The Foundations of the Philosophy of Education

MORTIMER J. ADLER, PH.D.

Mortimer AdlerI think that I shall be expressing the negative voice in the threesided discussion being carried on in this session of the seminar. I should like briefly and at once to state the propositions that constitute the theses I would like to defend. They are as follows:

  1. That there is no such thing as scientific philosophy. The phrase “scientific philosophy” is intrinsically self-contradictory.

  2. That empirical science has little if anything to contribute to the formation of a philosophy of education.

  3. That there are no recent advances or contemporary developments in science which are exceptions to this thesis.

  4. That the foundations of the philosophy of education are to be found in the whole of theoretical and practical philosophy and nowhere else, and

  5. That the only significant change in the philosophy of education that has occurred in the last hundred years has been brought about by the advent of industrial democracy.

In other words, if one were really concerned with a fundamental revision of our educational thinking one would not look to science either for help or for stimulation. One would be concerned with the effect on education of a brand new society, a society which has come into existence in less than a hundred years as a result of the most important revolution in the history of mankind. That affects education. But science, as I understand it — with all its magnificent achievements — contributes absolutely nothing to the formation of an educational philosophy.

I must beg your leave to spend a little time at the beginning to make a clear distinction between science and philosophy, and then show you what, in my judgment, are the basic propositions in the philosophy of education, and where they have their foundations in philosophy as a whole.

Next, I would like to comment, point by point, on what bearing science might conceivably have on these basic propositions.

Finally, I wish to deal with the one significant change in the philosophy of education that has occurred in the last hundred years.

I will begin with a brief attempt to distinguish the whole of science, as we understand it in the contemporary world, and philosophy. In the seventeenth century and earlier, the words science and philosophy were used interchangeably. In fact, most of the great scientists of the seventeenth century, men like Huygens, Galileo, and Newton, would have called themselves natural philosophers. “Philosophy” was the word; “science,” the Latin scientia, simply meant a branch of the philosophical science, one of the sciences. But since Newton’s day, since the seventeenth century and since certain philosophical developments of the eighteenth, a sharp distinction has occurred — quite properly, by the way. The two disciplines are, I think, related, but they are independent of one another.

Let me give you the principles for making this distinction. If science and philosophy are two independent disciplines, their independence arises from the fact that each discipline has a characteristic method, which enables it to investigate an object appropriate to that method, and answer the questions that can be asked about that object and answered by that method. To illustrate this by taking a simple case, consider mathematics as science X, or discipline X, and consider experimental physics as discipline Y, or science Y. Now, without going into the details of the mathematical method and the experimental method, it is perfectly clear that the method of mathematics is competent to answer certain questions, and the experimental method is competent to answer others. But, by experimentation, no properly mathematical question can be answered at all; and, by mathematics — by the method of mathematical research or analysis — no properly experimental question can be answered at all. The method of mathematics is restricted by its range of competence to the objects of mathematical inquiry, as the method of experimental physics is restricted to the objects of experimental inquiry.

This does not prevent there being the hybrid science, the great science of our day, mathematical physics. The union of these two in no way changes the fact of their independence as disciplines. Moreover, to make this illustration a little clearer, when two disciplines are independent (as mathematics and experimental physics are, so that each by its method is only competent to answer certain questions and not others), then one discipline by its method cannot criticize the findings of another. If the experimenter cannot answer mathematical questions, neither can he criticize the answers given by the mathematician. Only another mathematician, using the method of mathematics, is able to criticize proposals of solutions to mathematical problems. Similarly, the mathematician qua mathematician is totally incompetent to criticize the solution of experimental problems. It takes another experimenter, using the method, to do that.

Let us take two practical examples, that of the civil engineer and that of the physician. No one in his right mind would ask an engineer to sit at the bedside of a person who was ill. No one in his right mind would consult a physician about the stresses and strains that must be considered in building a bridge. Why not? Because everyone recognizes the limited competence of the physician to solve certain practical problems, and the limited competence of the engineer to solve certain other practical problems. No one would go to the engineer for criticism of the physician’s prescriptions. Perfectly obvious. The two are independent, and their independence comes from the limitations of their methods. These limitations of method limit the competence of the practitioners.

Having given these two examples, I say that philosophy and science are related as science X to science Y; that philosophy and science as a whole — these two basic disciplines in our culture — are related in a way analogous to engineering and medicine. The method of philosophy limits it as much as it provides it with competence. There are questions the scientist can answer and questions the scientist cannot answer at all. There are questions the philosopher can answer and questions the philosopher cannot answer at all. And I would like before I finish to come to the questions that religion can and cannot answer; because, in the large picture, religion too has a firm but limited competence. It can answer some questions, not others. And it is very important to know that the questions religion can answer are those that science and philosophy cannot answer at all.

