Israel Scheffler Essay

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Israel Scheffler has been a key figure in philosophy of education in the United States and, indeed, along with R. S. Peters in Great Britain, is the preeminent philosopher of education in the English-speaking world in the second half of the twentieth century.

Scheffler has made four major contributions to philosophy of education. First is his introduction of methods of logical analysis—attention to language, clarity, objectivity of method, and careful and rigorous argumentation. Second is his utilization of these methods to pursue issues of value in an effort to develop our most defensible conceptions of education, teaching, and so on, so as to have the best possible understanding of education, and of educational aims and ideals, which in turn most adequately serve educational practice. Third is his development of specific accounts of key educational concepts: (1) education, namely, the conception of education aimed at the fostering of rationality; and (2) teaching, namely, as an activity restricted by manner such that the teacher must submit his or her teaching and the substance of what is taught to the independent judgment of the student, respect the student’s sense of reason and reasonableness, and treat students with respect, and as a concept with a deeply moral component that cannot be understood or analyzed behavioristic ally. Fourth is his demonstration of the benefits to be gained by bringing philosophy of education into close contact with general philosophy, and the mistake of removing philosophy of education from contact with its parent discipline.

As with any broad philosophical position, there is room for critical reaction, and philosophers have criticized various aspects of Scheffler’s views. In particular, some have questioned whether philosophy of education should be viewed as solely a matter of rigorous logical analysis; whether philosophy of education need be as intimately connected with general philosophy as Scheffler suggests; whether teaching is rightly analyzed in moral rather than behavioral or other terms; and whether the fostering of rationality really is as basic to education as Scheffler argues.

Whatever the case, Scheffler has set a standard for serious work in philosophy of education that, in its way, is his most important contribution of all.


  1. Scheffler, I. (1960). The language of education. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.
  2. Scheffler, I. (1965). Conditions of knowledge: An introduction to epistemology and education. Chicago: Scott, Foresman.
  3. Scheffler, I. (1989). Reason and teaching, Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.

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