summarizing or cobbling is wrong in itself, but when one or more is done without proper acknowledgment it constitutes plagiarism. Therefore, all sources must be adequately and accurately acknowledged in footnotes or endnotes. (See Section 7.) Plagiarism from the internet in particular can be a temptation for a certain kind of student. However, be warned: there is a number of very good internet and software tools for identifying plagiarism.

With regard to collusion, it's undoubtedly often very helpful to discuss one's work with others, be it other students, family members, friends or teachers. Indeed, philosophy thrives on dialogue. However, don't kid yourself that you would simply be extending that process if you were to ask your interlocutor to join with you in the writing of your essay, whether by asking them to tell you what you should write or to write down some of their thoughts for you to reproduce in your essay. At the end of the day, you must be the one to decide what goes into your essay.


Students sometimes worry about whether they will be able to develop "original ideas", especially in light of the fact that nearly every philosophical idea one comes up with seems to have been thought of before by someone else. There is no denying that truly original work in philosophy is well rewarded, but your first aim should be to develop ideas that you think are good and not merely different. If, after arguing for what you believe is right, and arguing in way that you think is good, you then discover that someone else has had the same idea, don't throw your work away - you should feel vindicated to some extent that your thinking has been congruent with that of another (possibly great) philosopher. (If you have not yet handed your essay in when you make this discovery, make an appropriately placed note to that effect.) Don't be fooled, however, into thinking that plagiarism can be easily passed off as congruent thinking. Of course, if that other philosopher's ideas have helped you to develop your ideas, then this is not a matter of congruent ideas but rather of derivative ideas, and this must be adequately acknowledged. If, after developing your ideas, you discover that they are original, then that is an added bonus. But remember that it is more important to be a good philosopher than an original one.

Quotations, footnotes, endnotes and bibliography

Quotations in your essay should be kept to a minimum. The markers know the central texts pretty well already and so don't need to have pages thereof repeated in front of them. Of course, some quotation will usually be important and useful - sometimes essential - in both exposition and critical discussion.

When you quote the words of someone else directly, you must make the quotation clearly distinct from your own text, using quotation marks . (eg "Descartes said that 'it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.'* He makes this claim …" - where the words quoted from Descartes are in 'single quotation marks'. Note that it is relatively arbitrary whether one uses 'single' or "double" quotation marks for "first order" quotations, but whichever style you adopt, use it consistently in the one essay.) Alternatively, where the quoted passage is greater than three lines, put the quoted words in a separate indented paragraph , so that your essay would look like this:

In his First Meditation , Descartes argues as follows:

Whatever I have up till now accepted as most true I have acquired either from the senses or through the senses. But from time to time I have found that the senses deceive, and it is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once.* In this essay I shall argue that prudence does not in fact require us to distrust our senses and that Descartes's sceptical method is therefore seriously flawed.

In both cases, the quotations must be given proper referencingin a footnote or endnote.

When you are not quoting another person directly, but are still making use of their work - as in indirect quotations (eg "Descartes says that it is wise not to trust something that has deceived us before"*), paraphrases, summaries, and cobblings - you must still acknowledge your debts, using footnotes or endnotes.

* Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy , trans. John Cottingham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986 [first French ed., 1641]), p. 12.

Footnotes and endnotes

Footnotes appear at the foot of the same page on which the cited material appears, clearly separated from the main body of the text, each one clearly numbered. Endnotes appear at the end of the essay, again clearly separated from the main body of text, numbered and headed "Endnotes" or "Notes". Either method is acceptable, but you should choose one and stick with it throughout the one essay.

Below are some examples of how to put the relevant referencing information in footnotes and endnotes. This is not intended as an exercise in pedantry, but as a guide to how to provide the information needed for adequate referencing. The reason we provide this information is to enable our readers to find the sources we use in order to verify them and to allow them to pursue the material further if it interests them. In your own researches you will come to value good referencing in the texts you read as a helpful source of further references on a topic. Again, it is this sort of research skill that an Arts graduate will be expected to have mastered.

There are various conventions for writing up footnotes and endnotes. The Philosophy Department does not require that any particular convention be followed, only that you be consistent in your use of the convention that you do choose. For other conventions see the style guides mentioned above, or simply go to some texts published by reputable publishers and see what formats they employ.

Imagine, then, that the following are endnotes at the end of your essay. I will explain them below.

  • James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy , 2nd ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), p. 25.
  • Philippa Foot, "Moral Relativism", in Michael Krausz and Jack W. Meiland, eds., Relativism: Cognitive and Moral (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982), p. 155.
  • Ibid., p. 160.
  • Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. H. J. Paton (New York: Harper and Row, 1964 [first German ed., 1785]), p. 63.
  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, (London: Dent, 1973 [first pub. 1651]),p. 65.
  • Rachels, The Elements, p. 51.
  • Peter Winch, "The Universalizability of Moral Judgements", The Monist 49 (1965), p. 212.
  • Antony Duff, "Legal Punishment", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2001/entries/legal-punishment/ at 15 June 2003, sec. 6.

Notes explained

  • This is your first reference to a book called The Elements of Moral Philosophy. The title is given in full and in italics. If you are unable to use italics, then you should underline the title. The book's author is James Rachels. It's the 2nd edition of that book, which was published in New York, by the publishers McGraw-Hill, in 1993. The page you have referred to in your main text is page 25
  • This is your first reference to Philippa Foot's article, "Moral Relativism", the title of which is put in "quotation marks". This article appeared in a book (title in italics) which is an anthology of different articles, and which was edited by Krausz and Meiland (names in full). The rest is in the same style as note (1)
  • "Ibid." is short for "ibidem", which means "in the same place" in Latin. Use it on its own when you want to refer to exactly the same work and page number as in the immediately preceding note. So here the reference is again to Foot's article at page 155
  • Ditto, except this time you refer to a different page in Foot's article, namely page 160
  • This is reference to a book by Kant. Same book details as per note (1), except that, because this is a translation, you include the translator's name, and the date of the first edition in the original language
  • This is a book reference again, so it's the same as note (1), except that, because it's an old book, you include the date of the original edition. (How old does a book have to be before it merits this treatment? There is no settled view. Note, though, that this convention is not usually followed for ancient authors)
  • Here you are referring to Rachels' book again, but, because you are not in the very next note after a reference to it, you can't use "ibid.". Simply give the author's surname and a short title of the book, plus page reference. There is also a common alternative to this, whereby you give the surname, and write "op. cit." (which is short for "opere citato", which is Latin for "in the work already cited") and page reference (eg "Rachels, op. cit., p. 51.") Your reader then has to scan back over the notes to see what that "op." was exactly. The first option (author plus short title) is usually easier on the reader
  • This is a reference to an article by Peter Winch in a journal called The Monist. The article's title is in "quotes", the journal title is in italics. The volume of the journal is 49, the year of publication is 1965, the page referred to is p. 212
  • This is a reference to an article in the internet-based Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article is titled "Legal Punishment" and was written by Antony Duff. The Encyclopedia was edited by Edward N. Zalta. Note that I have basically followed the mode of citation that the Encyclopedia itself recommends. (This is one sign of the site being a reputable one. Where a site makes such a recommendation, it's best to follow it.) I have, however, also added the date on which the article was retrieved from the site, and put the author's given name first, to be consistent with the other footnotes. I have also added the reference to section 6, in an effort to be more precise as to where in the article the material I used came from. Since web pages aren't numbered in the manner of hard copy works, it will help if you are able to refer to some other feature, such as paragraphs or sections, so as to pin-point your reference. In the absence of a site recommending a mode of citation to its own material, the basic information needed for adequate citation of internet-based material is (where identifiable) the author, the document title, the year the document was created, the website name, the uniform resource locator (URL) in <arrow-brackets>, date of retrieval, and a pin-point reference*

* I am here following the mode of citation of internet materials recommended in Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc, Australian Guide to Legal Citation , 2nd ed. (Melbourne: Melbourne University Law Review Association Inc, 2002), pp. 70-73. I have, though, added the desirability of a pin-point reference.


At the end of your essay (after your endnotes, if used) you should list in a bibliography all of the works referred to in your notes, as well as any other works you consulted in researching and writing your essay. The list should be in alphabetical order, going by authors' surnames. The format should be the same as for your notes, except that you drop the page references and should put surnames first. So the bibliography of our mock-essay above would look like this:

  • Duff, Antony, "Legal Punishment", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2001 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2001/entries/legal-punishment/ at 15 June 2003
  • Foot, Philippa, "Moral Relativism", in Michael Krausz and Jack Meiland, eds., Relativism: Cognitive and Moral (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982)
  • Hobbes, Thomas, Leviathan (London: Dent, 1973 [first pub.1651])
  • Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals , trans. H.J. Paton (New York: Harper and Row, 1964 [first German ed. 1785])
  • Rachels, James, The Elements of Moral Philosophy , 2nd ed., (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1993)
  • Winch, Peter, "The Universalizability of Moral Judgements", The Monist 49 (1965)

Presentation of essays and seeking advice

Generally, you should present an essay that is legible (hand-writing is OK, but typed or word-processed essays are preferable), in English, on one side of pieces of paper that are somewhere in the vicinity of A4 size and are fixed together . You should attach a completed Cover Sheet provided by the Philosophy program. Plastic document covers, spiral binding and other forms of presentational paraphernalia are not necessary (nor are they usually even desirable, as they mostly just get in the marker's way).

Late essays

Late essays are penalised . (For details of penalties consult the Philosophy program's notice board.)

Essays not handed in

Essays not handed in at all get zero marks. An essay that is handed in but gets a mark below 50 (and so is technically a "failed" essay) still gets some marks. (At least, it will so long as it's not so extremely late that the deducted marks wipe out all the marks it would have received if handed in on time.) All marks received for your essay (whether pass or fail) go toward your final score in the subject. Therefore, even if you think your essay is bound to fail (but please let your marker be the judge of that), or the due date has already passed, or both, it is still in your interests to hand your essay in .

Tutors and lecturers

Philosophy staff are not there just to be listened to by you; they are also there to listen to you. So don't hesitate to contact your tutor or lecturer to discuss questions or problems you have concerning your work.

If you have a legitimate excuse, you may be granted an extension on the due date for your essay by the lecturer in charge. Similarly, special consideration may also be granted when illness or other circumstances adversely affect your work. Applications for special consideration are made online via the Special Consideration web page.

Student counselling

Some personal or non-philosophical academic difficulties you might have you might want to discuss with someone other than your tutor or lecturer. Student Counselling and Psychological Services are there for you to discuss all sorts of problems you might encounter. Please consult your student diary for details on the counselling service.

English language assistance

As noted above, good philosophical writing requires a good grasp of the language in which it is written. If you are from a non-English speaking background and are having difficulties with your English expression in an academic context, you might like to make use of the services provided by Student Services Academic Skills . Many native English speakers, too, can benefit from short "refresher" courses and workshops run by the Centre. Please consult your student diary for details about this service.

A bit on Philosophy exams

Essays of the sort discussed so far in this guide are not the only form of assessment in the Philosophy program - examinations are also set. What is to be said about them?

First, not much that is different from what's been said above about philosophy essays. This is because what you write in a philosophy exam is none other than a philosophy essay . Have a look at past philosophy exam papers, in the Gibson and Baillieu libraries, to get a feel for them. The only basic difference between essays and exams is the matter of what constraints you're working under. Essays have word limits; exams have time limits . Again, stick to them. (Actually, you'll be made to stick to them by the exam invigilators.)

It's best, then, to think about how long to spend writing on an exam essay topic, rather than about how many words to write on it. Simple arithmetic will tell you how much time to spend on each exam question. (eg if you have a 2-hour exam and have to answer 3 questions, each worth one-third of the exam mark, then spend 40 minutes on each question.) Avoid the trap of "borrowing time" from a later question in order to perfect your answer to an earlier question, and then working faster on the later questions to catch up on lost time - this is likely to get you in a tangle. There are no word limits in philosophy exam essays, but don't think that the more you scrawl across the page, the more marks you'll get. Nonetheless, use the time you've got so as to maximise your display of your philosophical understanding and skills in answering the question.

Planning and structuring remain very important in exam essays. With regard to the niceties of footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies, etc., these are not necessary, so don't waste time on these. However, if you quote or refer to a specific passage from a text, do indicate clearly that it is a quotation or reference. (The principle of being clear as to who is saying what remains central.) If you have the reference handy, just put it briefly in the text of your exam essay. (eg "As Descartes says in Meditation I (p. 12), . . ." or "'[I]t is prudent never to trust completely those who have deceived us even once' (Descartes, Meditation I, p. 12)".) Generally speaking, you will show your familiarity with any relevant texts by how you handle them in your discussion. This is also true for your non-exam essays.

Your preparation for the exam should have been done well before entering the exam hall. Note that various subjects have restrictions on what texts and other items can be brought into the exam hall. (Consult the Philosophy program's notice board for details.) Many subjects will have "closed book" exams. Even if an exam is "open book", if you are properly prepared, you should not need to spend much time at all consulting texts or notes during the exam itself.

You won't have time for redrafting and revising your exam essay (which makes planning and structuring your answers before you start writing all the more important). If you do want to delete something, just cross it out clearly. Don't waste time with liquid paper or erasers. Write legibly . Don't wr. "point form" sav. time. Diff. kn. mean. use incomp. sent.

Finally, read the instructions at the beginning of the exam paper. They are important. (eg it's not a good strategy to answer two questions from Part A, when the Instructions tell you to answer two questions, one from Part A and one from Part B.) Note the (somewhat quaint) University practice of starting Reading Time some time before the stated time for the exam. Philosophy exams usually have 15 minutes of reading time. (Check for each of your exams.) So, if your exam timetable says the exam is at 2.15 pm, with reading time of 15 minutes, then the reading time starts at 2.00 pm and the writing time starts at 2.15pm - so get to the exam hall well before 2.00 pm. Reading time is very important. Use it to decide which questions you'll answer and to start planning your answers.

Checklist of questions

  • Do I understand the essay question ? Do I know when the essay is due ?
  • Do I know which texts to consult? Do I know where to find them?
  • Have I made useful notes from my reading of the relevant texts?
  • Have I made a plan of how I'll approach the question in my essay?
  • Have I given myself enough time to draft and redraft my essay?
  • Have I written a clearly structured essay? Is it clear what each stageis doing? Do I do what I say I'll do in my Introduction?
  • Have I clearly distinguished exposition and critical discussion ? Have I given a fair and accurate account of the author(s) in question?
  • Is my response to the topic relevant ? Do I answer the question? Have I kept my essay within the general bounds of the topic?
  • Have I displayed a good grasp of the vocabulary of logical argument ? Are my arguments logically valid and sound? Are my claims supported by reasons ? Am I consistent within my essay?
  • Is my English expression clear and precise ? Are my grammar, punctuation and spelling correct? Have I said what I meant to say? Is my writing legible?
  • Have I fully acknowledged all my sources in footnotes or endnotes? Are my quotations accurate? Have I included a bibliography ?
  • Do I need to revise any part of my essay again?
  • Have I made a copy or photocopy of my essay for myself?
  • Have I kept the receipt for my handed-in essay?
  • Grades 6-12
  • School Leaders

Get our FREE Classroom Seating Charts 🪑

40 Philosophy of Education Examples, Plus How To Write Your Own

Learn how to define and share your teaching philosophy.

Short Philosophy of Education Examples Feature

These days, it’s become common for educators to be asked what their personal teaching philosophy is. Whether it’s for a job interview, a college class, or to share with your principal, crafting a philosophy of education can seem like a daunting task. So set aside some time to consider your own teaching philosophy (we’ll walk you through it), and be sure to look at philosophy of education examples from others (we’ve got those too!).

What is a philosophy of education?

Before we dive into the examples, it’s important to understand the purpose of a philosophy of education. This statement will provide an explanation of your teaching values and beliefs. Your teaching philosophy is ultimately a combination of the methods you studied in college and any professional experiences you’ve learned from since. It incorporates your own experiences (negative or positive) in education.

Many teachers have two versions of their teaching philosophy: a long form (a page or so of text) and a short form. The longer form is useful for job application cover letters or to include as part of your teacher portfolio. The short form distills the longer philosophy into a couple of succinct sentences that you can use to answer teacher job interview questions or even share with parents.

What’s the best teaching philosophy?

Here’s one key thing to remember: There’s no one right answer to “What’s your teaching philosophy?” Every teacher’s will be a little bit different, depending on their own teaching style, experiences, and expectations. And many teachers find that their philosophies change over time, as they learn and grow in their careers.

When someone asks for your philosophy of education, what they really want to know is that you’ve given thought to how you prepare lessons and interact with students in and out of the classroom. They’re interested in finding out what you expect from your students and from yourself, and how you’ll apply those expectations. And they want to hear examples of how you put your teaching philosophy into action.

What’s included in strong teaching philosophy examples?

Depending on who you ask, a philosophy of education statement can include a variety of values, beliefs, and information. As you build your own teaching philosophy statement, consider these aspects, and write down your answers to the questions.

Purpose of Education (Core Beliefs)

What do you believe is the purpose of teaching and learning? Why does education matter to today’s children? How will time spent in your classroom help prepare them for the future?

Use your answers to draft the opening statement of your philosophy of education, like these:

  • Education isn’t just about what students learn, but about learning how to learn.
  • A good education prepares students to be productive and empathetic members of society.
  • Teachers help students embrace new information and new ways of seeing the world around them.
  • A strong education with a focus on fundamentals ensures students can take on any challenges that come their way.
  • I believe education is key to empowering today’s youth, so they’ll feel confident in their future careers, relationships, and duties as members of their community.
  • Well-educated students are open-minded, welcoming the opinions of others and knowing how to evaluate information critically and carefully.

Teaching Style and Practices

Do you believe in student-led learning, or do you like to use the Socratic method instead? Is your classroom a place for quiet concentration or sociable collaboration? Do you focus on play-based learning, hands-on practice, debate and discussion, problem-solving, or project-based learning? All teachers use a mix of teaching practices and styles, of course, but there are some you’re likely more comfortable with than others. Possible examples:

  • I frequently use project-based learning in my classrooms because I believe it helps make learning more relevant to my students. When students work together to address real-world problems, they use their [subject] knowledge and skills and develop communication and critical thinking abilities too.
  • Play-based learning is a big part of my teaching philosophy. Kids who learn through play have more authentic experiences, exploring and discovering the world naturally in ways that make the process more engaging and likely to make a lasting impact.
  • In my classroom, technology is key. I believe in teaching students how to use today’s technology in responsible ways, embracing new possibilities and using technology as a tool, not a crutch.
  • While I believe in trying new teaching methods, I also find that traditional learning activities can still be effective. My teaching is mainly a mix of lecture, Socratic seminar, and small-group discussions.
  • I’m a big believer in formative assessment , taking every opportunity to measure my students’ understanding and progress. I use tools like exit tickets and Kahoot! quizzes, and watch my students closely to see if they’re engaged and on track.
  • Group work and discussions play a major role in my instructional style. Students who learn to work cooperatively at a young age are better equipped to succeed in school, in their future careers, and in their communities.

