The Journal of Philosophy of Education Book Series

The Journal of Philosophy of Education Book Series publishes titles that represent a wide variety of philosophical traditions. They vary from examination of fundamental philosophical issues in their connection with education, to detailed critical engagement with current educational practice or policy from a philosophical point of view. Books in this series promote rigorous thinking on educational matters and identify and criticise the ideological forces shaping education.

Titles in the series include:

The Good Life of Teaching: An Ethics of Professional Practice

Chris Higgins

Reading R. S. Peters Today: Analysis, Ethics, and the Aims of Education

Edited by Stefaan E. Cuypers and Christopher Martin

The Formation of Reason

David Bakhurst

What do Philosophers of Education do? (And how do they do it?)

Edited by Claudia Ruitenberg

Evidence-Based Education Policy: What Evidence? What Basis? Whose Policy?

Edited by David Bridges, Paul Smeyers and Richard Smith

New Philosophies of Learning

Edited by Ruth Cigman and Andrew Davis

The Common School and the Comprehensive Ideal: A Defence by Richard Pring with Complementary Essays

Edited by Mark Halstead and Graham Haydon

Philosophy, Methodology and Educational Research

Edited by David Bridges and Richard D Smith

Philosophy of the Teacher

By Nigel Tubbs

Conformism and Critique in Liberal Society

Edited by Frieda Heyting and Christopher Winch

Retrieving Nature: Education for a Post-Humanist Age

By Michael Bonnett

Education and Practice: Upholding the Integrity of Teaching and Learning

Edited by Joseph Dunne and Pádraig Hogan

Educating Humanity: Bildung in Postmodernity

Edited by Lars Lovlie, Klaus Peter Mortensen and Sven Erik Nordenbo

The Ethics of Educational Research

Edited by Michael Mcnamee and David Bridges

In Defence of High Culture

Edited by John Gingell and Ed Brandon

Enquiries at the Interface: Philosophical Problems of On-Line Education

Edited by Paul Standish and Nigel Blake

The Limits of Educational Assessment

Edited by Andrew Davis

Illusory Freedoms: Liberalism, Education and the Market

Edited by Ruth Jonathan

Quality and Education

Edited by Christopher Winch


Notes on Contributors

Robin Barrow is Professor of Philosophy of Education at Simon Fraser University, where he was Dean of Education for over ten years. He was previously Reader at the University of Leicester. His recent publications include Plato (Continuum) and An Introduction to Moral Philosophy and Moral Education (Routledge) and, as co-editor, The Sage Handbook of Philosophy of Education (Sage). In 1996 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Stefaan E. Cuypers is Professor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. He works in philosophy of mind and philosophy of education. His research interests are autonomy, moral responsibility and R. S. Peters. He is the author of Self-Identity and Personal Autonomy (Ashgate, 2001), the co-author, together with Ishtiyaque Haji, of Moral Responsibility, Authenticity, and Education (Routledge, 2008) and an invited contributor to The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Education (2009), edited by Harvey Siegel.

Mike Degenhardt taught philosophy of education at Borough Road and Stockwell Colleges of Education, in London, and subsequently the University of Tasmania. He is the author of Education and the Value of Knowledge (Routledge, 1982) and of a range of papers in the philosophy of education, with particular reference to ethics and teaching. Recently his attention has been turned towards a more historical examination of the roots of the ideas that he has explored in the course of his research and teaching.

Andrea English is Assistant Professor of Philosophy of Education at the Faculty of Education, Mount Saint Vincent University. Her research areas include theories of teaching and learning, John Dewey and pragmatism, continental philosophy of education, especially Herbart, the concept of negativity in education, listening and education. She recently published: with Barbara Stengel, ‘Exploring Fear: Rousseau, Dewey and Freire on Fear and Learning’, Educational Theory 60:5 (2010), pp. 521–542 and ‘Listening as a Teacher: Educative Listening, Interruptions, and Reflective Practice’, Paideusis: International Journal of Philosophy of Education 18:1 (2009), pp. 69–79.

Michael Hand is Reader of Philosophy of Education and Director of Postgraduate Research Programmes at the Institute of Education, University of London. He has research interests in the areas of moral, political, religious and philosophical education. His books include Is Religious Education Possible? (Continuum, 2006), Philosophy in Schools (Continuum, 2008) and, in the Impact policy-related pamphlet series Patriotism in Schools (PESGB, forthcoming).