So much for the superstructure. It is more difficult in the brief time allotted to make sure that we understand what the method of science is, and what the method of philosophy is, and how these two methods limit their respective disciplines.

Perhaps the easiest way is to say that the method of philosophy is that of armchair thinking (just as the method of mathematics is that of armchair thinking), whereas the method of science requires active research. To put it another way, the philosophical method is non-investigative. Philosophy investigates nothing, if one means by investigation a deliberate process of observation to obtain data outside the field of common experience. My crucial term here is “common experience.” By “common experience” I mean that sense experience, the body of observation, that comes to any human being by virtue of his being alive — and awake. Every moment of our lives, you and I, together with all the other members of the human race, have the common experiences of mankind. We share the falling of the leaf, the dying of the sparrow, the rainstorm, the sunlight, the changes of the day, the changes of the seasons, the growth of animals and men. These are common experiences about which, for certain purposes, no additional data are needed. The essential difference between science and philosophy is that as long as men stay with the common experiences of mankind, no science arises at all. Philosophy has a total foundation in the common experience of mankind and needs no special data obtained by investigation. Science does not begin until the frontiers of experience are opened by the addition of data obtained by methodical research, contrived for the sake of getting data that would never be obtained in the ordinary experience of mankind.

Let me use these terms in a summary fashion. The investigative method of science limits it to solving what I would call descriptive problems about the phenomenal world. Science can explain nothing. It can describe. Its laws are descriptive laws. It can formulate the ways in which phenomena are related, and by “phenomena” I mean exactly what science means by “phenomena”: I mean the “appearances.” The great astronomers of the early days, from Ptolemy down to Copernicus, had a phrase that expressed the meaning of scientific hypotheses. In effect a scientific hypothesis was to “save the appearances,” the appearances being the phenomena. They meant to save them in the sense of formulating them in an intelligible fashion. This is what science does; and science can never do anything more than this until the end of time. If the method of science is an investigative getting of data by observation, no matter how scientific theories develop or what hypotheses spring into men’s minds, it will be saving the appearances in the end.

Now philosophy, having no investigation, gathering no data, staying with common experience, does not develop by broadening the area of experience and formulating relationships between phenomena. It develops by taking common experience and delving underneath the appearances to questions about the reality of things. I will not illustrate the kind of problems that scientists solve and the kind of questions they answer. You know from your knowledge of physics, chemistry, or biology the kind of problems to which the laws and hypotheses of empirical science provide answers. But let me explain what I mean by a philosophical question. Let me take an obvious thing, the fact of change, a fact common, in some sense, to both science and philosophy. I drop something. Now, when Galileo, the scientist, is concerned with the free fall of a body, he does not ask the question — though he has an answer to it from his philosophical education — of what motion is. He does not ask what constitutes mutability, what constitutes local motion. These are not scientific questions. No research can answer them. What does Galileo want to know? He wants to know what the law of the fall is, what the relation of velocity is to time and space. He is concerned to establish the units of time, the units of space, the intervals traversed in that free fall. What are the intervals of time and space? What is the velocity accruing? These are questions no philosopher can answer. You cannot do it just by thinking about local motion. You need to observe; you need Galileo’s water clock, his inclined plane, and all his experiments.

This is a perfectly clear example of the total difference in method. The philosopher asks, what is change? Under what conditions is anything mutable? What is mutation? The scientist, on the other hand, asks, how does velocity accumulate, accrue? What is the law of that relationship? Certain questions are totally beyond the competence of science, and fall within the field of philosophy, because by reflective analysis of common experience answers can be proposed. Such questions as what does it mean for anything to exist, what existence is, what the properties of existing are — these are questions that are not and cannot be answered by science. If they can be answered at all, it is by the method of philosophy. This very question I am discussing, the difference between science and philosophy, is a very good case in point. It is a philosophical question. No scientist in the world can have anything to say about what science is in relation to philosophy. He has no competence here. If he wants to talk about the difference between science and philosophy, he must talk as a philosopher or not talk at all.

Obviously the great questions about the existence of God, the nature of God, the nature of the human soul, its freedom, its immortality, are philosophical questions that go beyond the reach of science, now and forever.

I have stayed for a moment within the range of theoretical philosophy, and I think that what I have said is clear. Much clearer is the incompetence of science in the practical field. No ethical or political question, no question that involves good and bad, right and wrong, or ends, is at all within the competence of science. These are not investigative questions. The whole range of economics insofar as economics is a moral and not a descriptive, empirical science is philosophical, and open only to philosophical answers.