Students and Learning Styles

Why is it important to recognize all learning styles? How do you accommodate different learning styles in your classroom? What are your beliefs on diversity, equity, and inclusion? How do you ensure every student in your classroom receives the same opportunities to learn? How do you expect students to behave, and how do you measure success?

Sample teaching philosophy statements about students might sound like this:

  • Every student has their own unique talents, skills, challenges, and background. By getting to know my students as individuals, I can help them find the learning styles that work best for them, now and throughout their education.
  • I find that motivated students learn best. They’re more engaged in the classroom and more diligent when working alone. I work to motivate students by making learning relevant, meaningful, and enjoyable.
  • We must give every student equal opportunities to learn and grow. Not all students have the same support outside the classroom. So as a teacher, I try to help bridge gaps when I see them and give struggling students a chance to succeed academically.
  • I believe every student has their own story and deserves a chance to create and share it. I encourage my students to approach learning as individuals, and I know I’m succeeding when they show a real interest in showing up and learning more every day.
  • In my classroom, students take responsibility for their own success. I help them craft their own learning goals, then encourage them to evaluate their progress honestly and ask for help when they need it.
  • To me, the best classrooms are those that are the most diverse. Students learn to recognize and respect each other’s differences, celebrating what each brings to the community. They also have the opportunity to find common ground, sometimes in ways that surprise them.

How do I write my philosophy of education?

Think back to any essay you’ve ever written and follow a similar format. Write in the present tense; your philosophy isn’t aspirational, it’s something you already live and follow. This is true even if you’re applying for your first teaching job. Your philosophy is informed by your student teaching, internships, and other teaching experiences.

Lead with your core beliefs about teaching and learning. These beliefs should be reflected throughout the rest of your teaching philosophy statement.

Then, explain your teaching style and practices, being sure to include concrete examples of how you put those practices into action. Transition into your beliefs about students and learning styles, with more examples. Explain why you believe in these teaching and learning styles, and how you’ve seen them work in your experiences.

A long-form philosophy of education statement usually takes a few paragraphs (not generally more than a page or two). From that long-form philosophy, highlight a few key statements and phrases and use them to sum up your teaching philosophy in a couple of well-crafted sentences for your short-form teaching philosophy.

Still feeling overwhelmed? Try answering these three key questions:

  • Why do you teach?
  • What are your favorite, tried-and-true methods for teaching and learning?
  • How do you help students of all abilities and backgrounds learn?

If you can answer those three questions, you can write your teaching philosophy!

Short Philosophy of Education Examples

We asked real educators in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook to share their teaching philosophy examples in a few sentences . Here’s what they had to say:

I am always trying to turn my students into self-sufficient learners who use their resources to figure it out instead of resorting to just asking someone for the answers. —Amy J.

I am always trying to turn my students into self-sufficient learners who use their resources to figure it out instead of resorting to just asking someone for the answers. —Amy J.

My philosophy is that all students can learn. Good educators meet all students’ differentiated learning needs to help all students meet their maximum learning potential. —Lisa B.

I believe that all students are unique and need a teacher that caters to their individual needs in a safe and stimulating environment. I want to create a classroom where students can flourish and explore to reach their full potential. My goal is also to create a warm, loving environment, so students feel safe to take risks and express themselves. —Valerie T.

In my classroom, I like to focus on the student-teacher relationships/one-on-one interactions. Flexibility is a must, and I’ve learned that you do the best you can with the students you have for however long you have them in your class. —Elizabeth Y

I want to prepare my students to be able to get along without me and take ownership of their learning. I have implemented a growth mindset. —Kirk H.

My teaching philosophy is centered around seeing the whole student and allowing the student to use their whole self to direct their own learning. As a secondary teacher, I also believe strongly in exposing all students to the same core content of my subject so that they have equal opportunities for careers and other experiences dependent upon that content in the future. —Jacky B.

My teaching philosophy is centered around seeing the whole student and allowing the student to use their whole self to direct their own learning. As a secondary teacher, I also believe strongly in exposing all students to the same core content of my subject so that they have equal opportunities for careers and other experiences dependent upon that content in the future. —Jacky B.

All children learn best when learning is hands-on. This works for the high students and the low students too, even the ones in between. I teach by creating experiences, not giving information. —Jessica R.

As teachers, it’s our job to foster creativity. In order to do that, it’s important for me to embrace the mistakes of my students, create a learning environment that allows them to feel comfortable enough to take chances, and try new methods. —Chelsie L.

I believe that every child can learn and deserves the best, well-trained teacher possible who has high expectations for them. I differentiate all my lessons and include all learning modalities. —Amy S.

All students can learn and want to learn. It is my job to meet them where they are and move them forward. —Holli A.

I believe learning comes from making sense of chaos. My job is to design work that will allow students to process, explore, and discuss concepts to own the learning. I need to be part of the process to guide and challenge perceptions. —Shelly G.

I believe learning comes from making sense of chaos. My job is to design work that will allow students to process, explore, and discuss concepts to own the learning. I need to be part of the process to guide and challenge perceptions. —Shelly G.

I want my students to know that they are valued members of our classroom community, and I want to teach each of them what they need to continue to grow in my classroom. —Doreen G.

Teach to every child’s passion and encourage a joy for and love of education and school. —Iris B.

I believe in creating a classroom culture of learning through mistakes and overcoming obstacles through teamwork. —Jenn B.

It’s our job to introduce our kids to many, many different things and help them find what they excel in and what they don’t. Then nurture their excellence and help them figure out how to compensate for their problem areas. That way, they will become happy, successful adults. —Haley T.

Longer Philosophy of Education Examples

Looking for longer teaching philosophy examples? Check out these selections from experienced teachers of all ages and grades.

  • Learning To Wear the Big Shoes: One Step at a Time
  • Nellie Edge: My Kindergarten Teaching Philosophy
  • Faculty Focus: My Philosophy of Teaching
  • Robinson Elementary School: My Teaching Philosophy
  • David Orace Kelly: Philosophy of Education
  • Explorations in Higher Education: My Teaching Philosophy Statement
  • University of Washington Medical School Faculty Teaching Philosophy Statements

Do you have any philosophy of education examples? Share them in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE Group on Facebook!

Want more articles and tips like this be sure to subscribe to our newsletters to find out when they’re posted..

Many educators are being asked to define their teaching philosophy. Find real philosophy of education examples and tips for building yours.

You Might Also Like

Collage of teaching portfolio examples, including traditional digital portfolios

15 Inspiring Teaching Portfolio Examples (Plus How To Create Your Own)

Show them what you've got. Continue Reading

Copyright © 2024. All rights reserved. 5335 Gate Parkway, Jacksonville, FL 32256

SEP thinker apres Rodin

Philosophy of Education

All human societies, past and present, have had a vested interest in education; and some wits have claimed that teaching (at its best an educational activity) is the second oldest profession. While not all societies channel sufficient resources into support for educational activities and institutions, all at the very least acknowledge their centrality—and for good reasons. For one thing, it is obvious that children are born illiterate and innumerate, and ignorant of the norms and cultural achievements of the community or society into which they have been thrust; but with the help of professional teachers and the dedicated amateurs in their families and immediate environs (and with the aid, too, of educational resources made available through the media and nowadays the internet), within a few years they can read, write, calculate, and act (at least often) in culturally-appropriate ways. Some learn these skills with more facility than others, and so education also serves as a social-sorting mechanism and undoubtedly has enormous impact on the economic fate of the individual. Put more abstractly, at its best education equips individuals with the skills and substantive knowledge that allows them to define and to pursue their own goals, and also allows them to participate in the life of their community as full-fledged, autonomous citizens.

But this is to cast matters in very individualistic terms, and it is fruitful also to take a societal perspective, where the picture changes somewhat. It emerges that in pluralistic societies such as the Western democracies there are some groups that do not wholeheartedly support the development of autonomous individuals, for such folk can weaken a group from within by thinking for themselves and challenging communal norms and beliefs; from the point of view of groups whose survival is thus threatened, formal, state-provided education is not necessarily a good thing. But in other ways even these groups depend for their continuing survival on educational processes, as do the larger societies and nation-states of which they are part; for as John Dewey put it in the opening chapter of his classic work Democracy and Education (1916), in its broadest sense education is the means of the “social continuity of life” (Dewey, 1916, 3). Dewey pointed out that the “primary ineluctable facts of the birth and death of each one of the constituent members in a social group” make education a necessity, for despite this biological inevitability “the life of the group goes on” (Dewey, 3). The great social importance of education is underscored, too, by the fact that when a society is shaken by a crisis, this often is taken as a sign of educational breakdown; education, and educators, become scapegoats.

It is not surprising that such an important social domain has attracted the attention of philosophers for thousands of years, especially as there are complex issues aplenty that have great philosophical interest. Even a cursory reading of these opening paragraphs reveals that they touch on, in nascent form, some but by no means all of the issues that have spawned vigorous debate down the ages; restated more explicitly in terms familiar to philosophers of education, the issues the discussion above flitted over were: education as transmission of knowledge versus education as the fostering of inquiry and reasoning skills that are conducive to the development of autonomy (which, roughly, is the tension between education as conservative and education as progressive, and also is closely related to differing views about human “perfectibility”—issues that historically have been raised in the debate over the aims of education); the question of what this knowledge, and what these skills, ought to be—part of the domain of philosophy of the curriculum; the questions of how learning is possible, and what is it to have learned something—two sets of issues that relate to the question of the capacities and potentialities that are present at birth, and also to the process (and stages) of human development and to what degree this process is flexible and hence can be influenced or manipulated; the tension between liberal education and vocational education, and the overlapping issue of which should be given priority—education for personal development or education for citizenship (and the issue of whether or not this is a false dichotomy); the differences (if any) between education and enculturation; the distinction between educating versus teaching versus training versus indoctrination; the relation between education and maintenance of the class structure of society, and the issue of whether different classes or cultural groups can—justly—be given educational programs that differ in content or in aims; the issue of whether the rights of children, parents, and socio-cultural or ethnic groups, conflict—and if they do, the question of whose rights should be dominant; the question as to whether or not all children have a right to state-provided education, and if so, should this education respect the beliefs and customs of all groups and how on earth would this be accomplished; and a set of complex issues about the relation between education and social reform, centering upon whether education is essentially conservative, or whether it can be an (or, the ) agent of social change.

It is impressive that most of the philosophically-interesting issues touched upon above, plus additional ones not alluded to here, were addressed in one of the early masterpieces of the Western intellectual tradition—Plato's Republic . A.N. Whitehead somewhere remarked that the history of Western philosophy is nothing but a series of footnotes to Plato, and if the Meno and the Laws are added to the Republic , the same is true of the history of educational thought and of philosophy of education in particular. At various points throughout this essay the discussion shall return to Plato, and at the end there shall be a brief discussion of the two other great figures in the field—Rousseau and Dewey. But the account of the field needs to start with some features of it that are apt to cause puzzlement, or that make describing its topography difficult. These include, but are not limited to, the interactions between philosophy of education and its parent discipline.

1.1 The open nature of philosophy and philosophy of education

1.2 the different bodies of work traditionally included in the field, 1.3 paradigm wars the diversity of, and clashes between, philosophical approaches, 2.1 the early work: c.d. hardie, 2.2 the dominant years: language, and clarification of key concepts, 2.3 countervailing forces, 2.4 a new guise contemporary social, political and moral philosophy, 3.1 philosophical disputes concerning empirical education research, 3.2 the content of the curriculum, and the aims and functions of schooling, 3.3 rousseau, dewey, and the progressive movement, 4. concluding remarks, bibliography, other internet resources, related entries, 1. problems in delineating the field.

There is a large—and ever expanding—number of works designed to give guidance to the novice setting out to explore the domain of philosophy of education; most if not all of the academic publishing houses have at least one representative of this genre on their list, and the titles are mostly variants of the following archetypes: The History and Philosophy of Education , The Philosophical Foundations of Education , Philosophers on Education , Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom , A Guide to the Philosophy of Education , and Readings in Philosophy of Education . The overall picture that emerges from even a sampling of this collective is not pretty; the field lacks intellectual cohesion, and (from the perspective taken in this essay) there is a widespread problem concerning the rigor of the work and the depth of scholarship—although undoubtedly there are islands, but not continents, of competent philosophical discussion of difficult and socially-important issues of the kind listed earlier. On the positive side—the obverse of the lack of cohesion—there is, in the field as a whole, a degree of adventurousness in the form of openness to ideas and radical approaches, a trait that is sometimes lacking in other academic fields. This is not to claim, of course, that taken individually philosophers of education are more open-minded than their philosophical cousins!

Part of the explanation for this diffuse state-of-affairs is that, quite reasonably, most philosophers of education have the goal (reinforced by their institutional affiliation with Schools of Education and their involvement in the initial training of teachers) of contributing not to philosophy but to educational policy and practice. This shapes not only their selection of topics, but also the manner in which the discussion is pursued; and this orientation also explains why philosophers of education—to a far greater degree, it is to be suspected, than their “pure” cousins—publish not in philosophy journals but in a wide range of professionally-oriented journals (such as Educational Researcher , Harvard Educational Review , Teachers College Record , Cambridge Journal of Education, Journal of Curriculum Studies , and the like). Some individuals work directly on issues of classroom practice, others identify as much with fields such as educational policy analysis, curriculum theory, teacher education, or some particular subject-matter domain such as math or science education, as they do with philosophy of education. It is still fashionable in some quarters to decry having one's intellectual agenda shaped so strongly as this by concerns emanating from a field of practice; but as Stokes (1997) has made clear, many of the great, theoretically-fruitful research programs in natural science had their beginnings in such practical concerns—as Pasteur's grounbreaking work illustrates. It is dangerous to take the theory versus practice dichotomy too seriously.

However, there is another consequence of this institutional housing of the vast majority of philosphers of education that is worth noting—one that is not found in a comparable way in philosophers of science, for example, who almost always are located in departments of philosophy—namely, that experience as a teacher, or in some other education-related role, is a qualification to become a philosopher of education that in many cases is valued at least as much as depth of philosophical training. (The issue is not that educational experience is irrelevant—clearly it can be highly pertinent—but it is that in the tradeoff with philosophical training, philosophy often loses.) But there are still other factors at work that contribute to the field's diffuseness, that all relate in some way to the nature of the discipline of philosophy itself.

In describing the field of philosophy, and in particular the sub-field that has come to be identified as philosophy of education, one quickly runs into a difficulty not found to anything like the same degree in other disciplines. For example, although there are some internal differences in opinion, nevertheless there seems to be quite a high degree of consensus within the domain of quantum physics about which researchers are competent members of the field and which ones are not, and what work is a strong contribution (or potential contribution). The very nature of philosophy, on the other hand, is “essentially contested”; what counts as a sound philosophical work within one school of thought, or socio-cultural or academic setting, may not be so-regarded (and may even be the focus of derision) in a different one. Coupled with this is the fact that the borders of the field are not policed, so that the philosophically-untrained can cross into it freely—indeed, over the past century or more a great many individuals from across the spectrum of real and pseudo disciplines have for whatever reason exercised their right to self-identify as members of this broad and loosely defined category of “philosophers” (as a few minutes spent browsing in the relevant section of a bookstore will verify).

In essence, then, there are two senses of the term “philosopher” and its cognates: a loose but common sense in which any individual who cogitates in any manner about such issues as the meaning of life, the nature of social justice, the essence of sportsmanship, the aims of education, the foundations of the school curriculum, or relationship with the Divine, is thereby a philosopher; and there is a more technical sense referring to those who have been formally trained or have acquired competence in one or more areas such as epistemology, metaphysics, moral philosophy, logic, philosophy of science, and the like. If this bifurcation presents a problem for adequately delineating the field of philosophy, the difficulties grow tenfold or more with respect to philosophy of education.

This essay offers a description and assessment of the field as seen by a scholar rooted firmly in the formal branch of “philosophy of education”, and moreover this branch as it has developed in the English-speaking world (some of which, of course, has been inspired by Continental philosophy); but first it is necessary to say a little more about the difficulties that confront the individual who sets out, without presuppositions, to understand the topography of “philosophy of education”.

It will not take long for a person who consults several of the introductory texts alluded to earlier to encounter a number of different bodies of work (loosely bounded to be sure) that have by one source or another been regarded as part of the domain of philosophy of education; the inclusion of some of these as part of the field is largely responsible for the diffuse topography described earlier. What follows is an informal and incomplete accounting.

First, there are works of advocacy produced by those non-technical, self-identified “philosophers” described above, who often have an axe to grind; they may wish to destroy (or to save) common schooling, support or attack some innovation or reform, shore-up or destroy the capitalist mode of production, see their own religion (or none at all) gain a foothold in the public schools, strengthen the place of “the basics” in the school curriculum, and so forth. While these topics certainly can be, and have been, discussed with due care, often they have been pursued in loose but impressive language where exhortation substitutes for argumentation—and hence sometimes they are mistaken for works of philosophy of education! In the following discussion this genre shall be passed over in silence.

Second, there is a corpus of work somewhat resembling the first, but where the arguments are tighter, and where the authors usually are individuals of some distinction whose insights are thought-provoking—possibly because they have a degree of familiarity with some branch of educational activity, having been teachers (or former teachers), school principals, religious leaders, politicians, journalists, and the like. While these works frequently touch on philosophical issues, they are not pursued to any philosophical depth and can hardly be considered as contributions to the scholarship of the discipline. However, some works in this genre are among the classics of “educational thought”—a more felicitous label than “philosophy of education”; cases in point would be the essays, pamphlets and letters of Thomas Arnold (headmaster of Rugby school), John Wesley (the founder of Methodism), J.H. (Cardinal) Newman, T.H. Huxley, and the writings on progressive schooling by A.S. Neill (of Summerhill school). Some textbooks even include extracts from the writings or recorded sayings of such figures as Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and Jesus of Nazareth (for the latter three, in works spanning more than half a century, see Ulich, 1950, and Murphy, 2006). Books and extracts in this genre—which elsewhere I have called “cultured reflection on education”—are often used in teacher-training courses that march under the banner of “educational foundations”, “introduction to educational thought”, or “introduction to philosophy of education”.

Third, there are a number of educational theorists and researchers, whose field of activity is not philosophy but—for example—might be human development or learning theory, who in their technical work and sometimes in their non-technical books and reflective essays explicitly raise philosophical issues or adopt philosophical modes of argumentation—and do so in ways worthy of careful study. If philosophy (including philosophy of education) is defined so as to include analysis and reflection at an abstract or “meta-level”, which undoubtedly is a domain where many philosophers labor, then these individuals should have a place in the annals of philosophy or philosophy of education; but too often, although not always, accounts of the field ignore them. Their work might be subjected to scrutiny for being educationally important, but their conceptual or philosophical contributions are rarely focused upon. (Philosophers of the physical and biological sciences are far less prone to make this mistake about the meta-level work of reflective scientists in these domains.)