Graham Haydon is Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Education, University of London, where until recently he was Reader in Philosophy of Education. His many publications on moral education include recently Values for Educational Leadership (Sage, 2007) and Education, Philosophy and the Ethical Environment (Routledge, 2006).

Michael S. Katz is Professor Emeritus of San Jose State University and past President of the North Amereican Philosophy of Education Society. Much of his recent research has focused on ethical issues in teacher-student relationships. Trained at Stanford in analytic philosophy, he has focused recent work on integrating film and literature within moral analyses of concepts such as caring, integrity, trustworthiness, fairness, and respect for persons. He is the lead editor of a volume entitled Education, Democracy and the Moral Life (Springer, 2009), which includes his own analysis of ‘the right to education’. He previously was also the lead editor of a volume, along with Nel Noddings and Kenneth Strike, entitled Justice and Caring: The Search for Common Ground in Education (Teachers College Press, 1999).

Megan J. Laverty is Associate Professor in the Philosophy and Education Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests include: philosophy of education, moral philosophy and its significance for education, philosophy of dialogue and dialogical pedagogy, and philosophy with children and adolescents in schools. She is the author of Iris Murdoch’s Ethics: A Consideration of her Romantic Vision (Continuum, 2007) and recently published in Educational Theory and, with Maughn Gregory, in Theory and Research in Education.

Michael Luntley is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick. Recent teaching responsibilities include Wittgenstein, the philosophy of thought and language. His research interests are Wittgenstein, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of education. He is the author of Wittgenstein: meaning and judgement (Blackwell, 2003) and recently published: ‘Understanding expertise’, Journal for Applied Philosophy 26:4 (2009), pp. 356–70, ‘What’s doing? Activity, naming and Wittgenstein’s response to Augustine’, in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: A Critical Guide, ed. A. Ahmed, Cambridge University Press, 2010, pp. 30–48, ‘Expectations without content’, Mind & Language 25:2 (2010), pp. 217–236, and ‘What do nurses know?’ Nursing Philosophy 12 (2011), pp. 22–33.

Christopher Martin is a researcher in the Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is also a lecturer in the Faculty of Education and the Department of English at Memorial University. A former school principal, he holds a PhD in philosophy of education from the Institute of Education, University of London. His research is focused on the ethical and political foundations of education. His most recent work deals with the relationship between the humanities and medical education. His publications include articles in the Journal of Philosophy of Education and Educational Theory, and his book Education as Moral Concept (Continuum) is forthcoming.

Krasimir Stojanov is Professor of Theory and Philosophy of Education at the Bundeswehr University of Munich, Germany. His topics of teaching and research include educational justice, education as a concept of social philosophy, ideology critique. His last monograph Bildung und Anerkennung. Soziale Voraussetzungen von Selbst-Entwicklung und Welt-Erschließung (Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, 2006) deals with the relation between education and recognition. Currently he is writing a book on ‘Bildung’ as a Social Phenomenon.

Bryan R. Warnick is an Associate Professor of Philosophy of Education in the School of Educational Policy and Leadership at The Ohio State University. His current research and teaching focus on questions related to the ethics of educational policy and practice, learning theory, philosophy of educational research, and educational technology. He is the author of Imitation and Education (SUNY, 2008) and has published articles in Harvard Educational Review, Educational Researcher, Teachers College Record, Educational Theory, and many other venues.

John White is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, where he has worked since 1965. His interests are in the aims of education and in educational applications of the philosophy of mind. His recent books include The Child’s Mind (2002), Intelligence, Destiny and Education (2006), What Schools are For and Why (2007), Exploring Well-being in Schools: A guide to making children’s lives more fulfilling (2011), and The Invention of the Secondary Curriculum (forthcoming).

Kevin Williams is Senior Lecturer in Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin City University and former President of the Educational Studies Association of Ireland. His books include Education and the Voice of Michael Oakeshott (2007) and Faith and the Nation: Religion, Culture and Schooling in Ireland (2005).