This, by the way, has a great bearing on the utility of philosophy and science, and a bearing on education. Throughout all the years that I taught undergraduates, I can remember that in every philosophy course, at the end of a few weeks, a bright student would say, “Mr. Adler, this is all very interesting, but tell me, what is philosophy useful for?” And since I knew exactly what the student meant by the word “use,” I always said, “In your sense of the question, philosophy is totally useless.” The reason I said that was because in his question the student borrowed the meaning of utility from the utility of applied science.

In the sense in which a science is useful, philosophy is useless. Conversely, in the sense in which philosophy is useful, the sciences are useless. It is important to know the sharp distinction of those utilities. Philosophy is morally or practically useful; science is technically or artistically useful. Let me use the Greek words praxis and techne. Practical utility is the utility of knowledge in the direction of human conduct. Praxis is action, not making. The utility of philosophical knowledge is in this sphere of human practice: the moral life, the conduct of men in society. Philosophical knowledge has its usefulness in that it directs human conduct to its proper end.

What is the utility of scientific knowledge? It is entirely productive. It turns out things. It in no way directs human life because it has no direction to give human life. Scientific knowledge — techne, meaning “art,” in the sense of production — makes things, from bridges to cures, and never can make anything else. This, I think, in our material civilization is what causes the adoration of science. It is the giver of all these gifts. But the gifts are strictly limited to things produced.

The point I have just made is of maximum significance for the philosophy of education. It has been said that the educator is producing men. I dislike this phrase, because men are not produced. The educator is not producing men, he is directing men; and to understand the difference between producing things and directing men is to see at once that science has no application whatsoever to education. It cannot affect the direction of men in any essential sense. Philosophical knowledge is involved in educational philosophy, because philosophy is concerned with the direction of man.

Before I go on, I think you will be interested in a brief consideration of where religion stands in relation to science and philosophy. What are the questions which religion can and does answer that neither science nor philosophy can answer, now or ever? It would seem that the specific contribution of religion in the order of theoretical knowledge is in regard to questions that can be answered by faith and faith alone. Any religion which does not claim to have a deposit of revealed truth would have nothing unique to say whatsoever, for any religion that does not claim to have a deposit of revealed truth can be reduced to philosophy. Many, many modern religions and most religions in the East, are nothing but philosophies in disguise. They call themselves religions because they suffuse their theories with spirituality and emotion, but this is not the distinction of religion. Its distinction lies in the fact that it has a source of knowledge which exceeds the knowledge of science and philosophy, because while the latter comprise the things that men discover by the natural processes of their minds and senses, religion includes the things men cannot discover, but can learn only if God reveals them. Otherwise there is no religion. There are questions that science and philosophy have never answered. There are questions that religion can and does answer.

On the practical side, what good is religion? What use is it? It is not useful productively, and it is not essentially useful in the practical sphere. It does involve morals and practical discipline, but that is not its point. If it were religion would be indistinguishable from moral philosophy. What is the distinctive utility of religion? What would not exist if religion did not exist? Only one thing — the help man needs from God. If religion does not provide access to grace, it does not provide anything unique. If the instrumentalities of grace were not provided, if the whole of the liturgy, the whole of worship were not for the sake of obtaining help that cannot be gotten any other place, then religion would have no use beyond that of moral philosophy.

All of the points that I have just made are totally unaltered by the developments in the empirical sciences in the last hundred years. Magnificent though they have been, none of them changes the picture I have just shown.

I have not, up to this point, added a qualification. I now want to add one. There are some mixed questions. Just as, in jurisprudence, there are mixed questions of fact and law — questions of fact for the jury, questions of law for the judge, the tribunal — so there are some mixed questions of science and philosophy. There are some questions where common experience is not enough, and where the scientific data that have been added must be examined and criticized by the philosopher. One such mixed question is relevant to our problem this morning. In fact, nothing could be more relevant to the examination of education and philosophy. But let me touch on the basic propositions in the philosophy of education and their philosophical foundations.

In the spring of 1941, on a campus a little north of here, in a very pleasant auditorium, I engaged in a debate with Paul Schilpp. The subject of the debate was “Are There Absolute and Universal Principles on Which Education Should be Founded?” I took the affirmative and Dr. Schilpp took the negative. A year later, I was invited to contribute to the yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. That year the NEA was engaged in a symposium on the philosophy of education, and I wrote a piece in defense of the philosophy of education which follows out the same general thesis I undertook to defend in my debates with Bertrand Russell and Dr. Schilpp. I have some passages from these documents which I should like to read into the record at the appropriate places.