The educational theorists and researchers I have in mind as exemplars here are the behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner (who among other things wrote about the fate of the notions of human freedom and dignity in the light of the development of a “science of behavior”, and who developed a model of human action and also of learning that eschewed the influence of mental entities such as motives, interests, and ideas and placed the emphasis instead upon “schedules of reinforcement”); the foundational figure in modern developmental psychology with its near-fixation on stage theories, Jean Piaget (who developed in an abstract and detailed manner a “genetic epistemology” that was related to his developmental research); and the social psychologist Lev Vygotsky (who argued that the development of the human youngster was indelibly shaped by social forces, so much so that approaches which focused on the lone individual and that were biologically-oriented—he had Piaget in mind here—were quite inadequate).

Fourth, and in contrast to the group above, there is a type of work that is traditionally but undeservedly given a prominent place in the annals of philosophy of education, and which thereby generates a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding about the field. These are the books and reflective essays on educational topics that were written by mainstream philosophers, a number of whom are counted among the greatest in the history of the discipline. The catch is this: Even great philosophers do not always write philosophy! The reflections being referred-to contain little if any philosophical argumentation, and usually they were not intended to be contributions to the literature on any of the great philosophical questions. Rather, they expressed the author's views (or even prejudices) on educational rather than philosophical problems, and sometimes—as in the case of Bertrand Russell's rollicking pieces defending progressive educational practices—they explicitly were “potboilers” written to make money. (In Russell's case the royalties were used to support a progressive school he was running with his current wife.) Locke, Kant, and Hegel also are among those who produced work of this genre.

John Locke is an interesting case in point. He had been requested by a cousin and her husband—possibly in part because of his medical training—to give advice on the upbringing of their son and heir; the youngster seems to have troubled his parents, most likely because he had learning difficulties. Locke, then in exile in Europe, wrote the parents a series of letters in which alongside sensible advice about such matters as the priorities in the education of a landed gentleman, and about making learning fun for the boy, there were a few strange items such as the advice that the boy should wear leaky shoes in winter so that he would be toughened-up! The letters eventually were printed in book form under the title Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), and seem to have had enormous influence down the ages upon educational practice; after two centuries the book had run through some 35 English editions and well over thirty foreign editions, and it is still in print and is frequently excerpted in books of readings in philosophy of education. In stark contrast, several of Locke's major philosophical writings—the Essay Concerning Human Understanding , and the Letter on Toleration —have been overlooked by most educational theorists over the centuries, even though they have enormous relevance for educational philosophy, theory, policy, and practice. It is especially noteworthy that the former of these books was the foundation for an approach to psychology—associationism—that thrived during the nineteenth century. In addition it stimulated interest in the processes of child development and human learning; Locke's model of the way in which the “blank tablet” of the human mind became “furnished” with simple ideas that were eventually combined or abstracted in various ways to form complex ideas, suggested to some that it might be fruitful to study this process in the course of development of a young child (Cleverley and Phillips, 1986).

Fifth, and finally, there is a large body of work that clearly falls within the more technically-defined domain of philosophy of education. Three historical giants of the field are Plato, Rousseau, and Dewey, and there are a dozen or more who would be in competition for inclusion along with them; the short-list of leading authors from the second-half of the 20 th century would include Richard Peters, Paul Hirst, and Israel Scheffler, with many jostling for the next places—but the choices become cloudy as we approach the present-day, for schisms between philosophical schools have to be negotiated.

It is important to note, too, that there is a sub-category within this domain of literature that is made-up of work by philosophers who are not primarily identified as philosophers of education, and who might or might not have had much to say directly about education, but whose philosophical work has been drawn upon by others and applied very fruitfully to educational issues. (A volume edited by Amelie Rorty contains essays on the education-related thought, or relevance, of many historically-important philosophers; significantly the essays are almost entirely written by philosophers rather than by members of the philosophy of education community. This is both their strength and weakness. See Rorty, 1998.)

The discussion will turn briefly to the difficulty in picturing the topography of the field that is presented by the influence of these philosophers.

As sketched earlier, the domain of education is vast, the issues it raises are almost overwhelmingly numerous and are of great complexity, and the social significance of the field is second to none. These features make the phenomena and problems of education of great interest to a wide range of socially-concerned intellectuals, who bring with them their own favored conceptual frameworks—concepts, theories and ideologies, methods of analysis and argumentation, metaphysical and other assumptions, criteria for selecting evidence that has relevance for the problems that they consider central, and the like. No wonder educational discourse has occasionally been likened to Babel, for the differences in backgrounds and assumptions means that there is much mutual incomprehension. In the midst of the melee sit the philosophers of education.

It is no surprise, then, to find that the significant intellectual and social trends of the past few centuries, together with the significant developments in philosophy, all have had an impact on the content and methods of argument in philosophy of education—Marxism, psycho-analysis, existentialism, phenomenology, positivism, post-modernism, pragmatism, neo-liberalism, the several waves of feminism, analytic philosophy in both its ordinary language and more formal guises, are merely the tip of the iceberg. It is revealing to note some of the names that were heavily-cited in a pair of recent authoritative handbooks in the field (according to the indices of the two volumes, and in alphabetical order): Adorno, Aristotle, Derrida, Descartes, Dewey, Habermas, Hegel, Horkheimer, Kant, Locke, Lyotard, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, Plato, Rawls, Richard Rorty, Rousseau, and Wittgenstein (Curren 2003; Blake, Smeyers, Smith, and Standish 2003). Although this list conveys something of the diversity of the field, it fails to do it complete justice, for the influence of feminist philosophers is not adequately represented.

No one individual can have mastered work done by such a range of figures, representing as they do a number of quite different frameworks or approaches; and relatedly no one person stands as emblematic of the entire field of philosophy of education, and no one type of philosophical writing serves as the norm, either. At professional meetings, peace often reigns because the adherents of the different schools go their separate ways; but occasionally there are (intellectually) violent clashes, rivaling the tumult that greeted Derrida's nomination for an honorary degree at Cambridge in 1992. It is sobering to reflect that only a few decades have passed since practitioners of analytic philosophy of education had to meet in individual hotel rooms, late at night, at annual meetings of the Philosophy of Education Society in the USA, because phenomenologists and others barred their access to the conference programs; their path to liberation was marked by discord until, eventually, the compromise of “live and let live” was worked out (Kaminsky, 1996). Of course, the situation has hardly been better in the home discipline; an essay in Time magazine in 1966 on the state of the discipline of philosophy reported that adherents of the major philosophical schools “don't even understand one another”, and added that as a result “philosophy today is bitterly segregated. Most of the major philosophy departments and scholarly journals are the exclusive property of one sect or another” ( Time , reprinted in Lucas, 1969, 32). Traditionally there has been a time-lag for developments in philosophy to migrate over into philosophy of education, but in this respect at least the two fields have been on a par.

Inevitably, however, traces of discord remain, and some groups still feel disenfranchised, but they are not quite the same groups as a few decades ago—for new intellectual paradigms have come into existence, and their adherents are struggling to have their voices heard; and clearly it is the case that—reflecting the situation in 1966—many analytically-trained philosophers of education find postmodern writings incomprehensible while scholars in the latter tradition are frequently dismissive if not contemptuous of work done by the former group. In effect, then, the passage of time has made the field more—and not less—diffuse. All this is evident in a volume published in 1995 in which the editor attempted to break-down borders by initiating dialogue between scholars with different approaches to philosophy of education; her introductory remarks are revealing:

Philosophers of education reflecting on the parameters of our field are faced not only with such perplexing and disruptive questions as: What counts as Philosophy of Education and why?; but also Who counts as a philosopher of education and why?; and What need is there for Philosophy of Education in a postmodern context? Embedded in these queries we find no less provocative ones: What knowledge, if any, can or should be privileged and why?; and Who is in a position to privilege particular discursive practices over others and why? Although such questions are disruptive, they offer the opportunity to take a fresh look at the nature and purposes of our work and, as we do, to expand the number and kinds of voices participating in the conversation. (Kohli, 1995, xiv).

There is an inward-looking tone to the questions posed here: Philosophy of education should focus upon itself, upon its own contents, methods, and practitioners. And of course there is nothing new about this; for one thing, almost forty years ago a collection of readings—with several score of entries—was published under the title What is Philosophy of Education? (Lucas, 1969). It is worth noting, too, that the same attitude is not unknown in philosophy; Simmel is reputed to have said a century or so ago that philosophy is its own first problem.

Having described the general topography of the field of philosophy of education, the focus can change to pockets of activity where from the perspective of this author interesting philosophical work is being, or has been, done—and sometimes this work has been influential in the worlds of educational policy or practice. It is appropriate to start with a discussion of the rise and partial decline—but lasting influence of—analytic philosophy of education This approach (often called “APE” by both admirers and detractors) dominated the field in the English-speaking world for several decades after the second world war, and its eventual fate throws light on the current intellectual climate.

2. Analytic philosophy of education, and its influence

Conceptual analysis, careful assessment of arguments, the rooting out of ambiguity, the drawing of clarifying distinctions—which make up part at least of the philosophical analysis package—have been respected activities within philosophy from the dawn of the field. But traditionally they stood alongside other philosophical activities; in the Republic , for example, Plato was sometimes analytic, at other times normative, and on occasion speculative/metaphysical. No doubt it somewhat over-simplifies the complex path of intellectual history to suggest that what happened in the twentieth century—early on, in the home discipline itself, and with a lag of a decade or more in philosophy of education—is that philosophical analysis came to be viewed by some scholars as being the major philosophical activity (or set of activities), or even as being the only viable or reputable activity (for metaphysics was judged to be literally vacuous, and normative philosophy was viewed as being unable to provide compelling warrants for whatever moral and ethical positions were being advocated).

So, although analytic elements in philosophy of education can be located throughout intellectual history back to the ancient world, the pioneering work in the modern period entirely in an analytic mode was the short monograph by C.D. Hardie, Truth and Fallacy in Educational Theory (1941; reissued in 1962). In his Introduction, Hardie (who had studied with C.D. Broad and I.A. Richards) made it clear that he was putting all his eggs into the ordinary-language-analysis basket:

The Cambridge analytical school, led by Moore, Broad and Wittgenstein, has attempted so to analyse propositions that it will always be apparent whether the disagreement between philosophers is one concerning matters of fact, or is one concerning the use of words, or is, as is frequently the case, a purely emotive one. It is time, I think, that a similar attitude became common in the field of educational theory. (Hardie, 1962, xix)

The first object of his analytic scrutiny in the book was the view that “a child should be educated according to Nature”; he teased apart and critiqued various things that writers through the ages could possibly have meant by this, and very little remained standing by the end of the chapter. Then some basic ideas of Herbart and Dewey were subjected to similar treatment. Hardie's hard-nosed approach can be illustrated by the following: One thing that educationists mean by “education according to Nature” (later he turns to other things they might mean) is that “the teacher should thus act like a gardener” who fosters natural growth of his plants and avoids doing anything “unnatural”(Hardie, 1962, 3). He continues:

The crucial question for such a view of education is how far does this analogy hold? There is no doubt that there is some analogy between the laws governing the physical development of the child and the laws governing the development of a plant, and hence there is some justification for the view if applied to physical education. But the educationists who hold this view are not generally very much concerned with physical education, and the view is certainly false if applied to mental education. For some of the laws that govern the mental changes which take place in a child are the laws of learning …. [which] have no analogy at all with the laws which govern the interaction between a seed and its environment. (Hardie, 1962, 4)

About a decade after the end of the Second World War the floodgates opened and a stream of work in the analytic mode appeared; the following is merely a sample. D.J. O'Connor published An Introduction to Philosophy of Education (1957) in which, among other things, he argued that the word “theory” as it is used in educational contexts is merely a courtesy title, for educational theories are nothing like what bear this title in the natural sciences; Israel Scheffler, who became the paramount philosopher of education in North America, produced a number of important works including The Language of Education (1960), that contained clarifying and influential analyses of definitions (he distinguished reportive, stipulative, and programmatic types) and the logic of slogans (often these are literally meaningless, and should be seen as truncated arguments); Smith and Ennis edited the volume Language and Concepts in Education (1961); and R.D. Archambault edited Philosophical Analysis and Education (1965), consisting of essays by a number of British writers who were becoming prominent—most notably R.S. Peters (whose status in Britain paralleled that of Scheffler in the USA), Paul Hirst, and John Wilson. Topics covered in the Archambault volume were typical of those that became the “bread and butter” of analytic philosophy of education throughout the English-speaking world—education as a process of initiation, liberal education, the nature of knowledge, types of teaching, and instruction versus indoctrination.

Among the most influential products of APE was the analysis developed by Hirst and Peters (1970), and Peters (1973), of the concept of education itself. Using as a touchstone “normal English usage”, it was concluded that a person who has been educated (rather than instructed or indoctrinated) has been (i) changed for the better; (ii) this change has involved the acquisition of knowledge and intellectual skills, and the development of understanding; and (iii) the person has come to care for, or be committed to, the domains of knowledge and skill into which he or she has been initiated. The method used by Hirst and Peters comes across clearly in their handling of the analogy with the concept of “reform”, one they sometimes drew upon for expository purposes. A criminal who has been reformed has changed for the better, and has developed a commitment to the new mode of life (if one or other of these conditions does not hold, a speaker of standard English would not say the criminal has been reformed). Clearly the analogy with reform breaks down with respect to the knowledge and understanding conditions. Elsewhere Peters developed the fruitful notion of “education as initiation”.

The concept of indoctrination was also of great interest to analytic philosophers of education, for—it was argued—getting clear about precisely what constitutes indoctrination also would serve to clarify the border that demarcates it from acceptable educational processes. Unfortunately, ordinary language analysis did not lead to unanimity of opinion about where this border was located, and rival analyses of the concept were put forward (Snook, 1972). Thus, whether or not an instructional episode was a case of indoctrination was determined by: the content that had been taught; or by the intention of the instructor; or by the methods of instruction that had been used; or by the outcomes of the instruction; or, of course, by some combination of these. Adherents of the different analyses used the same general type of argument to make their case, namely, appeal to normal and aberrant usage. Two examples will be sufficient to make the point: (i) The first criterion mentioned above—the nature of the content being imparted—was supported by an argument that ran roughly as follows: “If some students have learned, as factual, some material that is patently incorrect (like ‘The capital city of Canada is Washington D.C.’), then they must have been indoctrinated. This conclusion is reinforced by the consideration that we would never say students must have been indoctrinated if they believe an item that is correct!” However, both portions of this argument have been challenged. (ii) The method criterion—how the knowledge was imparted to the students—usually was supported by an argument that, while different, clearly paralleled the previous one in its logic. It ran roughly like this: “We never would say that students had been indoctrinated by their teacher if he or she had fostered open inquiry and discussion, encouraged exploration in the library and on the net, allowed students to work in collaborative groups, and so on. However, if the teacher did not allow independent inquiry, quashed classroom questions, suppressed dissenting opinions, relied heavily on rewards and punishments, used repetition and fostered rote memorization, and so on, then it is likely we would say the students were being indoctrinated”. (The deeper issue in this second example is that the first method of teaching allows room for the operation of the learners' rationality, while the second method does not. Siegel, 1988, stresses this in his discussion of indoctrination.)

After a period of dominance, for a number of important reasons the influence of APE went into decline. First, there were growing criticisms that the work of analytic philosophers of education had become focused upon minutiae and in the main was bereft of practical import; I can offer as illustration a presidential address at a US Philosophy of Education Society annual meeting that was an hour-long discourse on the various meanings of the expression “I have a toothache”. (It is worth noting that the 1966 article in Time , cited earlier, had put forward the same criticism of mainstream philosophy.) Second, in the early 1970's radical students in Britain accused the brand of linguistic analysis practiced by R.S. Peters of conservatism, and of tacitly giving support to “traditional values”—they raised the issue of whose English usage was being analyzed?

Third, criticisms of language analysis in mainstream philosophy had been mounting for some time, and finally after a lag of many years were reaching the attention of philosophers of education. There even had been a surprising degree of interest in this arcane topic on the part of the general reading public in the UK as early as 1959, when Gilbert Ryle, editor of the journal Mind , refused to commission a review of Ernest Gellner's Words and Things (1959)—a detailed and quite acerbic critique of Wittgenstein's philosophy and its espousal of ordinary language analysis. (Ryle argued that Gellner's book was too insulting, a view that drew Bertrand Russell into the fray on Gellner's side—in the daily press, no less; Russell produced examples of insulting remarks drawn from the work of great philosophers of the past. See Mehta, 1963)

Richard Peters had been given warning that all was not well with APE at a conference in Canada in 1966; after delivering a paper on “The aims of education: A conceptual inquiry” that was based on ordinary language analysis, a philosopher in the audience (William Dray) asked Peters “ whose concepts do we analyze?” Dray went on to suggest that different people, and different groups within society, have different concepts of education. Five years before the radical students raised the same issue, Dray pointed to the possibility that what Peters had presented under the guise of a “logical analysis” was nothing but the favored usage of a certain class of persons—a class that Peters happened to identify with. (See Peters, 1973, where to the editor's credit the interaction with Dray is reprinted.)

Fourth, during the decade of the seventies when these various critiques of analytic philosophy were in the process of eroding its luster, a spate of translations from the Continent stimulated some philosophers of education in Britain and North America to set out in new directions, and to adopt a new style of writing and argumentation. Key works by Gadamer, Foucault, and Derrida appeared in English, and these were followed in 1984 by Lyotard's foundational work on The Postmodern Condition . The classic works of Heidegger and Husserl also found new admirers; and feminist philosophers of education were finding their voices—Maxine Greene published a number of pieces in the 1970s; the influential book by Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education , appeared the same year as the work by Lyotard, followed a year later by Jane Roland Martin's Reclaiming a Conversation . APE was no longer the center of interest.