Writing in 1966, in the closing words of his now classic Ethics and Education, R. S. Peters ponders the possibility that we are suffering from a kind of malaise, accentuated by an overburdened economy. And he sees this malaise as manifested in a disillusionment with the institutions of democracy, including the institutions of education: this is a disillusionment that is experienced by traditionalists and progressives alike. Yet, although he acknowledges this reasonable disappointment, he concludes affirmatively with the recognition that the most worthwhile features of political life are in the institutions that we in fact have. For in the end it is the institutions of democracy that constitute the form of government that a rational person can accept.

Writing nearly half a century later, can we hold on to thoughts such as these? That was a time of prosperity, whereas now we face the varying deeps of a recession. That decade was heralded, so it now seems, with the much-quoted quip of the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan that ‘most of our people have never had it so good’. He was in fact speaking in 1957, but the remark was to become celebrated as an expression that supposedly epitomised the time. Hence, the general sense that the 1960s was a time of prosperity may make Peters’ remarks about an overburdened economy now seem somewhat surprising. Compare that time with our current straitened circumstances, and you may wonder why disillusionment had set in. After all, you may be tempted further to think, don’t we now face a situation, around the world, in which the financing of educational institutions is strained, where the institutions that finance them are stained, and where the possibilities of democratic access are progressively, surreptitiously curtailed?

There may be some truth in thoughts such as these, but to indulge such a view is conveniently to ignore the increases in real wealth that have been achieved in the intervening decades, as well as the extension of educational provision in so many ways. It was developments in the 1960s, in the economy and in ideas, surely, that provided the ground in which that expansion of education in many significant respects took root. In fact, Peters himself came into the field at a time when his own thinking about education could flourish, and the thoughts that he then disseminated in his writings and teaching had influence around the world. Moreover, apart from his influence through books and articles, Peters was himself a creator of institutions. Thus, in a very real sense, the pages you are now reading owe their existence to Peters’ initiative, with the establishment of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, and hence with the birth of the Journal of Philosophy of Education, of which he was the first Editor. The expansion of publication and conference activity in philosophy of education that has ensued in subsequent decades owes so much to what he did then. And in this light it is no exaggeration to say that his achievement remains unparalleled.

Can we then turn today to the institutions of education without cynicism, avoiding myths about the past as much as illusions about the future, in the way that Peters urged? In many respects his own writings prompt the kind of serious reflection on education that is the antidote to cynical and idealistic excess. In many respects what he has to say can be turned to the conditions we face today, however much the institutions of our democracies, not least our universities and schools, have changed. And this is precisely what is demonstrated in the chapters that follow. Stefaan Cuypers and Christopher Martin, coming from different academic backgrounds and different cultural contexts, independently developed ideas about the possibilities of a collection that might read Peters’ work against a backdrop of contemporary change—in philosophy, educational policy and practice—but in the end it is their combined initiative that has brought together these assessments and responses from around the world. The journal is grateful to them for their efforts and insight in renewing our sense of the importance of reading R. S. Peters today.

Paul Standish

Introduction: Reading R. S. Peters on Education Today


Paul Hirst ends his masterly 1986 outline of Richard Stanley Peters’ contribution to the philosophy of education with these words:

Whether or not one agrees with his [Peters’] substantive conclusions on any particular issue it cannot but be recognised that he has introduced new methods and wholly new considerations into the philosophical discussion of educational issues. The result has been a new level of philosophical rigour and with that a new sense of the importance of philosophical considerations for educational decisions. Richard Peters has revolutionised philosophy of education and as the work of all others now engaged in that area bears witness, there can be no going back on the transformation he has brought about (pp. 37–38).

As Hirst rightly notes, while his contribution is still a matter of discussion, all agree on Peters’ status as one of the great founding fathers of contemporary philosophy of education. In the 1960s and 1970s he undertook a uniquely ambitious philosophical project by introducing and developing what might be called a singular analytical paradigm for puzzle-solving in the philosophy of education. This paradigm, whether something to be celebrated or resisted, continues to influence our work today. Peters, born in 1919 in India, who held the chair in the Philosophy of Education at the London University Institute of Education from 1962 until 1983, celebrated his 90th birthday in 2009. Therefore, we wish to take this occasion to critically engage with Peters’ work with the aim of examining the ways in which and the extent to which his contribution has relevance for present day philosophy and educational theory.