In both these documents I propose a definition of education which — though I know these are strong words — I regard as indisputable. Perhaps the phrases can be changed but I am at a loss to see what education is other than this. I have never heard any other definition offered as an alternative; and I cannot imagine how one could, in fact, offer an alternative.

Let me read you two formulations. The one from the yearbook is, “Education is the process by which those powers of men that are susceptible to habituation are perfected by good habits, through means artistically contrived, and employed by any man to help another or himself to achieve the end in view.” And a somewhat shorter version, from the debate, is, “Education is the process whereby a man is changed for the better, whereby a man helps himself or another to become a good man, which is something he can be, though not perhaps as readily as being a bad man.”

Now, the points that are indisputable are these: First, education produces or causes a change. I cannot imagine anyone saying, “No, as education goes on it changes nothing.” Second, it causes a change in men. I cannot imagine anyone saying, “No, education causes a change, but not in man.” Because it changes man, it changes him for the better or for the worse. I cannot imagine anyone saying it causes a change for the worse. So the definition, I think, is almost self-evident. Education is that which causes a change in man for the better. What is meant by a change for the better? That is a problem within the definition but the definition itself is absolutely fundamental.

I will go one step further and define a “change for the better.” It must be a relatively permanent change. One that lasts a day is useless. And relatively permanent changes are habits — the perfections of powers, the determinations of native capacity. Of course there are good habits and bad habits. Obviously a change for the better involves good habits — virtues, not vices. So it should be perfectly clear to anyone who will think for a moment that the immediate goal of education is the acquisition by any individual of what we call virtues. I hope that in this group I can use the word virtue as synonymous with good habit: the intellectual and the moral virtues, the virtues of the mind — understanding, knowledge, wisdom, art — the virtues of character, of the will, such as courage, temperance, and justice.

Taking this definition of education, the causing of men to be better men, to be virtuous intellectually and morally, what are the problems educational philosophy has to solve? Obviously, they are problems involving the nature of man and his specifically human powers. They are problems of defining, specifying clearly what the virtues are. And if there is another problem, it has a bearing on the phrase I used before when I said that education is a process brought about by means “artistically contrived.” It is: What is the nature of human learning, with which the arts of teaching and/or learning must co-operate in the formation of good habits? First nature, then art; the order is very important. The nature of learning defines the range of powers with which we work in the formation of good habits; what art does is secondary.

A point I shall amplify later is that all the arts involved in education, the art of teaching, belong to that special group of arts known as the co-operative arts. There are only three great co-operative arts in the whole of human culture: farming, healing, and teaching. The reason why there are three is that you can only have cooperative art in the field of living matter; and the three great ranges of living matter are the vegetative, the sensitive, and the rational. The art of farming co-operates with the vegetative nature; the art of healing co-operates with the sensitive nature; and the art of teaching cooperates with the rational nature.

When I face these basic problems of education, in the light of the definition that I have given, I have certain philosophical answers. Up to now I think what has been said about education is indisputable. From here on what I am going to say is quite disputable, and has been disputed. There is a difference, because I am now going to give a philosophical set of answers to the questions which any philosophy of education must face. My answers are the best I have come to after long philosophical consideration. They are based on the consideration of many things beyond the philosophy of education. Philosophy of education is strictly a secondary discipline, derived from the whole of philosophy — a very small, unimportant branch, as a matter of fact; a very simple application of the main body.

My answers, very briefly stated, are these: Man is by nature rational and free. He has free will. No other animal has. He has an intellect and no other animal has one at all. Because of these two distinct marks, he is essentially distinct from brute creation, which is neither rational nor free. The specific powers, therefore, which make man man, and which must be perfected by education, are the powers of reason and free will. Anything else is the subject of animal training, not human education. That is my first point.

Now, the perfection of these powers consists, in the second place, in the intellectual and moral virtues. I say that the ultimate end in the natural order is happiness, in the supernatural order, beatitude; imperfect and perfect happiness, temporal and eternal happiness. Virtues are proximate means to the ultimate end in the natural order. Everything in man’s practical life converges on the ultimate end. Happiness is not the proximate end of education; but education is concerned with the means that are proximate to both happinesses — namely, the intellectual and the moral virtues.

My third point is that specifically human learning — as opposed to animal learning — is essentially a rational process, though it is affected by infrarational factors such as memory, imagination, desire, and emotion.

Before I consider the possible bearing of science on these three answers, I would like you to remember that they are disputed. I have given answers that reflect my generally Aristotelian state of mind. I use that word, though I don’t like “isms” or “ians.” The focus of my philosophical mind is certainly of an Aristotelian cast. When I use the word nature, when I use the word power, when I use habit and virtue, they have their ultimate source of meaning in the philosophy of Aristotle.