By the 1980s, the rather simple if not simplistic ordinary language analysis practiced in philosophy of education, was reeling under the attack from the combination of forces sketched above, but the analytic spirit lived on in the form of rigorous work done in other specialist areas of philosophy—work that trickled out and took philosophy of education in rich new directions. Technically-oriented epistemology, philosophy of science, and even metaphysics, flourished; as did the interrelated fields of social, political and moral philosophy. John Rawls published A Theory of Justice in 1971; a decade later MacIntyre's After Virtue appeared; and in another decade or so there was a flood of work on individualism, communitarianism, democratic citizenship, inclusion, exclusion, rights of children versus rights of parents, rights of groups (such as the Amish) versus rights of the larger polity. From the early 1990s philosophers of education have contributed significantly to the debates on these and related topics—indeed, this corpus of work illustrates that good philosophy of education flows seamlessly into work being done in mainstream areas of philosophy. Illustrative examples are Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy , Callan (1997); The Demands of Liberal Education , Levinson (1999); Social Justice and School Choice , Brighouse (2000); and Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education , Reich (2002). These works stand shoulder-to-shoulder with semi-classics on the same range of topics by Gutmann, Kymlicka, Macedo, and others. An excerpt from the book by Callan nicely illustrates that the analytic spirit lives on in this body of work; the broader topic being pursued is the status of the aims of education in a pluralistic society where there can be deep fundamental disagreements:

… the distinction must be underlined between the ends that properly inform political education and the extent to which we should tolerate deviations from those ends in a world where reasonable and unreasonable pluralism are entangled and the moral costs of coercion against the unreasonable variety are often prohibitive. Our theoretical as well as our commonsense discourse do not always respect the distinction…. If some of the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church conflict with our best theory of the ends of civic education, it does not follow that we have any reason to revise our theory; but neither does it mean we have any reason to impose these ends on Catholic schools and the families that they serve. (Callan, 1997, 44)

Callan and White (2003) have given an analysis of why the topics described above have become such a focus of attention. “What has been happening in philosophy of education in recent years”, they argue, mirrors “a wider self-examination in liberal societies themselves”. World events, from the fall of communism to the spread of ethnic conflicts “have all heightened consciousness of the contingency of liberal politics”. A body of work in philosophy, from the early Rawls on, has systematically examined (and critiqued) the foundations of liberalism, and philosophy of education has been drawn into the debates. Callan and White mention communitarianism as offering perhaps “the most influential challenge” to liberalism, and they write:

The debate between liberals and communitarians is far more than a theoretical diversion for philosophers and political scientists. At stake are rival understandings of what makes human lives and the societies in which they unfold both good and just, and derivatively, competing conceptions of the education needed for individual and social betterment. (Callan and White, 2003, 95-96)

It should be appended here that it is not only “external” world events that have stimulated this body of work; events internal to a number of democratic societies also have been significant. To cite one example that is prominent in the literature in North America at least, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling ( Wisconsin v. Yoder ) in which members of the Amish sect were allowed to withdraw their children from public schools before they had reached the age of sixteen—for, it had been argued, any deeper education would endanger the existence of the group and its culture. In assessing this decision—as of course philosophers have frequently done (see, for example, Kymlicka, 1995)—a balance has to be achieved between (i) the interest of civic society in having an informed, well-educated, participatory citizenry; (ii) the interest of the Amish as a group in preserving their own culture; and (iii) the interests of the Amish children, who have a right to develop into autonomous individuals who can make reflective decisions for themselves about the nature of the life they wish to lead. These are issues that fall squarely in the domain covered by the works mentioned above.

So much work is being produced on the complex and interrelated issues just outlined, that in a different context it seemed fair for me to remark (descriptively, and not judgmentally) that a veritable cottage industry had sprung up in post-Rawlsian philosophy of education. There are, of course, other areas of activity, where interesting contributions are being made, and the discusion will next turn to a sampling of these.

3. Other areas of contemporary activity

As was stressed at the outset, and illustrated with a cursory listing of examples, the field of education is huge and contains within it a virtually inexhaustible number of issues that are of philosophical interest. To attempt comprehensive coverage of how philosophers of education have been working within this thicket would be a quixotic task for a large single volume, and is out of the question for a solitary encyclopedia entry. Nevertheless, a valiant attempt to give an overview was made in the recent A Companion to the Philosophy of Education (Curren, 2003), which contained more than six-hundred pages divided into fourty-five chapters each of which surveyed a subfield of work. The following random selection of chapter topics gives a sense of the enormous scope of the field: Sex education, special education, science education, aesthetic education, theories of teaching and learning, religious education, knowledge and truth in learning, cultivating reason, the measurement of learning, multicultural education, education and the politics of identity, education and standards of living, motivation and classroom management, feminism, critical theory, postmodernism, romanticism, purposes of universities in a fluid age, affirmative action in higher education, and professional education.

There is no non-arbitrary way to select a small number of topics for further discussion, nor can the topics that are chosen be pursued in great depth. The choice of those below has been made with an eye to filling out—and deepening—the topographical account of the field that was presented in the preceding sections. The discussion will open with a topic that was not included in the Companion , despite it being one that is of great concern across the academic educational community, and despite it being one where adherents of some of the rival schools of philosophy (and philosophy of education) have had lively exchanges.

The educational research enterprise has been criticized for a century or more by politicians, policymakers, administrators, curriculum developers, teachers, philosophers of education, and by researchers themselves—but the criticisms have been contradictory. Charges of being “too ivory tower and theory-oriented” are found alongside “too focused on practice and too atheoretical”; but particularly since publication of the book by Stokes mentioned earlier, and also in light of the views of John Dewey and William James that the function of theory is to guide intelligent practice and problem-solving, it is becoming more fashionable to hold that the “theory v. practice” dichotomy is a false one.

A similar trend can be discerned with respect to the long warfare between two rival groups of research methods—on one hand quantitative/statistical approaches to research, and on the other hand the qualitative/ethnographic family. (The choice of labels here is its not entirely risk-free, for they have been contested; furthermore the first approach is quite often associated with “experimental” studies, and the latter with “case studies”, but this is an over-simplification.) For several decades these two rival methodological camps were treated by researchers and a few philosophers of education as being rival paradigms (Kuhn's ideas, albeit in a very loose form, have been influential in the field of educational research), and the dispute between them was commonly referred-to as “the paradigm wars”. In essence the issue at stake was epistemolgical: members of the quantitative/experimental camp believed that only their methods could lead to well-warranted knowledge claims, especially about the causal factors at play in educational phenomena, and on the whole they regarded qualitative methods as lacking in rigor; on the other hand the adherents of qualitative/ethnographic approaches held that the other camp was too “positivistic” and was operating with an inadequate view of causation in human affairs—one that ignored the role of motives and reasons, possession of relevant background knowledge, awareness of cultural norms, and the like. Few if any commentators in the “paradigm wars” suggested that there was anything prohibiting the use of both approaches in the one research program—provided that if both were used, they only were used sequentially or in parallel, for they were underwritten by different epistemologies and hence could not be blended together. But recently the trend has been towards rapprochement, towards the view that the two methodological families are, in fact, compatible and are not at all like paradigms in the Kuhnian sense(s) of the term; the melding of the two approaches is often called “mixed methods research”, and it is growing in popularity. (For more detailed discussion of these “wars” see Howe, 2003, and Phillips, 2008.)

The most lively contemporary debates about education research, however, were set in motion around the turn of the millenium when the US Federal Government moved in the direction of funding only rigorously scientific educational research—the kind that could establish causal factors which could then guide the development of practically effective policies. (It was held that such a causal knowledge base was available for medical decisionmaking.) The definition of “rigorously scientific”, however, was decided by politicans and not by the research community, and it was given in terms of the use of a specific research method—the net effect being that the only research projects to receive Federal funding were those that carried out randomized controlled experiments or field trials (RFTs). It has beome common over the last decade to refer to the RFT as the “gold standard” methodology.

The National Research Council (NRC)—an arm of the U.S. National Academies of Science—issued a report, influenced by postpostivistic philosophy of science (NRC, 2002), that argued this criterion was far too narrow. Numerous essays have appeared subsequently that point out how the “gold standard” account of scientific rigor distorts the history of science, how the complex nature of the relation between evidence and policy-making has been distorted and made to appear overly simple (for instance the role of value-judgments in linking empirical findings to policy directives is often overlooked), and qualitative researchers have insisted upon the scientific nature of their work.

Nevertheless, and possibly because it tried to be balanced and supported the use of RFTs in some research contexts, the NRC report has been the subject of symposia in four journals, where it has been supported by a few and attacked from a variety of philosophical fronts: Its authors were positivists, they erroneously believed that educational inquiry could be value-neutral and that it could ignore the ways in which exercise of power constrains the research process, they misunderstood the nature of educational phenomena, they were guilty of advocating “your father's paradigm”(clearly this was not intended as a compliment). One critic with postmodernist leanings asserted that educational research should move “toward a Nietzschean sort of ‘unnatural science’ that leads to greater health by fostering ways of knowing that escape normativity”—a suggestion that evokes the reaction discussed in Section 1.3 above, namely, one of incomprehension on the part of most researchers and those philosophers of education who work within a different tradition where a “way of knowing”, in order to be a “way”, must inevitably be normative.

The final complexity in the debates over the nature of educational research is that there are some respected members of the philosophy of education community who claim, along with Carr, that “the forms of human association characteristic of educational engagement are not really apt for scientific or empirical study at all” (Carr, 2003, 54-5). His reasoning is that educational processes cannot be studied empirically because they are processes of “normative initiation”—a position that as it stands begs the question by not making clear why such processes cannot be studied empirically.

The issue of what should be taught to students at all levels of education—the issue of curriculum content—obviously is a fundamental one, and it is an extraordinarily difficult one with which to grapple. In tackling it, care needs to be taken to distinguish between education and schooling—for although education can occur in schools, so can mis-education (as Dewey pointed out), and many other things can take place there that are educationally orthogonal (such as the provision of free or subsidized lunches, or the development of social networks); and it also must be recognized that education can occur in the home, in libraries and museums, in churches and clubs, in solitary interaction with the public media, and the like.

In developing a curriculum (whether in a specific subject area, or more broadly as the whole range of offerings in an educational institution or in a system), a number of difficult decisions need to be made. Issues such as the proper ordering or sequencing of topics in the chosen subject, the time to be allocated to each topic, the lab work or excursions or projects that are appropriate for particular topics, can all be regarded as technical issues best resolved either by educationists who have a depth of experience with the target age group or by experts in the psychology of learning and the like. But there are deeper issues, ones concerning the validity of the justifications that have been given for including particular subjects or topics in the offerings of formal educational institutions. (Why is evolution included, or excluded, as a topic within the standard high school subject Biology? Why is Driver Education part of the high school curriculum, and methods of birth control usually not—even though sex has an impact on the life of teenagers that at least is comparable to the impact of car-driving? Is the justification that is given for teaching Economics in some schools coherent and convincing? Does the justification for not including the Holocaust or the phenomenon of wartime atrocities in the curriculum in some countries stand up to critical scrutiny?)

The different justifications for particular items of curriculum content that have been put forward by philosophers and others since Plato's brilliant pioneering efforts all draw upon, explicitly or implicitly, the positions that the respective theorists hold about at least three sets of issues. First, what are the aims and/or functions of education (aims and functions are not necessarily the same), or alternatively, what constitutes the good life and human flourishing. These two formulations are related, for presumably our educational institutions should aim to equip individuals to pursue this good life. Thus, for example, if our view of human flourishing includes the capacity to act rationally and/or autonomously, then the case can be made that educational institutions—and their curricula—should aim to prepare, or help to prepare, autonomous individuals. How this is to be done, of course, is not immediately obvious, and much philosophical ink has been spilled on the matter. One influential line of argument was developed by Paul Hirst, who argued that knowledge is essential for developing a conception of the good life, and then for pursuing it; and because logical analysis shows—he argued—that there are seven basic forms of knowledge, the case can be made that the function of the curriculum is to introduce students to each of these forms. Luckily for Hirst, the typical British high school day was made up of seven instructional periods. (Hirst, 1965; for a critique see Phillips, 1987, ch.11.)

Second, is it justifiable to treat the curriculum of an educational institution as vehicle for furthering the socio-political interests and goals of a ruler or ruling class; and relatedly, is it justifiable to design the curriculum so that it serves as a medium of control or of social engineering? In the closing decades of the twentieth century there were numerous discussions of curriculum theory, particularly from Marxist and postmodern perspectives, that offered the sobering analysis that in many educational systems, including those in Western democracies, the curriculum did indeed reflect, and serve, the interests of the ruling class. Michael Apple is typical:

… the knowledge that now gets into schools is already a choice from a much larger universe of possible social knowledge and principles. It is a form of cultural capital that comes from somewhere, that often reflects the perspectives and beliefs of powerful segments of our social collectivity. In its very production and dissemination as a public and economic commodity—as books, films, materials, and so forth—it is repeatedly filtered through ideological and economic commitments. Social and economic values, hence, are already embedded in the design of the institutions we work in, in the ‘formal corpus of school knowledge’ we preserve in our curricula….(Apple, 1990, 8-9)

Third, should educational programs at the elementary and secondary levels be made up of a number of disparate offerings, so that individuals with different interests and abilities and affinities for learning can pursue curricula that are suitable? Or should every student pursue the same curriculum as far as each is able—a curriculum, it should be noted, that in past cases nearly always was based on the needs or interests of those students who were academically inclined or were destined for elite social roles. Mortimer Adler and others in the late twentieth century (who arguably were following Plato's lead in the Republic ), sometimes used the aphorism “the best education for the best is the best education for all”.

The thinking here can be explicated in terms of the analogy of an out-of-control virulent disease, for which there is only one type of medicine available; taking a large dose of this medicine is extremely beneficial, and the hope is that taking only a little—while less effective—is better than taking none at all! Medically, this probably is dubious, while the educational version—forcing students to work, until they exit the system, on topics that do not interest them and for which they have no facility or motivation—has even less merit. (For a critique of Adler and his Paideia Proposal , see Noddings, 2007.) It is interesting to compare the modern “one curriculum track for all” position with Plato's system outlined in the Republic , according to which all students—and importantly this included girls—set out on the same course of study. Over time, as they moved up the educational ladder it would become obvious that some had reached the limit imposed upon them by nature, and they would be directed off into appropriate social roles in which they would find fulfillment, for their abilities would match the demands of these roles. Those who continued on with their education would eventually be able to contemplate the metaphysical realm of the “forms”, thanks to their advanced training in mathematics and philosophy. Having seen the form of the Good, they would be eligible after a period of practical experience to become members of the ruling class of Guardians.

Plato's educational scheme was guided, presumably, by the understanding he thought he had achieved of the transcendental realm of fixed “forms”. John Dewey, ever a strong critic of positions that were not naturalistic, or that incorporated a priori premises, commented as follows:

Plato's starting point is that the organization of society depends ultimately upon knowledge of the end of existence. If we do not know its end, we shall be at the mercy of accident and caprice…. And only those who have rightly trained minds will be able to recognize the end, and ordering principle of things. (Dewey, 1916, 102-3)

Furthermore, as Dewey again put it, Plato “had no perception of the uniqueness of individuals…. they fall by nature into classes”, which masks the “infinite diversity of active tendencies” which individuals harbor (104). In addition, Plato tended to talk of learning using the passive language of seeing, which has shaped our discourse down to the present (witness “Now I see it!” when a difficult point has become clear).

In contrast, for Dewey each individual was an organism situated in a biological and social environment in which problems were constantly emerging, forcing the individual to reflect and act, and learn. Dewey, following William James, held that knowledge arises from reflection upon our actions; and the worth of a putative item of knowledge is directly correlated with the problem-solving success of the actions performed under its guidance. Thus Dewey, sharply disagreeing with Plato, regarded knowing as an active rather than a passive affair—a strong theme in his writings is his opposition to what is sometimes called “the spectator theory of knowledge”. All this is made clear enough in a passage containing only a thinly-veiled allusion to Plato's famous analogy of the prisoners in the cave whose eyes are turned to the light by education:

In schools, those under instruction are too customarily looked upon as acquiring knowledge as theoretical spectators, minds which appropriate knowledge by direct energy of intellect. The very word pupil has almost come to mean one who is engaged not in having fruitful experiences but in absorbing knowledge directly. Something which is called mind or consciousness is severed from the physical organs of activity. (164)

This passage also illuminates a passage that many have found puzzling: “philosophy is the theory of education” (387). For in the sentences above it is easy to see the tight link between Dewey's epistemology and his views on education—his anti-spectator epistemology morphs directly into advocacy for anti-spectator learning by students in school—students learn by being active inquirers. Over the past few decades this view of learning has inspired a major tradition of research by educational psychologists, and related theory-development (the “situated cognition” framework); and these bodies of work have in turn led to innovative efforts in curriculum development. (For a discussion of these, see Phillips, 2003.)

The final important difference with Plato is that, for Dewey, each student is an individual who blazes his or her unique trail of growth; the teacher has the task of guiding and facilitating this growth, without imposing a fixed end upon the process. Dewey sometimes uses the term “curriculum” to mean “the funded wisdom of the human race”, the point being that over the course of human history an enormous stock of knowledge and skills has accumulated and the teacher has the task of helping the student to make contact with this repertoire—but helping by facilitating rather than by imposing. (All this, of course, has been the subject of intense discussion among philosophers of education: Does growth imply a direction? Is growth always good—can't a plant end up misshapen, and can't a child develop to become bad? Is Dewey some type of perfectionist? Is his philosophy too vague to offer worthwhile educational guidance? Isn't it possible for a “Deweyan” student to end up without enough relevant knowledge and skills to be able to make a living in the modern world?)

Dewey's work was of central importance for the American progressive education movement in its formative years, although there was a fair degree of misunderstanding of his ideas as progressives interpreted his often extremely dense prose to be saying what they personally happened to believe. Nevertheless, Dewey became the “poster child” or the “house philosopher” of progressive education, and if he didn't make it onto many actual posters he certainly made it onto a postage stamp.

His popularity, however, sharply declined after the Soviets launched Sputnik, for Dewey and progressive education were blamed for the USA losing the race into space (illustrating the point about scapegoating made at the start of this essay). But he did not remain in disgrace for long; and for some time has been the focus of renewed interest—although it is still noticeable that commentators interpret Dewey to be holding views that mirror their own positions or interests. And interestingly, there now is slightly more interest in Dewey on the part of philosophers of education in the UK than there was in earlier years, and there is growing interest by philosophers from the Continent (see, for example, Biesta and Burbules, 2003).

To be a poster child for progressivism, however, is not to be the parent. Rather than to Dewey, that honor must go to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and to his educational novel written in soaring prose, Emile (1762). Starting with the premise that “God makes all things good; man meddles with them and they become evil” (Rousseau, 1955, 5), Rousseau held that contemporary man has been misshapen by his education; the “crushing force” of social conventions has stifled the “Nature within him”. The remedy adopted in the novel is for the young Emile to be taken to his family estate in the country where, away from the corrupting influence of society, and under the watchful eye of his tutor, “everything should … be brought into harmony with these natural tendencies”. (This idea of education according to nature, it will be recalled, was the object of Hardie's analytic attention almost two centuries later.)

Out in the countryside, rather than having a set curriculum that he is forced to follow, Emile learns when some natural stimulus or innate interest motivates him—and under these conditions learning comes easily. He is allowed to suffer the natural consequences of his actions (if he breaks a window, he gets cold; if he takes the gardener's property, the gardener will no longer do him favors), and experiences such as these lead to the development of his moral system. Although Rousseau never intended these educational details to be taken literally as a blueprint (he saw himself as developing and illustrating the basic principles), over the ages there have been attempts to implement them, one being the famous British “free school”, A.S. Neill's Summerhill. (It is worth noting that Neill claimed not to have read Rousseau; but he was working in a milieu in which Rousseau's ideas were well-known—intellectual influence can follow a less than direct path.) Furthermore, over the ages these principles also have proven to be fertile soil for philosophers of education to till.