The scene of (British) philosophy of education has transformed considerably since Peters’ heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. David Carr’s 1994 state of the art account can be read as an intermediate report on the fortunes of educational philosophy. With the advent of Thatcherism (1979–1990) and the rising influence of managerial conceptions of educational administration and bureaucratic control, the political and institutional circumstances drastically changed. Within the more utilitarian and instrumentalist climate of the 1980s, the philosophy of education took a more ‘practical’ turn and was more concerned with ‘political implications’. At the same time, many educational philosophers resisted an unquestioning acceptance of the market and consumer conceptions of narrowly neo-liberalistic education. Both for their critique and their alternatives, they drew not only on post-empiricist Anglo-American philosophy but also on Continental intellectual traditions such as Phenomenology, Existentialism, (Neo-)Marxism, Structuralism, Critical Theory and Post-Modernism. ‘Thus’, Carr observes, ‘one is as likely to encounter such names as Habermas, Adorno, Horkheimer, Lyotard, Gadamer, Foucault, Derrida, Ricoeur, Althusser or Lacan in a contemporary article on philosophy of education as those of MacIntyre, Taylor or Rorty’ (p. 6).

As of today, the situation has not altered much: at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, philosophy of education is still meritoriously eclectic and cross-cultural in character. True, to the list of names one would have to add Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Arendt, Levinas, Benjamin, Nietzsche, Cavell and McDowell. In addition, recent social changes have, of course, engendered new challenges to be dealt with in educational philosophy. The present-day scene features philosophical reflection (and empirical research) on the ways in which educational systems try to cope with, for example, multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism, globalisation, changing notions of citizenship, environmentalism, as well as with, for example, new conceptions of vocational education, the rise of information and communication technology (ICT) and the restructuring of higher education in both European and North American contexts. All these current issues are approached from different theoretical viewpoints and explored in diverse styles of reflection and research. The recent guidebooks to the field, such as The Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Education (Curren, 2003), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education (Blake et al., 2003) and The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Education (Siegel, 2009), amply testify to the multi-paradigmatic condition of present day philosophy of education.

Far from considering Peters’ analytical paradigm as somewhat out-dated, all the contributors to this book are of the opinion that it still has an important, if not essential role to play on the scene of philosophy of education today. They go back to Peters in an attempt to carry his thinking further into the future. For that purpose, they take up the main themes of his analytical project in order to seek a fresh look at the ways in which his writings reflect upon current concerns. This book is neither a Festschrift for R. S. Peters, nor a Manifesto for the analytical movement. Though, this being said, one cannot avoid engaging with the analytical claims and methods of an analytical philosopher such as Peters; nor should one avoid pointing out that analytical project’s weaknesses in addition to its merits. The contributions of this book offer an inspirational rereading of Peters and a fruitful exploration of his analytical paradigm in the context of the heterogeneous and multifaceted present day scene of educational philosophy. We now locate the contributors against the backdrop of Peters’ analytical project.

In the early 1960s Peters entered the field of philosophy of education as a first rate philosopher, well-versed in the Ordinary Language Philosophy of Ryle and Austin (for this post-war period in analytical philosophy, see Soames, 2003). Quite naturally for him, philosophy—and, of course, also philosophy of education—is concerned with questions about the analysis of concepts and with questions about the grounds of knowledge, belief, actions and activities. The point of doing conceptual analysis is that it is a necessary preliminary to answering other philosophical questions, especially questions of justification. Consequently, two basic questions delineate Peters’ analytical paradigm in the philosophy of education: 1) What do you mean by ‘education’?—a question of conceptual analysis; and 2) How do you know that ‘education’ is ‘worthwhile’?—a question of justification. He studied not only philosophy but also psychology. This explains his strong interest in philosophical psychology—particularly in the analysis of the concepts of motivation and emotion—and, more pertinent to the field of educational philosophy, in the developmental psychology of Freud, Piaget and Kohlberg. He approached these empirical or quasi-empirical ‘genetic’ psychological theories from the standpoint of moral theory. Hence, another focal question demarcates Peters’ project: 3) How do we adequately conceive of moral development and moral education? These three leading questions serve as a natural outline for the contributions of this book into three sections, with a fourth section serving to place Peters in context:

I. The Conceptual Analysis of Education and Teaching (Barrow, Laverty, Luntley, Warnick, English).

II. The Justification of Educational Aims and the Curriculum (Katz, Hand, White, Martin, Stojanov).

III. Aspects of Ethical Development and Moral Education (Haydon, Cuypers)

IV. Peters in Context (Degenhardt, Williams).

Peters’ analytical project is, in a specific sense, foundational. The sense in which the term ‘foundational’ is used here should not be misunderstood. The project is not epistemologically foundational in the sense of trying to establish a set of infallible axioms for educational theory. As such, it is neutral as to the controversy between foundationalism and anti-foundationalism (coherentism, constructivism, contextualism, etc.) in contemporary epistemology and metaphysics. Peters’ analytical paradigm is conceptually foundational in the sense that it deals with key concepts that are constitutive of the discipline—the philosophy of education—itself. It involves a conceptual inquiry into the very notions of education, learning, teaching, knowledge, curriculum, etc. (for a nearly complete list of these fundamental notions, see Winch and Gingell, 1999). Arguably, the treatment of all other educationally relevant concepts and issues asymmetrically depend upon the analysis of these key concepts. How can one adequately deal with the issue of multicultural education in the school if one has no clear view of education? How can one responsibly apply the concept of ICT in the classroom if one lacks an analysis of knowledge? Unless one has such key concepts in one’s theoretical toolbox, talking philosophy of education quickly degenerates into ‘edu-babble’. In their contributions to this book each author shows how some of the foundational concepts of Peters’ analytical paradigm connect with and elucidate the current concerns mentioned above. While they may not all agree that the particular view of education developed by Peters is entirely cogent or sufficient, they do recognise the extent to which engaging with such key concepts is necessary.

Peters himself concludes his own 1983 state of the art—his philosophical testament in a way—with these words:

Certainly this more low-level, down to earth, type of work [on practical issues] is as important to the future of philosophy of education as higher-level theorising. . . . I do not think [however] that down to earth problems . . . can be adequately or imaginatively dealt with unless the treatment springs from a coherent and explicit philosophical position. . . . But maybe there will be a ‘paradigm shift’ and something very different will take its [the analytical paradigm’s] place. But I have simply no idea what this might be. I would hope, however, that the emphasis on clarity, the producing of arguments, and keeping closely in touch with practice remain (p. 55).

As indicated earlier, no paradigm shift has taken place in the meanwhile. What has come to the surface today is the multi-paradigmatic configuration of the philosophy of education. Yet Peters’ rumination about the future reminds us of the foundational place of the analytical paradigm in this present day configuration. As such, it should play an essential role on the scene of philosophy of education today. Because Peters’ paradigm is philosophical, analytical and foundational, it contributes not only to the clarity and argumentative structure but also to the seriousness of the discipline. It is Peters’ reminder that we must reflect on what it is we are actually claiming when we talk about education. Only by way of such a reflexion can we ensure that an inclusive, multi-paradigmatic philosophy of education, in its attempts to be responsive to the concerns of the moment, does not lose sight of what makes it a valuable and distinctive contribution to the philosophical enterprise.


Blake, N., Smeyers, P., Smith, R. and Standish, P. (eds) (2003) The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Education (Oxford, Blackwell).

Carr, D. (1994) The Philosophy of Education, Philosophical Books, 35, pp. 1–9.

Curren, R. (ed) (2003) A Companion to the Philosophy of Education (Oxford, Blackwell), pp. 221–31.

Hirst, P. H. (1986) Richard Peters’ Contribution to the Philosophy of Education, in: D. E. Cooper (ed.) Education, Values and Mind. Essays for R. S. Peters (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul), pp. 8–40.

Peters, R. S. (1983) Philosophy of Education, in: P. H. Hirst (ed.) Educational Theory and its Foundation Disciplines (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul), pp. 30–61.

Siegel, H. (ed) (2009) The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Education (New York, Oxford University Press).

Soames, S. (2003) Philosophical Analysis in the Twentieth Century, Volume 2. The Age of Meaning (Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press).

Winch, C. and Gingell, J. (eds) (1999) Key Concepts in the Philosophy of Education (London, Routledge).