Even more fertile ground for comment, in recent years, has been Rousseau's proposal for the education of girls, developed in a section of the novel (Book V) that bears the name of the young woman who is destined to be Emile's soul-mate, Sophy. The puzzle has been why Rousseau—who had been so far-sighted in his discussion of Emile's education—was so hide-bound if not retrograde in his thinking about her education. One short quotation is sufficient to illustrate the problem: “If woman is made to please and to be in subjection to man, she ought to make herself pleasing in his eyes and not provoke him …her strength is in her charms” (324).

The educational principles developed by Rousseau and Dewey, and numerous educational theorists and philosophers in the interregnum, are alive and well in the twenty-first century. Of particular contemporary interest is the evolution that has occurred of the progressive idea that each student is an active learner who is pursuing his or her own individual educational path. By incorporating elements of the classical empiricist epistemology of John Locke, this progressive principle has become transformed into the extremely popular position known as constructivism, according to which each student in a classroom constructs his or her own individual body of understandings even when all in the group are given what appears to be the same stimulus or educational experience. (A consequence of this is that a classroom of thirty students will have thirty individually-constructed, and possibly different, bodies of “knowledge”, in addition to that of the teacher!) There is also a solipsistic element here, for constructivists also believe that none of us—teachers included—can directly access the bodies of understandings of anyone else; each of us is imprisoned in a world of our own making. It is an understatement to say that this poses great difficulties for the teacher. The education journals of the past two decades contain many thousands of references to discussions of this position, which elsewhere I claimed has become a type of educational “secular religion”; for reasons that are hard to discern it is particularly influential in mathematics and science education. (For a discussion of the underlying philosophical ideas in constructivism, and for an account of some of its varieties, see the essays in Phillips, ed., 2000.)

As stressed earlier, it is impossible to do justice the whole field of philosophy of education in a single encyclopedia entry. Different countries around the world—France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, to mention only a few—have their own intellectual traditions, and their own ways of institutionalizing philosophy of education into the academic universe, and no discussion of any of this appears in the present essay. But even in the Anglo-American world, there is such a diversity of approaches to the discipline that any author attempting to produce a synoptic account will quickly run into the borders of his or her areas of competence. Clearly this has happened in the present case.

Fortunately, in the last twenty years or so resources have become available that significantly alleviate these problems. There has been a flood of encyclopedia entries, commenting on the field as a whole or on many specific topics not well-covered in the present essay (see, as a sample, Burbules, 1994; Chambliss, 1996; Phillips, 1985; Siegel, 2007; Smeyers, 1994); two large volumes—a “Guide” (Blake, Smeyers, Smith and Standish, 2003) and a “Companion” (Curren, 2003)—have been produced by Blackwell in their well-known philosophy series; and the same publisher recently released an anthology, with 60 papers considered to be important in the field, and which also are representative of the range of work that is being done (Curren, 2007). Several encyclopedias of philosophy of education have been published or are in the works (for example, Chambliss, 1996; Siegel, 2008); there is a dictionary of key concepts in the field (Winch and Gingell, 1999), and a good textbook or two (see Noddings, 2007); in addition there are numerous volumes both of reprinted selections and of specially commissioned essays on specific topics, some of which were given short shrift in the present work (for another sampling see A. Rorty, 1998; Smeyers and Marshall, 1995; Stone, 1994); and several international journals appear to be flourishing— Educational Philosophy and Theory , Educational Theory , Journal of Philosophy of Education , Studies in Philosophy and Education , Theory and Research in Education . Thus there is enough material available to keep the interested reader busy, and to provide alternative assessments to the ones presented in this present essay.

  • Apple, M., 1990, Ideology and Curriculum , New York: Routledge, 2 nd . Editon.
  • Archambault, R., (ed.), 1965, Philosophical Analysis and Education , London: Routledge.
  • Biesta, G., and Burbules, N., 2003, Pragmatism and Educational Research , Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Blake, N., Smeyers, P., Smith, R., and Standish, P., (eds.), 2003, The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education , Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Brighouse, H., 2000, Social Justice and School Choice , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Burbules, N., 1994, “Marxism and Educational Thought”, in The International Encyclopedia of Education , (Volume 6), T. Husen and N. Postlethwaite (eds.), Oxford: Pergamon, 2 nd . Edition, pp. 3617-22.
  • Callan, E., 1997, Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy , Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Callan, E., and White, J., 2003, “Liberalism and Communitarianism”, in The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education , N. Blake, P. Smeyers, R. Smith and P. Standish (eds.), Oxford: Blackwell, pp.95-109.
  • Carr, D., 2003, Making Sense of Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy and Theory of Education and Teaching , London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • Chambliss, J., 1996, “History of Philosophy of Education”, in Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia , J. Chambliss (ed.), New York: Garland, pp.461-72.
  • Cleverley, J., and Phillips, D.C., 1986, Visions of Childhood , New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Curren, R., (ed.), 2003, A Companion to the Philosophy of Education , Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Curren, R., (ed.), 2007, Philosophy of Education: An Anthology , Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Dewey, J., 1916, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education , New York: Macmillan.
  • Gellner, E., 1959, Words and Things , London: Gollancz.
  • Hardie, C., 1962, Truth and Fallacy in Educational Theory , New York: Teachers College Bureau of Publications.
  • Hirst, P., 1965, “Liberal Education and the Nature of Knowledge”, in Philosophical Analysis and Education , R. Archambault, (ed.), London: Routledge, pp. 113-138.
  • Hirst, P., and Peters, R., 1970, The Logic of Education , London: Routledge.
  • Howe, K., 2003, Closing Methodological Divides: Toward Democratic Educational Research . Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  • Kaminsky, J., 1996, “Philosophy of Education: Professional Organizations In”, in Philosophy of Education: An Encyclopedia , J. Chambliss, (ed.), New York: Garland, pp. 475-79.
  • Kohli, W., (ed.), 1995, Critical Conversations in Philosophy of Education , New York: Routledge.
  • Kymlicka, W., 1995, Multicultural Citizenship , Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Levinson, M., 1999, The Demands of Liberal Education , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Lucas, C., (ed.), 1969, What is Philosophy of Education? London: Macmillan.
  • Martin, J., 1985, Reclaiming a Conversation , New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
  • Mehta, V., 1963, Fly and the Fly-Bottle : London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
  • Murphy, M., (ed.), 2006, The History and Philosophy of Education: Voices of Educational Pioneers , New Jersey: Pearson.
  • Noddings, N., 1984, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education , Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • –––, 2007, Philosophy of Education , Boulder, CO: Westview, 2 nd . Edition.
  • National Research Council (NRC), 2002, Scientific Research in Education , Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  • O'Connor, D., 1957, An Introduction to Philosophy of Education , London: Routledge.
  • Peters, R., (ed.), 1973, The Philosophy of Education , Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Phillips, D.C., 1985, “Philosophy of Education”, in International Encyclopedia of Education, T. Husen and N. Postletwaite, (eds.), pp.3859-3877.
  • –––, 1987, Philosophy, Science, and Social Inquiry , Oxford: Pergamon.
  • –––, (ed.), 2000, Constructivism in Education: Opinions and Second Opinions on Controversial Issues , (Series: 99 th . Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education), Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • –––, 2003, “Theories of Teaching and Learning”, in A Companion to the Philosophy of Education , R. Curren, (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 232-245.
  • –––, 2008, “Empirical Educational Research: Charting Philosophical Disagreements in an Undisciplined Field”, in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Education , H. Siegel (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press.
  • Reich, R., 2002, Bridging Liberalism and Multiculturalism in American Education , Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Rorty, A., (ed.), 1998, Philosophers on Education: New Historical Perspectives , New York: Routledge.
  • Rousseau, J-J., 1955, Emile , B. Foxley, (tr.), London: Dent/Everyman.
  • Scheffler, I., 1960, The Language of Education , Illinois: Thomas.
  • Siegel, H., 1988, Educating Reason: rationality, Critical Thinking, and Education , New York: Routledge.
  • –––, 2007, “Philosophy of Education”, in Britannica Online Encyclopedia , [ Available online ].
  • –––, (ed.), 2008, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Education , Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press.
  • Smeyers, P., 1994, “Philosophy of Education: Western European Perspectives”, in The International Encyclopedia of Education , (Volume 8), T. Husen and N. Postlethwaite, (eds.), Oxford: Pergamon, 2 nd . Edition, pp. 4456-61.
  • Smeyers, P., and Marshall, J., (eds.), 1995, Philosophy and Education: Accepting Wittgenstein's Challenge , Dordrecht: Kluwer.
  • Smith, B., and Ennis, R., (eds.), 1961, Language and Concepts in Education , Chicago: Rand McNally.
  • Snook, I., 1972, Indoctrination and Education , London: Routledge.
  • Stokes, D., 1997, Pasteur's Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation , Washington, DC: Brookings.
  • Stone, L., (ed.), 1994, The Education Feminism Reader , New York: Routledge.
  • Ulich, R., 1954, Three Thousand Years of Educational Wisdom , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Revised Ed.
  • Winch, C., and Gingell, J., 1999, Key Concepts in the Philosophy of Education , London: Routledge.
  • PES (Philosophy of Education Society, North America)
  • PESA (Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia)
  • PESGB (Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain)
  • INPE (International Network of Philosophers of Education)
  • UNESCO/International Bureau of Education: Thinkers on Education

autonomy: personal | -->Dewey, John --> | feminist (interventions): ethics | feminist (interventions): liberal feminism | feminist (interventions): political philosophy | -->feminist (topics): perspectives on autonomy --> | feminist (topics): perspectives on disability | Foucault, Michel | Gadamer, Hans-Georg | liberalism | Locke, John | -->Lyotard, Jean François --> | -->ordinary language --> | Plato | postmodernism | Rawls, John | rights: of children | -->Rousseau, Jean Jacques -->

  • Advanced Search
  • by Research Center
  • by Document Type
  • Users by Expertise
  • Users by Department
  • Users by Name
  • Latest Additions


  • -->Main Page
  • Getting Started
  • Submitting Your ETD
  • Repository Policies

--> (2011) Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

) -->

The question of how to educate our youth has been a tradition in philosophy since the time of the ancients and now has become highly debated issue in contemporary society. While answers to this problem take on many different forms, there is a way to interpret much of the canon as arguing for an education that strives to pass down the ability to learn on one's own. 'How educators are supposed to support such an aim,' is the primary question of this work. To thoroughly answer this question, many aspects of education must be considered: classroom behavior, curriculum, theories of learning, teaching, and evaluation. These problems are addressed in the spirit of a constructivist view on education and are supported foundationally by philosophical arguments - primarily Wilfrid Sellars's views regarding the process of becoming a language user. Accepting Sellars's model of language acquisition and a modern view on the nature of knowledge, an immersive approach to 'learning how to learn' is taken. Designing a curriculum that emulates a structure of knowledge, slow and thorough inculcation of creative and critical thinking skills, and taking seriously the notion of teaching as a practice are all central themes to the proposed system. Elaborating on how to bring these pieces together into one view on education is the fundamental thread of the work, though, secondarily, there is discussion of harmful practices that are current in education. To actualize a system that truly aims at learning, it will be argued that grades and standardized tests are methods of evaluating that must be disabused. The argument for this is that their affectation on the attitudes of students and teachers has an undermining effect on the educational ideology that is central to this thesis. Bringing all of these parts together, the hope is to not only build an educational ideal with a system that inculcates students with the ability to properly learn, but also provide for an institution that supports human flourishing.

Social Networking: |
Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Skirpan, Michael Warren MWS23
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSchafer, Karl SCHAFERK
Committee MemberPaul, Elliot
Committee MemberMcDowell, John JMCDOWEL
Committee MemberGiazzoni, Michael GIAZZONI

Monthly Views for the past 3 years

Plum analytics, actions (login required).

View Item

This site is hosted by the University Library System of the University of Pittsburgh as part of its D-Scribe Digital Publishing Program

The ULS Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing fosters and supports new modes of publishing and information-sharing among researchers.

The University of Pittsburgh and D-Scholarship@Pitt support Open Access to research.

Connect with us

Send comments or questions.

82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

Need to write a philosophy of education essay? Looking for philosophy of education research topics or essay ideas? Read this article, and you will surely ace your paper!

🏆 Best Philosophy of Education Topic Ideas & Essay Examples

📌 interesting philosophy of education essay topics, 👍 philosophy of education research topics, ❓ essay questions on philosophy of education.

A philosophy of education essay is focused on the nature of education and philosophical issued related to it. In your paper, you can write about philosophy’s contribution to education. Or, you can study its history starting from ancient times.

In this article, you will find excellent philosophy of education essay examples and topic ideas for various assignments. Feel free to use them for inspiration!

  • Radical Philosophy of Adult Education A major focus of the radical educational philosophy is to equip learners with skills that are vital for dealing with social, political, and economic changes in society.
  • Author’s Philosophy of Education I believe that the purpose of education is to help students discover their strong characteristics and potential and employ those to become the best version of themselves and achieve future social and financial well-being.
  • Personal Philosophy of Education The philosophy embraces the use of intrinsic competencies and skills that have the potential to produce the most desirable results. In order to achieve the best results, a personalized model should be developed to address […]
  • Al-Ghazali Philosophy: Principles of Education The future of the Arab and Islamic world is dependent on the results of the battle between the teachings of al-Maududi and those of al-Ghazali.
  • Plato’s Philosophy on Exposure to Education Plato establishes what education is worth for both the individual and the state in The Republic, emphasizing the crucial function of those who select the materials to educate the state’s future guardians.
  • Philosophy of Education: Key Points An important argument of many philosophers and thinkers is that arts and liberal education adds another very important component to the mindset and understanding of a person.
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Education Leadership Additionally, education leaders have also been charged with the responsibility of enhancing the understanding of global issues in various disciplines, which calls for the regular changing of the focus in concepts in the associated disciplines […]
  • Philosophy of Facilitation. Adult Education A normative contract from the group members empowers the professional facilitator to take responsibility for the processes that guide group members in discussing the content of their tasks.
  • Philosophy of Multicultural Education The amalgamation of cultures is both a benediction and blasphemy of the K-12 teaching space. It is safe to say that the majority of schools in richer districts are mostly white scholars and recognized teachers.
  • Philosophy of Education by Nel Noddings One of the most important and frequently addressed concepts of educational philosophy of the present days is the concept of the relationship between social and cultural diversity in the contemporary world and the changes it […]
  • Philosophy Role in Education Another definition of philosophy is ‘the world view.’ The main definition for a philosophy that will be considered in this article is that which defines it as a conceptual framework that is vital in the […]
  • Teaching Philosophy in the Scope of Education Therefore, discussing the teaching philosophy, it is possible to state that a teacher is a person who assists in developing the personal potential of an individual, and teaching is a process of adopting an individual […]
  • Philosophy of Education Within this system, the teacher assumes the role of a leader to give direction and guidelines to students in addition to supporting the substance of a school.
  • Teaching Philosophy and the Use of Technology Teachers have diverse abilities on the use technology and application of technology in teaching. In some instances, teachers had conflicting beliefs about the use of technology in teaching and learning.
  • The Notion of Educational Philosophy This enables an individual to understand properly, the formula that is the ultimate goal in the never ending pursuit of edification.
  • Thoughts on Educational Philosophy It is against this scope that this paper intends to explore the meaning of truth, how it is taught and the theoretical basis of learning and teaching.
  • The Role of Globalization in Education and Knowledge The article is focused on the problem of the failure to distinguish between the notions globalization, globalism and cosmopolitanism that leads to the failure to consider the place of the current education in the modern […]
  • Creating a Theoretical Framework for the Teacher’s Philosophy of Education Considering the variety of philosophical approaches to the primary goals, content, structure and methods of the educational programs, a young teacher is not obliged to decide on only one of them and can blend the […]
  • The Philosophy of Education Is an Important Pedestal for a Preparing Tea
  • Personal Philosophy of Education – Jerome Bruner: Concept of Discovery Learning
  • History and Philosophy of Education and Special Education
  • The Psychology and Philosophy of Education in Ayn Rand’s The Comprachicos
  • Progressivism: The Philosophy of Education That Best Suits Me as Teacher
  • The Philosophy of Education With Regard to African Americans
  • Philosophy of Education, Teaching and Learning Statement
  • The Philosophy of Education and Motivational Theory
  • Developing the Right Philosophy of Education
  • Rethinking the Philosophy of Education
  • Developing a Personal Philosophy of Education
  • The Philosophy of Education Is Closely Modeled by Jerome
  • Types of Teachers: Classification, Philosophy of Education
  • Understanding the Philosophy of Education According to a Nation at Risk
  • The Foundations of Whitehead’s Philosophy of Education
  • The Impact of Philosophy of Education on the Changing
  • National Philosophy of Education
  • The Philosophy of Education Is Its Differing Aims
  • Philosophy of Education Based on Curriculum Perspectives
  • The Philosophy of Education and How a Philosophical Education
  • History and Philosophy of Education
  • The Philosophy of Education and my Goals as a Future Teacher
  • Why Is The Philosophy of Education Important
  • The Philosophy of Education Is the Key Component for Education
  • The Development of a Personal Philosophy of Education
  • The Theory of the Philosophy of Education
  • The Ancient Greek Iconoclast’s Philosophy of Education
  • When It Comes to One’s Philosophy of Education Each Person
  • Learning About the Philosophy of Education and Its Use
  • The Philosophy of Education and Basic Values of Expeditionary
  • Philosophy of Education, Worldview, and Educational Leadership
  • The Importance of Educators’ Philosophy of Education in Preparing Their Students for Their Lives After School
  • The Role of Albery Camus in the Philosophy of Education
  • A Future Teachers Philosophy of Education
  • Essentialism, a Conservative Philosophy of Education
  • Christian Philosophy of Education: The Fear of the Lord
  • Islamic Philosophy of Education Theory Theology Religion
  • What A Philosophy of Education Is Used for A Classroom
  • The Role of Relationship Building in My Philosophy of Education
  • What Is the Scope of the Philosophy of Education?
  • Why Do We Study the Philosophy of Education?
  • How Does Philosophy Influence Education?
  • Why Is the Philosophy of Education Critical?
  • Why Does Philosophy of Education Play an Important Role in the Development of Young’s Abilities?
  • What Are the Aims of the Philosophy of Education?
  • What Is the Main Idea of the Philosophy of Education?
  • What Is the Content of the Philosophy of Education?
  • What Are the Merits and Demerits of Each Philosophy of Education?
  • What Is a Statement of Philosophy of Education?
  • What Are the Main Features of the Philosophy of Education?
  • What Is the Philosophy of Education in Simple Words?
  • How Is the Philosophy of Education Impacted?
  • What Is the Importance of the Philosophy of Education?
  • What Is the Modern Philosophy of Education?
  • What Is the Most Common Educational Philosophy?
  • What Is the Importance of the Philosophy of Education and Curriculum?
  • What Are the Examples of the Philosophy of Education?
  • What Is the Philosophy of Education for Teachers?
  • Who Are the Great Philosophers of Education?
  • What Is Modern Educational Philosophy?
  • Which Are the Characteristics of the Philosophy of Education?
  • What Are the Aims of Educational Philosophy?
  • What Is a Philosophy of Education, and Why Is It Important?
  • What Is a Philosophy of Education Statement?
  • Human Development Research Ideas
  • Teaching Questions
  • Leadership Development Essay Titles
  • Emotional Development Questions
  • Moral Development Essay Topics
  • Classroom Management Essay Topics
  • Personality Development Ideas
  • Social Development Essay Topics
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2024, March 2). 82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/philosophy-of-education-essay-examples/

"82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." IvyPanda , 2 Mar. 2024, ivypanda.com/essays/topic/philosophy-of-education-essay-examples/.

IvyPanda . (2024) '82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples'. 2 March.

IvyPanda . 2024. "82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/philosophy-of-education-essay-examples/.

1. IvyPanda . "82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/philosophy-of-education-essay-examples/.


IvyPanda . "82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples." March 2, 2024. https://ivypanda.com/essays/topic/philosophy-of-education-essay-examples/.

  • Department of Philosophy

University | A to Z | Departments

  • Current staff and students
  • Current students

Writing Philosophy essays

  • Current undergraduates
  • Current research students
  • Current taught MA and Graduate Diploma students
  • Visiting students
  • Elective Modules
  • Current staff


Referencing & help.

  • Good essay writing begins with good course preparation. You should remember that just attending courses is not enough. You will engage with the lectures and seminars only if you do the required primary and secondary reading. By the time you come to write your first essay you should already know enough to approach the subject confidently.
  • Make sure you have properly understood the question. If you do not, ask. Review your lecture notes and the course outline in order to put the question into context and to relate it to other aspects of the subject. If you can break down the question into parts, do so. Decide which are the most important and weight each part accordingly.
  • Read the suggested texts with your question or questions in mind. If you find the reading hard to understand, try reading a whole article or chapter to get the gist and then re-read slowly, making notes.
  • Think for yourself. Don't borrow thought or ideas without giving yourself time to digest them. Discuss them with your fellow students. It can be very helpful to discuss the articles and books you read with others. Also, when you take notes, don't simply excerpt long passages, write them in your own words.
  • Always start from a plan, however rudimentary; but you will inevitably find your argument developing a dynamic of its own, so do not be afraid to revise your plan as you go along. As Socrates says in Plato's Republic: 'Where the argument takes us, like a wind, hither we must go.'
  • Write a draft, leave it for a while, then come back and revise it. On the first draft concentrate on getting the content and structure right and do not dwell on the style. Do not be held up by the precise formulation of a sentence, jot down a phrase and move on.
  • Write the final draft. Check the spelling, grammar and make sure all the bibliographical details are correct. leave a wide margin on the right hand side of your page for the marker's comments. Be kind on your marker: use a font that is easy to read and a line spacing of at least 1.5 or 2. Make a photocopy of your essay as a precaution, since they sometimes can go astray.
  • Your essay should contain a clear exposition of the theory you are studying, a detailed discussion and critical assessment of that theory. The criticisms you look at may be your own, or those of other philosophers.
  • Make sure you indicate when you are expounding the view of someone else and when you are writing in your own voice. Don't just write a long list of objections to a particular argument. Indicate whether you endorse or reject them and give your reasons.
  • Use examples to illustrate your point. Preferably, choose your own examples. Always make the point of your example clear to the reader.
  • Don't worry too much about the 'originality' of the content of your essay. Nobody expects you to come up with a new philosophical theory in your first four pages of writing. Your essay will be original enough if you think for yourself, use your own words, give your own examples and always provide reasons for accepting or rejecting a particular view.
  • Avoid rambling introductions and conclusions. Some books begin with a portentous opening sentence e.g., 'Philosophy, from the earliest times, has made greater claims, and achieved fewer results, than any other branch of learning.' (B. Russell) You can get away with such a sentence as the opening line of a 400 page book, but not as the opening line of a 4 page essay. State briefly what you think the question involves, if this is not obvious, and get stuck in to your answer. With conclusions, sum up your argument if you want to and leave it at that.
  • Think small or be methodical. There is a gap between your brain's ability to grasp something and your ability to express in writing what you have already understood. It is as if your intuition can leap up whole flights of stairs at once, whereas your written explanations climb one step at a time. This means that you can easily get ahead of yourself, producing the illusion that your ideas are far more lofty than they really are. Only by patiently stepping through the details of an argument can you avoid such illusions. So be patient! If you are not sure whether you have made your point, try putting it another way; 'The upshot of this argument is...', 'the point of this example is...'. Do not simply repeat yourself, try instead to look at your subject from different angles. Sometimes it will feel as if your point is trivial and not worth making. But a trivial point can be a solid step in an interesting argument. The ability to tease out the subtleties of a small point will serve you better than a grand philosophy of life, the universe and everything.
  • One way to structure your essay is to outline an argument, consider an objection, then reply to the objection and then move on to the next point. Avoid the two extremes of length and unbroken paragraphs on the one hand, and staccato sound bytes on the other. Divide your essay into clearly defined paragraphs and devote a whole paragraph to each point. Make the connections between them explicit, by telling the reader what they are. Write things like, 'There are two major objections to this line of thought...' or 'what this example shows is...' Think of these connections as signposts telling the reader where she is, where she has been or reminding her where she is heading.
  • 'Style is the feather in the arrow, not the feather in the cap.' Do not worry about repeating important words or phrases. In philosophy it is more important to be consistent in your terminology than to find new and imaginative ways of saying the same thing. Clear prose has its own elegance, wordiness can sometimes cloud the issue.
  • Empathise with your reader. Once you understand something, you forget what it was like not to understand it; but doing just this will help you to get your point across. To write clearly you have to put yourself in the place of your reader. Imagine the reader is someone who knows nothing about the subject. What would you have to do firstly to convince them and secondly to maintain their interest. Generally speaking a concrete example will get you much further than a passage of purple prose or a string of high-falutin' epithets. One useful way to attain clarity and simplicity of style is to write in short sentences. It is easier to waffle in long rambling sentences.
  • Use 'signposts' to let the reader know what you are trying to do. You can say things like , 'one objection is...', 'A possible reply to this is...', 'What this example shows...', 'This importance of this point is that...', 'What X is assuming is that...'. Be explicit about what you are arguing and why.
  • Stylistically it is vital to use your own words. Quite apart from the dangers of plagiarism, if you borrow chunks of text from another author and then insert them into your essay, you will end up with a patchwork of different styles that reads awkwardly. By all means paraphrase someone else's view, although make it clear that you are paraphrasing. This will help you to understand the position you are adumbrating; and there is a lot of skill involved in a lucid and concise exposition of somebody else's argument.
  • Occasionally you will want to cite somebody else's words directly. Be sparing in your use of quotation. There is much less skill to quotation than to paraphrase or précis. When you select a passage for quotation, make sure it is both brief and relevant. There is nothing worse than reading a string of long quotations interspersed with brief and gnomic comments.
  • Use a dictionary (or spell check) and a grammar. Good spelling and good grammar are not wholly unrelated to the content of your essay. The thread of an essay is easier to follow if the reader does not have to guess the word which you actually meant to write. Good grammar makes not only for elegant but for precise prose. So do not be ashamed to use a dictionary. I prefer the Chambers to the Collins single volume dictionary, but both are good. (Webster's and M.S. Word dictionaries are American.) Michael Dummet, the philosopher, has written an excellent little English grammar for his students, published by Duckworth.

Use of sources

  • All verbatim quotations, whether long or short should be enclosed in inverted commas or indented, and the precise source given. Make sure that you give enough information for the reader to find the passage, i.e. author, work, edition page number or section.
  • Passages of close paraphrase should be acknowledged, and the purpose of these paraphrases made clear e.g. as a summary of a view to be discussed disputed or agreed with.
  • When a point has been derived directly from an author, even though it mode of expression may be original, this should be acknowledged in a footnote or parenthesis.
  • Extensive use of an essay written by another student should be acknowledged. This applies to essays borrowed from the 'Essay Bank' and to essays which are borrowed on a personal basis. Just as the rule that you should acknowledge your dependence on published sources is not supposed to discourage you from reading widely, the rule that you should acknowledge your dependence where it exists, on other students' essays, is not supposed to discourage you from reading each others' essays. In the end however the only thing of value to you and of interest to us is work in which you express and develop your own thoughts.
  • At the end of any essay to be submitted for formal assessment (not tutorial essays) write a list in alphabetical order of all the works consulted or read during the preparation and writing of the essay, as well as those from which you quote directly (see Referencing).


The Philosophy Department accepts the Harvard or MLA styles of referencing.  Please refer to the specific information below on each permitted style.

Additional help

You may find the extra help below useful when writing Philosohy essays.

This guide to writing Philosophy essays was written by Gordon Finlayson

Department of Philosophy University of York , York , YO10 5DD , UK Tel: work +44 (0)1904 323251 | Fax: fax +44 (0)1904 324023 | [email protected]

Legal statements | Privacy | Cookies | Accessibility © University of York | Modify | Direct Edit

University of Cambridge

Study at Cambridge

About the university, research at cambridge.

  • Undergraduate courses
  • Events and open days
  • Fees and finance
  • Postgraduate courses
  • How to apply
  • Postgraduate events
  • Fees and funding
  • International students
  • Continuing education
  • Executive and professional education
  • Courses in education
  • How the University and Colleges work
  • Term dates and calendars
  • Visiting the University
  • Annual reports
  • Equality and diversity
  • A global university
  • Public engagement
  • Give to Cambridge
  • For Cambridge students
  • For our researchers
  • Business and enterprise
  • Colleges & departments
  • Email & phone search
  • Museums & collections
  • Current Students
  • Undergraduate Writing Skills
  • Faculty of Philosophy
  • About Us overview
  • Academic Visitors
  • Administration overview
  • Accessible Documents Checklist
  • Video conferencing accessibility assessment guide
  • Cambridge Women Philosophers
  • Disability Access Guide
  • Health and Safety
  • How to find us

Important Dates

  • Information Technology overview
  • Using Google Meet
  • Zoom User Guide
  • Skype & PhoneConference Call and Screen Sharing
  • Microsoft Teams getting started
  • Panopto Recording & Publishing Overview
  • Zoom Security Tips for public meetings
  • Job Opportunities
  • Newsletters
  • Philosophy Green Team overview
  • Waste & Recyling
  • Green Team Events
  • Welfare overview
  • Welfare for Students
  • Welfare for Staff
  • People overview
  • Teaching & Research Staff
  • Director of Studies Area overview
  • Director of Studies Part 1B
  • Director of Studies Part II
  • Postgraduate Advisors Area
  • Support Staff
  • Current Academic Visitors
  • Academic Staff Administrative Roles
  • Paper Co-Ordinators
  • Research overview
  • Research Projects and Networks
  • Seminars and Discussion Groups
  • Employment destinations of recent Faculty PhD students
  • Research Funding Opportunities
  • Recent Faculty books
  • Open access at Cambridge
  • Current Students overview
  • Postgraduates overview
  • MPhil Course Information (Includes examination protocols)
  • PhD Course Information
  • Organisational Matters
  • Supervision
  • Lectures and Seminars
  • Faculty Resources
  • Advice and Support
  • PG Training Guide
  • Room Booking Guidance
  • Working Away
  • Working While Studying
  • Financial Support
  • Postgraduate Calendar
  • Deposit of Electronic PhD Theses
  • Postgraduate Forms overview
  • Appointment of PhD Examiners Form
  • Risk assessment form RA1
  • Risk assessment examples
  • Conference expenses funding application form
  • Postgraduate hardship funding application form
  • MPhil Essays and Dissertations (Raven Login)
  • MPhil Data Retention
  • University Timetable
  • Part IA Seminar (Discussion Group) Readings
  • Undergraduate Tripos Students Information
  • Lecture List
  • Course Outlines and Reading Lists (for Philosophy Students and Staff)
  • Course Outlines and Reading Lists (for auditors)
  • Undergraduate Exams overview
  • Sample Answers
  • Craig Taylor Prize
  • Extended Essays & Dissertations
  • Data Retention Policy
  • Part IA Past Exam Papers
  • Faculty Plagiarism Policy
  • Part IB Past Exam Papers
  • Part II Past Exam Papers
  • Guidelines for Examiners & Assessors (including Marking Criteria)
  • Sample paper for Part II paper 9
  • IB5 Sample Exam
  • Undergraduate Writing Skills overview
  • Tackling the Philosophy Essay Guide
  • Tackling the Philosophy Essay Guide (mobi version)
  • Tackling the Philosophy Essay Guide (epub version)
  • Tackling the Philosophy Essay Guide (Word version)
  • 09 Plagiarism 2018revJuly18
  • Student Feedback & Support overview
  • Student Representation & Student-Staff Committee
  • Philosophy Student-Staff Committee Meeting Minutes
  • SSC minutes 1May18
  • Final SSCMinutes 30Oct18
  • SSC Unconfirmed minutes 05 Feb 19
  • SSC unconfirmedminutes 7May19
  • Student Complaints Procedure
  • SSC unconfirmed minutes 5Nov19
  • SSC minutes 04 Feb 2020 4
  • SSC minutes 5May2020 1
  • Philosophy Faculty Guidelines for Discussion Sessions
  • Prospective Students overview
  • Prospective Postgraduates
  • Prospective Undergraduates
  • Suggested Preliminary Readings
  • Prospective Undergraduate students - Frequently asked questions
  • Prospective Postgraduate students – Frequently asked questions
  • Events overview
  • Past Events overview
  • Past Events - Conferences, Workshops and Special Lectures
  • The Roles of Knowledge
  • The Roles of Knowledge Abstracts
  • Limits of Duty programme
  • The Limits of Duty
  • Decision Theory Seminar
  • No-platform and Hate Speech
  • What is Domination?
  • 6th Cambridge Graduate Conference on the Philosophy of Logic and Mathematics
  • Universals_v2.pdf
  • JohnSearle Lecture
  • Immateriality, Thinking and the Self in the Long Middle Ages
  • Papers Heal Metaphysical atomism and the attraction of materialism
  • Oelze Summary of Talk
  • WIP Conference Poster
  • GoodmakersandgoodtakersTextsHO2.pdf
  • Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) Cambridge Conference 2018
  • Shyane Personal Identity handout 6th form conf 2019
  • Richard Holton Handout 6th form conf 2019
  • Library overview
  • Accessibility
  • Joining the library
  • Borrowing from the library
  • Philosophy eresources
  • IT, printing and copying facilities
  • Resources for undergraduates
  • Resources for researchers
  • Contact the library
  • Intranet overview
  • Undergraduate Teaching and Support Arrangements (including exam updates)
  • Director of Studies Area
  • Academic Teaching Resources and Protocols. 
  • Samples for MPhil Examiners overview
  • Philosophy File Share overview
  • Postgraduates
  • Undergraduate Exams
  • Student Feedback & Support

PDF icon

Latest news

View all news

Quick links

All News Items

Moral Sciences Club

Philosophy Lecture List

Philosophy Podcasts

Moodle Undergraduate Site

Intranet Teaching and Examining Arrangements

Follow us on Twitter

Tweets by @CambridgePhilos

Athena Swan Bronze Logo


  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Photos by Ben Colburn displayed with his permission
  • Philosophy Contact Details
  • [email protected]
  • Map of Sidgwick Site
  • University Map

Other Links

  • Email & Phone Search

© 2024 University of Cambridge

  • Contact the University
  • Freedom of information
  • Privacy policy and cookies
  • Statement on Modern Slavery
  • Terms and conditions
  • University A-Z
  • Undergraduate
  • Postgraduate
  • Research news
  • About research at Cambridge
  • Spotlight on...

How to Write a Philosophy of Education for Elementary Teachers

  • Becoming A Teacher
  • Assessments & Tests
  • Elementary Education
  • Secondary Education
  • Special Education
  • Homeschooling
  • M.S., Education, Buffalo State College
  • B.S., Education, Buffalo State College

A philosophy of education statement, sometimes called a teaching statement, should be a staple in every teacher's portfolio. For elementary school teachers, the statement is an opportunity to define what teaching means to you and allows you to describe how and why you teach as you do at the early stages of learning. The following tips and philosophy of education examples for elementary teachers can help you write an essay that you'll be proud to have.

A philosophy of education statement is an opportunity to define what teaching means to you, and to describe how and why you teach as you do. Articulating this statement in the first person and using a traditional essay format (introduction, body, conclusion) will help you craft an enduring and inspiring personal statement.

Structure of a Teaching Philosophy

Unlike other kinds of writing, educational statements are frequently written in the first person because these are personal essays on your chosen profession. In general, they should be one to two pages long, though they can be longer if you've had an extensive career. Like other essays, a good educational philosophy should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Here is a sample structure.


Use this paragraph to describe your views on teaching in a general sense. State your thesis (for example, "My philosophy of education is that every child should have the right to learn and get a quality education.") and discuss your ideals. Be brief; you'll use the following paragraphs to explain the details. Think about aspects of early education that are unique to elementary teachers, and introduce these ideals into your writing.

Use the following three to five paragraphs (or more, if needed) to elaborate on your introductory statement. For example, you could discuss the ideal elementary classroom environment and how it makes you a better teacher, addresses student needs, and facilitates parent/child interactions.

Build on these ideals in the following paragraphs by discussing how you keep your classes aware and engaged, how you facilitate age-appropriate learning , and how you involve students in the assessment process . Whatever your approach, remember to focus on what you value most as an educator and to cite examples of how you've put these ​​ideals into practice.

Go beyond simply restating your educational philosophy in your closing. Instead, talk about your goals as a teacher, how you have been able to meet them in the past, and how you can build on these to meet future challenges. 

Philosophy of education documents for elementary teachers are very personal and unique to the individual. While some may have similarities, your own philosophy should focus on your personal approach to pedagogy and classroom management. Focus on what makes you unique as an educator, and how you wish to advance your career to further support elementary education.

Writing Prompts

As with any writing, take the time to outline your ideas before you begin. The following tips can help you craft your teaching philosophy statement:

  • Brainstorm about  your educational philosophy and your views of education, making notes on those principles you value most. This can help you articulate your philosophy as you organize your essay.
  • Demonstrate how you have put your educational philosophy into practice in the classroom by citing specific examples and outcomes with students, parents, or fellow teachers and administrators. 
  • Reflect on your experience over your career. Most likely, your teaching philosophy has changed over time. Reflect on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead, and how you intend to meet them.
  • Connect with others and talk to your peers in the field, as well as mentors. Ask them about how they crafted their essays and ask them to review yours once you complete it. Having people who know you and your teaching style well review your work can help you craft a truly representative statement.
  • Review a few sample essays to help you as you begin writing your own.

Career Advancement

Applying for a brand new job isn't the only time you need an educational philosophy. If you're seeking a promotion or are applying for tenure, you'll need to craft or update your educational philosophy statement. As time goes on, your approach to education and classroom management will likely evolve, and so will your beliefs. Updating your philosophy allows you to articulate your professional motivations and goals, as well as your approach to educating others so that observers can have a better sense of who you are, even without observing you in the classroom. Consider reviewing your philosophy every few years.

  • 4 Teaching Philosophy Statement Examples
  • Examples of Great Introductory Paragraphs
  • 10 Questions to Ask Yourself to Design Your Educational Philosophy
  • Educational Philosophy Basics
  • Fostering Cultural Diversity in Your School
  • Top Tips for Acing a Teacher Interview
  • Common Interview Questions in Education
  • What is a Waldorf School?
  • An Educational Leadership Philosophy for School Leaders
  • How to Write a Homeschooling Philosophy Statement
  • Seven Strategies to Provide Help for Teachers
  • 5 Types of Report Card Comments for Elementary Teachers
  • Teacher Interview Questions and Suggested Answers
  • Strategies for Teachers: The Power of Preparation and Planning
  • An Overview of Early Childhood Education
  • Important Daily Teaching Tasks

How to Write a Philosophy of Education Essay

how to write a philosophy of education essay

Table of Contents

Philosophy of education.

A philosophy of education is used to explore the course, purpose, principles, as well as the nature of learning. Educational philosophy describes what teaching means to an educator and also defines how and why one teaches. Many educationalists refer to educational philosophy as module derived from world’s practical applications to be used.

Purpose of an educational philosophy essay

A student is supposed to write an educational philosophy paper to explain why and how instructors teach. Such an essay also explores the goals and motivations of a teacher as well as how one approaches education in order to teach others. Moreover, the purpose of the  perfect essay  on the philosophy of education is to explain strategies used to enlighten learners about how instructors are.

How to start

Before starting an educational philosophy essay, the writer should first outline the ideas that one wants to include in the essay. One can figure out his or her views on education and draft some of the significant points. Also, the writer can read different sources to see how education philosophy has been.

How to create an outline

Educational philosophy statements are often transcribed using the first person because they focus on your specific profession. However, one should write about one or two pages although this varies if one has an extensive career. An efficient educational philosophy essay should have a brief introduction followed by body paragraphs; also, one must include a conclusion. For instance:

  • Introduction : you can describe your views regarding teaching.
  • Body paragraphs : by using three to five paragraphs, the writer can explore the main topic and ideas of how one facilitates learning.
  • Conclusion : you can summarize your points here and also explain how to utilize them in future.

How to write a thesis for an educational philosophy essay

In an educational philosophy paper, a thesis that you develop holds the most significant part of the essay. Your thesis statement has the ability to state, regulate, and structure the whole argument in the essay. A thesis explains to your reader about your stand on a certain topic. While developing a thesis, one should not write a broad statement nor too shallow. Your thesis should also be supported in your essay. Furthermore, a strong thesis can be challenged and also be opposed.

How to write an introduction

The introduction paragraph contains information that let your reader know what is in the essay. While writing the introduction, one should include a thesis statement that sums up your essay’s main point. Therefore, the writer is supposed to develop an introductory that illustrates some philosophical experiences that leads the reader gently to the thesis statement. Moreover, one should write an introduction that gives the reader a reason to continue with the rest of the paper.

Tips on introduction and thesis statement writing

While developing your introduction and thesis statement, you need to present engaging information. Therefore, the introduction should catch your reader’s attention for instance by using interesting statistics. Next, your introduction should be precise and should not start arguing the main ideas. Then, set up your essay by presenting the background of your topic and thesis statement. One should also not write a thesis that is evident or a fact.

How to write body paragraphs

While writing the body paragraphs, you should utilize the notes that were drafted while outlining the essay. However, the purpose of the body is to argue and prove your thesis statement. In this part, one should deeply discuss the main points by giving examples of how to put your ideas into practice.

Tips on body writing

The first step of writing the body is to develop topic sentences at the beginning of each new paragraph. Then, each of your paragraphs should present a single idea and should have 4-5 sentences. Each of your body paragraphs should have a logical argument which follows a logical pattern. Moreover, one should confirm whether the paragraphs flow easily to make your points readable. Lastly, the writer should avoid technical language.

How to finish an educational philosophy essay

A philosophy of education essay should be concluded in a conclusion paragraph. In this paragraph, one should simply go beyond reaffirming the educational philosophy. The writer should, therefore, talk about the instructor’s objectives and how to succumb future challenges in educational institutions.

Tips on conclusion writing

The writer should conclude the paper with strong points for the readers to remember the work. Also, one can return to the introductory points as a proof that the essay is helpful. The writer can include a brief summary of the main points without repeating information in your essay. Lastly, one can propose a solution to a certain issue stated in the paper.

Tips on revision

The main purpose of the writer to develop an educational essay is to lastly present an efficient piece of work. However, after completing your essay, the first thing you should do is to proofread your work. Then, ensure all your examples are transitional and support your thesis. Then correct all grammatical errors and format your essay correctly.

A philosophy of education essay sample

I believe the key to a successful and a happy life is to have the freedom to do what you want and this can be achieved through education. Education is a unique experience for the students and in order for all students to benefit from it, teachers and educators have to be fully knowledgeable about the importance of their teaching. Therefore, the philosophy of education is very important especially by giving young people the power and courage to pursue their life goals. The more enlightened you are, the more control you have over your future. By offering quality education to all students, one equips learners with essential tools for success in life.

Academic teaching begins with inspiration and motivation. I believe that students deserve the teacher’s passion for learning because this makes both the students and the teacher more ready to engage in active learning. However, in order to attain active learning, as a teacher I have to demonstrate enthusiasm as well as confidence in my students learning. Displaying readiness in the classroom makes the students feel that one supports their learning and also the subject is relevant to their life.

My personal objective is to challenge my future students and also watch them develop to full potential people. I also, want to take them through different levels of education which will help them grow together as they better everyone’s life. I want to take them through a straightforward instruction that will help them expand and grow on their own. However, group work and class discussions are the significant aspects of a successful class.

When one offers the student a chance to participate in group projects, this changes each student’s atmosphere in the classroom because students help each other develop academically. Also, group work and class discussions give one a chance to develop freedom of creativity and expression and also help one realize his or her weakness and strengths. Engaging constructivist methods in one’s teaching drives the students to create an active role in education. For example, physical experiments make sure all students attain their best and also discover their strengths.

As a teacher, to accomplish my goals, it is important to develop mutual respect and honest relationship with my students. One’s relationship with the student is a high priority that is created through communication and through this, a democratic and fair learning environment can be established. A creating a good relationship with my students can possibly make a safe and confident interaction within the academic setting. Therefore, ones this foundation is created, as a teacher, I have already attained a major goal that is; my students will morally conduct themselves in the classroom as they prepare themselves for future survival and adult interaction.

How as a teacher I carry out the teaching is more important as what I teach. The method of teaching establishes a connection between the students and the teacher. However, the teacher is supposed to exercise a mentoring role over the students and demonstrate consistency so that students can emulate the same traits as they grow. Moreover, having a personal connection with all students can facilitate equal chances for all student’s success.

related articles

Write A Perfect Short Essay

How To Write A Short Essay Read More »

How To Write a Perfect Informative Essay

How To Write a Informative Essay Read More »

How Many Words is a Perfect Essay

How Many Words is a Perfect Essay? Read More »

Essay Typer

Logo for UEN Digital Press with Pressbooks

12 What is an Educational Philosophy?

education philosophy essay structure

What makes a teacher? Teaching is like a salad. Think about it. If you were to attend a party for any given holiday, the number of and variations to each salad recipe that might be present for consumption could outnumber those present at the party. There are so many different ways to teach, varying circumstances to take into account, and philosophies to apply to each classroom. And what better way to have a positive impact on the world than to offer knowledge for consumption? The term ‘teacher’ can be applied to anyone who imparts knowledge of any topic, but it is generally more focused on those who are hired to do so (teach, n.d., n.p.). In imparting knowledge to our students, it is inevitable that we must take into account our own personal philosophies or pedagogies, and determine not only how we decide what our philosophies are, but also how those impact our consumers.

Objectives and Key Terms

In this chapter, readers will…

  • Define, describe, and identify the four branches of educational philosophy
  • Outline at least two educational philosophies that influence our schools
  • Explain how educational philosophies influence the choice of curriculum and classroom instructional practices
  • Develop a personal philosophy concerning teaching and learning

Key terms in the chapter are…


Perennialism, essentialism, progressivism.

  • Romanticism
  • Behaviorism

Lessons in Pedagogy

What, exactly, are education philosophies? According to Thelma Roberson (2000), most prospective teachers confuse their beliefs with the ideas of teaching (p. 6). Education philosophies, then, are not what you want to do in class to aid learning, but why you do them and how they work. For example, Roberson’s students state they “want to use cooperative learning techniques” in their classroom. The question posed is, why? “[I]s cooperative learning a true philosophy or is it something you do in the classroom because of your belief about the way children learn?” (Roberson, 2000, p. 6). Philosophies need to translate ideas into action – if you want to use certain techniques, then you need to understand how they are effective in the classroom to create that portion of your education philosophy. It helps to have an overview of the various schools out there.

  • Perennialism – focuses on human concerns that have caused concern for centuries, revealed through ‘great works’ (Ornstein, 2003, p. 110)  It focuses on great works of art, literature and enduring ideas.
  • Essentialism – Emphasizes skills and subjects that are needed by all in a productive society. This is the belief in “Back to Basics”.  Rote learning is emphasized and
  • Progressivism – Instruction features problem-solving and group activities – The instructor acts as a facilitator as opposed to a leader (Ornstein, 2003, p. 110)
  • Social Reconstructionism – Instruction that focuses on significant social and economic problems in an effort to solve them (Ornstein, 2003, pg.110)
  • Existentialism – Classroom dialogue stimulates awareness – each person creates an awareness gleaned from discussion and encourages deep personal reflection on his or her convictions (Ornstein, 2003, p. 108).
  • The knowledge that has been passed through the ages should be continued as the basis of the curriculum, like the classic works of Plato and Einstein.
  • Reason, logic, and analytical thought are valued and encouraged
  • Only information that stood the test of time is relevant.  It is believed these prepare students for life and help to develop rational thinking.
  • The classes most likely to be considered under this approach would be history, science, math, and religion classes (Educational Philosophies in the Classroom, pg.1).
  • Essentialists believe that there is a universal pool of knowledge needed by all students.
  • The fundamentals of teaching are the basis of the curriculum: math, science, history, foreign language, and English. Vocational classes are not seen as a necessary part of educational training.
  • Classrooms are formal, teacher-centered, and students are passive learners.
  • Evaluations are predominately through testing, and there are few, if any, projects or portfolios.

Watch the following video for a little more about this philosophy:

  • This is a student-centered form of instruction where students follow the scientific method of questioning and searching for the answer.
  • Evaluations include projects and portfolios.
  • Current events are used to keep students interested in the required subject matter.
  • Students are active learners as opposed to passive learners.
  • The teacher is a facilitator rather than the center of the educational process.
  • Student input is encouraged, and students are asked to find their interpretation of the answer, have a choice in projects and assignments. (Educational Philosophies in the classroom, pg.1).
  • Real-world problem solving emphasized.
  • Subjects are integrated.
  • Interaction among students.
  • Students have a voice in the classroom.

Social Reconstructivism

  • This student-centered philosophy strives to instill a desire to make the world a better place.
  • It places a focus on controversial world issues and uses current events as a springboard for the thinking process.
  • These students are taught the importance of working together to bring about change.
  • These teachers incorporate what is happening in the world with what they are learning in the classroom (Educational Philosophies in the Classroom, pg.1).

What do you think?

education philosophy essay structure

Additional Beliefs in Regards to Teaching/Learning

Active participation is the key to this teaching style. Students are free to explore their own ideas and share concepts with one another in nontraditional ways. “Hands-on activity […] is the most effective way of learning and is considered true learning” (Educational Philosophies in the Classroom, pg.1).

What is Constructivism?

The root word of Constructivism is “construct.” Basically, Constructivism is the theory that knowledge must be constructed by a person, not just transmitted to the person. People construct knowledge by taking new information and integrating it with their own pre-existing knowledge (Cooper, 2007; Woolfolk, 2007). It means they are actively involved in seeking out information, creating projects, and working with material being presented versus just sitting and listening to someone “talk at them”.

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Constructivism

Jean Piaget was one of the major constructivists in past history. His theory looks at how people construct knowledge cognitively. In Piaget’s theory, everybody has schemata.  These are the categories of information we create to organize the information we take in.  For example, “food” is one schema we may have.  We have a variety of information on food. It can be organized into different food groups such as the following: bread/pasta, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and sweets (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007).  We use these schemas to help us “make sense” of what we see, hear and experience, and integrate this information into our knowledge bank.

According to Piaget’s theory, one way people construct knowledge is through assimilation. People assimilate when they incorporate new knowledge and information into pre-existing schemes. Here is an example: A child sees a car and learns that it can be called a vehicle. Then the child sees a motorcycle and learns that it can be called a vehicle as well. Then the child sees a truck and calls it a vehicle. Basically, the child developed a schema for “vehicles” and incorporated trucks into that schema (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007).

Another way people construct knowledge, according to Piaget’s theory, is through accommodation. People accommodate when they modify or change their pre-existing schemes. Here is an example.: A child sees a dog (a furry four-legged animal) and learns that it can be called a pet. Then the child sees a cat (a furry four-legged animal) and learns that it can be called a pet as well. Then the child sees a raccoon (also a furry four-legged animal) and calls it a pet. Afterward, the child learns from his or her parents that a raccoon is not a pet. At first, the child develops a schema for “pet” which includes all furry four-legged animals. Then the child learns that not all furry four-legged animals are pets. Because of this, the child needs to accommodate his or her schema for “pet.” According to Piaget, people learn through a balance of assimilation and accommodation (Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007).

Lev Vygotsky’s Theory of Constructivism

Lev Vygotsky was another major constructivist in past history. While Jean Piaget’s theory is a cognitive perspective, Vygotsky’s theory is a sociocultural perspective. His theory looks at how people construct knowledge by collaborating with others. In Vygotsky’s theory, people learn and construct knowledge within the Zone of Proximal Development. People have an independent level of performance where they can do things independently. Likewise, people have a frustration level where tasks are too difficult to be able to perform on their own.  In between, there is an instructional level where they can do things above the independent level with the help and guidance of others. The range, or zone, between the independent and frustration levels is the Zone of Proximal Development (Cooper, 2007; Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007; Woolfolk, 2007).

In the Zone of Proximal Development, assistance needs to be given by another person. This assistance, help, or guidance is known as scaffolding. Because the zone has a range, assistance needs to be given, but not too much. If not enough assistance is given, a person may not be able to learn the task. On the other hand, if too much assistance is given, the person may not be able to fully construct the newly acquired information into knowledge. For example, a child needs help doing math homework. With no help, the child may not be able to do it. With too much help, the homework is done for the child, so the child may not fully understand the math homework anyway (Cooper, 2007; Kail & Cavanaugh, 2007; Woolfolk, 2007).

Constructivism in the Classroom

In the classroom, the teacher can u se Constructivism to help teach the students. The teacher can base the instruction on the cognitive strategies, experiences, and culture of the students. The teacher can make the instruction interesting by correlating it with real-life applications, especially applications within the students’ own communities. Students can work and collaborate together during particular activities. The teacher can provide feedback for the students so they know what they can do independently and know what they need help with. New concepts can be related to the students’ prior knowledge. The teacher can also explain how new concepts can be used in different contexts and subjects. All these ideas are based on Constructivism (Sherman & Kurshan, 2005).

Research shows that constructivist teaching can be effective. According to research conducted by Jong Suk Kim at Chungnum National University in Korea, constructivist teaching is more effective than traditional teaching when looking at the students’ academic achievement. The research also shows that students have some preference for constructivist teaching (Kim, 2005). Again, whe n the theory of Constructivism is actually applied in the classroom, it can be effective for teaching students.

It is not the sole responsibility of the teachers to educate the students. According to Constructivism, students have some responsibilities when learning. A student may be quick to blame the teacher for not understanding the material, but it could be the case that the student is not doing everything he or she could be doing. Because knowledge is constructed, not transmitted, students need to make an effort to assimilate, accommodate, and make sense of information. They also need to make an effort to collaborate with others, especially if they are having a hard time understanding the information.

Four Philosophies in Assessment

In addition, the ‘constructivist’ school of philosophy, rooted in the Pragmatic pedagogy and branched off from the ‘Social Reconstructivist’ school, has gained much popularity. Around the turn of the century (the early 1990s), many teachers felt the rote memorization and mindless routine that was common was ineffective and began to look for alternate ways to reach their students (Ornstein, 2003, p. 111). Through the constructivist approach, “students “construct” knowledge through an interaction between what they already think and know and with new ideas and experiences” (Roberson, 2000, p. 8). This is an active learning process that leads to a deeper understanding of the concepts presented in class and is based on the abilities and readiness of the children rather than set curriculum guidelines (Ornstein, 2003, p. 112). Constructivism “emphasizes socially interactive and process-oriented ‘hands-on’ learning in which students work collaboratively to expand and revise their knowledge base” (Ornstein, 2003, p. 112). Essentially, the knowledge that is shaped by experience is reconstructed or altered, to assist the student in understanding new concepts (Ornstein, 2003, p. 112). You, as the teacher, help the students build the scaffolding they need to maintain the information even after the test is taken and graded.

Creating Your Philosophy

Educators continue to build upon their philosophy over their careers. They often choose elements from various philosophies and integrate them into their own.  When identifying a philosophy, here are things to consider:

  • What is the purpose of education?
  • What do you believe should be taught?
  • How do you think the curriculum should be taught?
  • What is your role as the teacher?
  • What is the role of the student?
  • What is the value of teacher-centered instruction and student-centered instruction; where and when do you incorporate each?

What philosophy are you leaning towards?  Take the following quiz to find out!

Make a copy and take the quiz on your own:


The following resources are provided when “digging deeper” into the chapter.

  • What is your Educational Philosophy? https://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-your-educational-philosophy-ben-johnson
  • Four Philosophies and Their Applications to Education https://docs.google.com/document/d/149dx9pNRqIYp-EAYVHgXkxUV_u2cnmbGmvMgS863P4o/edit

Modified from “Foundations of Education and Instructional Assessment” by Dionne Nichols licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Introduction to Education Copyright © 2022 by David Rodriguez Sanfiorenzo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book

A Level Philosophy & Religious Studies

OCR Religious Studies A level Essay Structure

Essay structure is very important in OCR as your exams will be completely assessed by essay questions.

The most important thing to say about essay structure is that there are many different types of essay structure that work. As a tutor I’ve seen loads of different types that my student’s teachers have taught them and as an examiner I’ve seen even more.

Ultimately all an essay needs is detailed AO1 explanation/understanding and coherently developed AO2 evaluation/analysis. It needs to detail multiple points of view and come to a reasoned conclusion about which is successful. That’s all an essay needs. How exactly that content is arranged is therefore not the most important thing compared to making sure it is there.

However, there are two essay structures that I think are the best because they really force you to include coherently developed AO2 evaluation and they also work well with structured revision.

Before we get to that you need to understand the difference between general and particular essay questions.

General vs particular essay questions

Some essay questions are general and some are particular.

General questions ask a question about the overall topic. Particular questions focus on a part of the topic.

Example from the Plato topic:

General: Critically assess how we can best make sense of reality. Particular: Assess Plato’s theory of forms’.

Example from the Teleological/design argument topic:

General: Does the universe show evidence of design? Particular: Critically assess Hume’s objections to the design argument

The importance of identifying particular essay questions for AO1 and AO2 marks

The most important thing to understand about this is that for particular questions, you can only get AO1 marks for whatever particular scholar/argument/theory/approach the question is asking you to evaluate.

So, in the Plato question example, you could only get AO1 marks for your explanation of Plato. You absolutely can bring in Aristotle to that essay if you want, but you can only get AO2 marks for that. This is because Aristotle can only be useful to a particular question on Plato to help you evaluate Plato.

This is vitally important. If you do not do well in your AO1 marks, you are limited in the AO2 marks you can get.

For example in the 2022 Philosophy paper there was a particular question on Aquinas’ 5 th way. Students who didn’t remember Aquinas’ 5 th way properly and quickly moved on to Paley who they understood better would have done badly. They could have written a really amazing essay on Paley and even included really amazing evaluations of the design argument, but without properly explaining Aquinas’ 5 th way their AO2 marks would have been severely limited.

Ethics questions are often particular. A question asking you to evaluate Natural Law ethics clearly requires that you explain natural law. The question might have a focus like telos, the four tiers of law or the double effect, and you would have to explain that in detail too. But those are things you should be including in an AO1 explanation of Natural Law anyway!

So, it is vital that you can identify a particular question so you can make sure to get the AO1 explanation of whatever the question is about in as much detail as you can into your essay.

Then the question is where this AO1 knowledge should go in your essay.

If the essay question picks out a particular sub-topic that it wants you to evaluate, then paragraph 1 must start with that topic.

For example, if the question is on religious experience and asks you to evaluate William James, you could bring up other thinkers like Otto and do a paragraph on him, but for it to be relevant to the question you would need to bring him up for the purpose of evaluating James. The purpose would be to see whether Otto’s approach is better or worse than James’. This can only be properly done if you have already explained James’ approach.

I will now explain the two types of essay structures I recommend and then explain what AO2 evaluation requires.

Essay structure type one: split essay

AO1 & AO2 are split into different paragraphs.

This type of essay plan splits up the AO1 and AO2. Paragraph one is just completely pure AO1. The aim is to get all the detailed knowledge you need for your essay completed in paragraph 1. This is simple because you don’t have the unnecessary burden of thinking about how to break up the AO1 into different parts to start each paragraph with.

Both paragraphs 2 and 3 can then be pure AO2 evaluation.

Paragraph 1: pure AO1 explanation. Paragraph 2: AO2 evaluation. Paragraph 3: AO2 evaluation.

You can begin paragraphs 2 and 3 with AO2 criticisms, whether stand-alone or from scholars or scholarly views who disagree with whatever particular AO1 scholar/theory/argument/perecptive was in the question. Those paragraphs can then be developed with back-and-forth defences, counter-defences, etc.

This type of structure works well for particular questions because you can just get the important AO1 out of the way and then focus on evaluation.

Applied ethics questions are also easier to do with this structure. You get the AO1 explanation of the ethical theory and the application of it to the ethical issue(s) out of the way before then evaluating that theory’s application (sometimes by critically comparing it to another theory’s application) in paragraphs 2 and 3.

Essay structure type two: integrated essay

AO1 & AO2 are integrated into all paragraphs.

This type involves putting AO1 and AO2 in the same paragraph. Each paragraph, or at least the first two, will include AO1 and AO2.

Paragraph 1: AO1 explanation and then AO2 evaluation. Paragraph 2: AO1 explanation and then AO2 evaluation. Paragraph 3: AO1 explanation and then AO2 evaluation.

This type of structure works well for general questions. For example, if you have a general question on the soul topic, e.g. “Does the soul exist?” [40] you could do:

Paragraph 1: AO1: Plato’s views on the soul and AO2: criticism of Plato. Paragraph 2: AO1: Aristotle’s views on the soul and AO2: criticism of Aristotle. Paragraph 3: AO1: Dawkins’ views on the soul and AO2: criticism of Dawkins.

AO2 evaluation requires:

Now that we’ve gone over the types of essays you could do, here are some general comments about AO2 evaluation that pply whatever structure you decide to use.

AO2 evaluation requires starting with a strength or a weakness/criticism or an opposing perspective/scholar/scholarly view to whatever view you explained for AO1. Your AO1 will be either in the first paragraph if doing a split essay structure, or at the start of the paragraph if doing an integrated essay structure.

The first sentence of your AO2 is extremely important. It must link to the question. It needs to have with clear evaluative language and introduce both the evaluation point and its relevance to the question.

You will then have given two sides to a debate. It is optional but you could continue to go back and forth. Regardless of whether you do that or not, you then need to end the evaluation with your reasoned judgement as to which side of the debate is right and why. This will involve either:

  • Arguing that the previous criticism is successful.
  • Offering a defence against the previous criticism to show why it is actually unsuccessful.

It’s often easier and better to do the second option – defending against a criticism – since you can just learn a defence off by heart beforehand and then just plug it in.

It is good to begin the part where you offer your judgement with the phrase “X argument is un/successful because…”.

Then link back to the question using the language of the question and the paragraph is finished.


Introductions are not super important for getting marks but should be there and this is a good recipe to follow for structuring them. Ideally one or at most two sentences for each of these points in this order:

  • What the general topic is about (and why it matters)
  • What the question is asking about within that topic
  • Who is on either side of the debate of the essay question
  • What you are going to argue and why.


Sum up the evaluative judgements you reached throughout your essay and explain the overall conclusion that follows from them.

Avoid juxtaposition

Whenever using a scholar/perspective/theory for evaluation, whether for a criticism or defence or counter-defence, etc, you then have to avoid juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is when you put two things next to each other. It’s basically like saying “Here’s a view on the question, and here’s an opposing view”. That is not yet evaluation. Evaluation is when you say which side is right and why.

It doesn’t matter how much back and forth you do in your evaluation, whether it’s simply a view on the question and one criticism or a longer chain, the crucial thing is to avoid juxtaposition; avoid ending the evaluation by stating what a scholar’s views are, even if those views are that the original view is wrong. You need to end your evaluation with your judgement on the success/failure of a theory/perspective/scholar’s views, having given a good reason for that judgement.

Evaluation = who is right, and why?

Make sure your evaluative mini-conclusions at the end of each paragraph which link back to the question fit your final conclusion

Always end a paragraph in a way that fits your conclusion. Your intro should say what your concluding answer to the question is going to be. It’s incoherent for you to conclude one side of the debate is correct if you have a paragraph which ends on a criticism of that side. This is because just leaving it like that makes it look like you don’t have an answer to it, which means you haven’t managed to justify your conclusion. However, it is acceptable to conclude a side is correct even if you end a paragraph with the evaluation that one of the points in support of it fails, so long as when ending the paragraph in the link back to the question you make clear that it’s not an essential point. For example, you could agree with Hume that the teleological/design argument fails, even if in one of your paragraphs you end up evaluating that one of his criticisms of it actually fails. So long as he has at least one criticism which you evaluate as successful, then the design argument fails (if that is indeed what the criticism shows).

Linking back to the question is not as simple as it seems. To get the best marks, it’s often not enough simply to end a paragraph with “therefore this side of the question is true/false”. Often, the final AO2 evaluative point you made to end the paragraph doesn’t exactly say that. It’s important that you notice exactly how your evaluative point is helping to justify your conclusion. For example:

It may be that you have merely undermined one of the arguments for one side of a debate, rather than completely proven the other side. For example, imagine the question is “does the soul exist?” and you spend a paragraph evaluating Plato and decide his arguments for the soul fail. It would be wrong of you to link back to the question by saying “Therefore, the soul does not exist”. Really, what your paragraph has actually shown in a deeper more precise sense is “Therefore, Plato’s argument for the soul fails”. If you evaluate all the arguments for the soul as false and the arguments against the soul as true, then in your final conclusion you would be justified in claiming that we have best reason to believe that the soul does not exist.

Home — Essay Samples — Philosophy — Personal Philosophy — My Personal Philosophy of Education


My Personal Philosophy of Education

  • Categories: Personal Philosophy Philosophy of Education

About this sample


Words: 1412 |

Updated: 13 November, 2023

Words: 1412 | Pages: 4 | 8 min read

The essay analyzes the author's personal philosophy of education as a student and an aspiring teacher. The author emphasizes the importance of gaining knowledge from education, even when faced with the challenges of a heavy workload and academic stress. They believe that completing the work and gaining knowledge is a privilege and that building a strong connection with professors is crucial for successful learning.

The author's philosophy of education revolves around the idea that every child should have the right to high-quality education. They reflect on their experiences with various teachers and teaching styles, recognizing the impact that exceptional educators can have on students' lives. The author values teachers who can establish personal connections with students and make learning enjoyable.

The influence of scholars such as John Dewey and Jean Piaget is evident in the author's philosophy. They appreciate Dewey's emphasis on learning through experience and Piaget's contributions to child development theory. The author believes in creating a learning environment where students actively participate in their education and where motivation is nurtured.

Table of contents

Introduction, my philosophy of education, influence of scholars, video version.

  • Berk, L.E. (2012). Infants and Children; Prenatal through Middle Childhood. Pearson; New York, New York.
  • Talebi, K. (2015). John Dewey--Philosopher and Educational Reformer. Online Submission, 1(1), 1-13.

Video Thumbnail

Cite this Essay

Let us write you an essay from scratch

  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours

Get high-quality help


Dr Jacklynne

Verified writer

  • Expert in: Philosophy


+ 120 experts online

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

No need to pay just yet!

Related Essays

2 pages / 715 words

3 pages / 1186 words

2 pages / 1021 words

4 pages / 1758 words

Remember! This is just a sample.

You can get your custom paper by one of our expert writers.

121 writers online

My Personal Philosophy of Education Essay

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled

Related Essays on Personal Philosophy

Philosophy in nursing stems from providing competent and optimal care to patients and communities. These values are the stepping stones to be a successful nurse. For as long as I can remember I have been overwhelmed with a [...]

Life is a complex journey filled with ups and downs, challenges and opportunities. As individuals, we often find ourselves searching for meaning and purpose in this vast and mysterious existence. In this essay, I will share my [...]

Life is how we go about day by day, month by month, year by year. Our actions, even the slightest, can twist and turn our paths like a labyrinth. Life is quite unpredictable, though it is what we make of it. Whatever happens in [...]

Developing a personal teaching philosophy is essential to defining the way an educator shapes the minds of their students. My teaching philosophy essay reflects my belief that the role of education extends far beyond the [...]

Dante believed that justice was capital and proportionate to the injustice. He believed that the nature of the crime also affected the nature of the punishment. Along with this he alluded to crimes against God being more severe [...]

The purpose of this paper is to bring forth examples of the moral values and philosophies I hold and use to guide my decision making skills. I examine the self-determining impacts of my personal moral philosophy on Ethical [...]

Related Topics

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and Privacy statement . We will occasionally send you account related emails.

Where do you want us to send this sample?

By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.

Be careful. This essay is not unique

This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

Download this Sample

Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts

Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.

Please check your inbox.

We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!

Get Your Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!

We use cookies to personalyze your web-site experience. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy .

  • Instructions Followed To The Letter
  • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
  • Unique And Plagiarism Free

education philosophy essay structure


  1. Philosophy of Education Statement Sample

    education philosophy essay structure

  2. Special Education Philosophy Essay Example

    education philosophy essay structure

  3. Aims and Ideals of Education Philosophy Essay Example

    education philosophy essay structure

  4. Write My Philosophy Education Paper

    education philosophy essay structure

  5. Philosophy of Education

    education philosophy essay structure

  6. Teaching philosophy essay

    education philosophy essay structure


  1. concept of Philosophy, paper 1,1st sem B. ed

  2. Philosophy of Education

  3. An Essay on Education

  4. Philosophy Essay Structure

  5. Sociology of Education

  6. Areas of Educational Philosophy General and Educational Philosophies Complete Explanation in Urdu


  1. PDF A Brief Guide to Writing the Philosophy Paper

    n philosophical writing:Avoid direct quotes. If you need to quote, quote sparingly, and follow your quotes by expla. ning what the author means in your own words. (There are times when brief direct quotes can be helpful, for example when you want to present and interpret a potential amb.

  2. PDF Learning How to Learn: an Essay on The Philosophy of Education

    2.1 RESOLVING AIMS IN EDUCATION. Education is an age-old concern of philosophers, and rightfully so, seeing as philosophy is a. the heart of issues surrounding our existence and a child'sformal education. ets the foundat. o Plato had their own answers to the question of how we shouldeducate our youth, and in no.

  3. PDF Tackling the Philosophy Essay A Student Guide Edition One

    RCES303234CONTACT THE AUTHORS35From the AuthorsThis guide began as a collection of supplementary mater. al for a one-off workshop on essay-writing in philosophy. It is now presented to you as a han. book for students on the basics of philosophical writing. As supervisors ourselves, the four of us began the project out of a desire to offer extra ...

  4. Philosophy of Education

    Philosophy of education is the branch of applied or practical philosophy concerned with the nature and aims of education and the philosophical problems arising from educational theory and practice. Because that practice is ubiquitous in and across human societies, its social and individual manifestations so varied, and its influence so profound ...

  5. Philosophy essay writing guide

    The Education Resource Centre also has a good philosophy collection. In addition to hard-copy philosophical writings, there is also a variety of electronic resources in philosophy, mostly internet-based. ... There are, of course, no hard and fast rules about how to structure a philosophy essay. Again, it is a skill you develop through practice ...

  6. Tackling the Philosophy Essay: A Student Guide

    This short book, written by recent Cambridge PhD students, is designed to introduce students to the process of writing an essay in philosophy. Containing many annotated examples, this guide demonstrates some of the Do's and Don'ts of essay writing, with particular attention paid to the early stages of the writing process (including the creation ...

  7. 40 Philosophy of Education and Teaching Philosophy Examples

    Play-based learning is a big part of my teaching philosophy. Kids who learn through play have more authentic experiences, exploring and discovering the world naturally in ways that make the process more engaging and likely to make a lasting impact. In my classroom, technology is key.

  8. Philosophy of Education

    This is a file in the archives of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Philosophy of Education. First published Mon Jun 2, 2008. All human societies, past and present, have had a vested interest in education; and some wits have claimed that teaching (at its best an educational activity) is the second oldest profession.

  9. PDF Philosophy of Teaching /Education Statement

    The Philosophy of Teaching requires self-reflection because the essay reflects your beliefs on education and teaching style. It's a platform where you share your beliefs regarding what you consider to be the best ways to inspire learning in your students. Structure Introduction: Describe your views and ideals of teaching in a general sense.

  10. Learning How to Learn: An Essay on the Philosophy of Education

    The question of how to educate our youth has been a tradition in philosophy since the time of the ancients and now has become highly debated issue in contemporary society. While answers to this problem take on many different forms, there is a way to interpret much of the canon as arguing for an education that strives to pass down the ability to learn on one's own.

  11. 4 Teaching Philosophy Statement Examples

    A teaching philosophy statement, or an educational philosophy statement, is a brief essay that nearly all prospective teachers must write when applying for an academic position. The statement generally reflects on the writer's teaching beliefs and includes concrete examples of how those beliefs have informed the writer's teaching practices.

  12. 82 Philosophy of Education Essay Topic Ideas & Examples

    A philosophy of education essay is focused on the nature of education and philosophical issued related to it. In your paper, you can write about philosophy's contribution to education. Or, you can study its history starting from ancient times. We will write. a custom essay specifically for you by our professional experts.

  13. Writing a Philosophy of Education

    Your teaching philosophy should be 2-3 pages in length and written in first person and in present tense. It should state your goal of education and several ideas you have about how to reach that goal. You will want to include examples and descriptions so your reader can "see" you in your classroom—these may be specific teaching strategies ...

  14. PDF 3. Structure

    3. StructureGuidelines to Writing an Essay in Philosophy By Professor. Lo. Marinof. 1. OverviewYou are required to write a 1,500 - 2,00. word essay. This is very brief by traditional philosophical standards, in which an essay often meant a full-length book; e.g. David Hume¶s essay On Human Understanding, or Thomas Reid¶s Essays on the ...

  15. Writing Philosophy essays

    Structure Structure. Avoid rambling introductions and conclusions. Some books begin with a portentous opening sentence e.g., 'Philosophy, from the earliest times, has made greater claims, and achieved fewer results, than any other branch of learning.' (B. Russell) You can get away with such a sentence as the opening line of a 400 page book, but not as the opening line of a 4 page essay.

  16. Tackling the Philosophy Essay Guide

    Tackling the Philosophy Essay Guide (Word version) 09 Plagiarism 2018revJuly18. Student Feedback & Support. Student Feedback & Support overview. Student Representation & Student-Staff Committee. Philosophy Student-Staff Committee Meeting Minutes. SSC minutes 1May18. Final SSCMinutes 30Oct18.

  17. How to Write a Philosophy Paper

    How to conceive of and write your paper. Answer the question, the whole question, and nothing but the question. First, address the question that is asked. (This again points to the need to understand what the question is asking.) Second, be sure that your answer is complete. If the question has different parts, be sure that you have addressed ...

  18. Philosophy of Education Examples for Elementary Teachers

    The following tips and philosophy of education examples for elementary teachers can help you write an essay that you'll be proud to have. A philosophy of education statement is an opportunity to define what teaching means to you, and to describe how and why you teach as you do. Articulating this statement in the first person and using a ...

  19. How to Write a Philosophy of Education Essay

    How to write a thesis for an educational philosophy essay. In an educational philosophy paper, a thesis that you develop holds the most significant part of the essay. Your thesis statement has the ability to state, regulate, and structure the whole argument in the essay. A thesis explains to your reader about your stand on a certain topic.

  20. What is an Educational Philosophy?

    Essentially, the knowledge that is shaped by experience is reconstructed or altered, to assist the student in understanding new concepts (Ornstein, 2003, p. 112). You, as the teacher, help the students build the scaffolding they need to maintain the information even after the test is taken and graded.

  21. A Level Philosophy & Religious Studies

    OCR Religious Studies A level Essay Structure OCR Essay structure is very important in OCR as your exams will be completely assessed by essay questions. The most important thing to say about essay structure is that there are many different types of essay structure that work. ... For example in the 2022 Philosophy paper there was a particular ...

  22. My Personal Philosophy of Education

    My Philosophy of Education. My philosophy of education is that every child should have the right to learn and get great quality of education. In my educational experiences, I have seen a wide collection of teachers and teaching styles. I have been in classes that have largely impacted my life and others that have left a simple dent of influence ...