As you know, Aristotle is not well liked by many philosophers, and so you must know that these philosophers would give other answers. For instance, Immanuel Kant regards the ethic of happiness as fundamentally pragmatic and immoral. In Kant, one does not seek happiness. One ultimately seeks to deserve to be happy, but by being righteous and holy in the performance of one’s duty, by conforming one’s will to the categorical imperative — a totally different moral analysis. I often wonder how Kant would answer the specific questions I have raised about the philosophy of education. I think it would be very interesting to find out, but that would reveal a difference in the philosophy of education stemming from deep philosophical roots.

Another philosopher may come along with another point. He may dispute what I have said about the nature of man, or claim that we do not know the essential character of man. I can imagine, for example, many modern German philosophers, certain existentialists, giving a different definition of the nature of man from my oldfashioned Aristotelian “rational animal” and their philosophy of education would be colored by it. But that would be a philosophical question; no science would be bearing on it. All I am trying to make clear is that, where there is dispute in the philosophy of education, it results from dispute in philosophy.

There is one other thing I would like to say before going on to the bearing of science on these three answers that I have given. At the time I debated this matter with Dr. Schilpp, and at the time I wrote the paper for the yearbook of the NEA, I used the point I have just made to you, arguing what I think is the fundamental proposition defensible in terms of these premises, namely, that the principles of educational philosophy are absolute and universal.

The conclusion to be proved being clear, I shall now state the premises which are proximately probative of it. Here is the Syllogism:

Major: Good habits (virtues) are the same for all men
 
Minor: Education should aim at the formation of good habits
 
Conclusion: Education should aim at the same objectives for all men (or, what is equivalent, the aim of education should be the same for all men).

Now, neither the major nor the minor premise is self-evident; hence we must proceed with their demonstration. From this point on we have two independent lines of proof, one converging on the major premise, the other converging on the minor. Let us consider the proof of the minor first.

The proof of the minor premise seems to involve the following propositions: (1) That men are born with various capacities which are under-developed, (2) That in the course of life, human growth involves — more that certain physical developments — the development of native capacities for various kinds of activity, such intellectual activities as knowing and thinking and artistic production, such moral activities as desiring, willing and social cooperation, (3) that the development of these various capacities for operation are habits formed by activities appropriate to the different sorts of capacity, (4) that habits can be either good or bad according as they conform to or violate the natural tendency of each capacity toward its own perfection, (5) that the betterment of men consists in the formation of good habits, i.e., the development of their capacities by good rather than bad habits, and (6) that education should aim at the betterment of men. By combining the last two propositions (5 and 6) we get the conclusion: Education should aim at the formation of good habits.

We are now required to examine the premises which enter into this conclusion. The two crucial premises are definitions, one the definition of education in its minimum terms, the other the definition of good with respect to habit.

The definition of education in these minimum terms is indisputable. This can be shown in a series of dilemmas. First, either education is a process whereby men are changed, by themselves or others, or it is not. Here the latter alternative is self-evidently impossible, for the meaning of education is absolutely incompatible with the denial of change. Hence we have the second dilemma; men can be changed by education either for better or for worse. This second dilemma is intelligible however “better” and “worse” be defined, whether there are objective (absolute and universal) standards of good and bad in human life, or only subjective (relative and variable) standards. Furthermore, there is no choice between the alternatives as stated, for both are equally possible: It is possible for education to change men for worse, as well as for better. But when we realize that education is a practical process, we realize that it cannot be defined except in terms of its end, or what it should do. Only if education were entirely natural could we define it in terms of what it is. That being so, our dilemma becomes a choice between saying that education should aim to change men for better or that it should change them for worse. Clearly the latter alternative is impossible, for all men, however else they differ in conceiving education, think of it as something good; and what aims to make men worse cannot be so regarded. Nor can it be said that good education is defined as education which aims at making men worse, for if education is itself understood as something then the phrase “good education” is redundant and the phrase “bad education” is strictly self-contradictory. Whatever makes men worse intentionally cannot be regarded as education at all, any more than a law which is intentionally unjust can be regarded as a law, for it is nothing but a disguised expression of tyrannical force. So just as a bad law is a law in name only, so bad education is education in name only. This excludes, of course, the circumstances in which education, rightly intended for human betterment, accidentally and unintentionally fails in execution. Hence we see that the definition of education as a process of human betterment, as activity which should aim to make men better, is self-evidently true. The foregoing discussion is not a demonstration of this definition; it is merely an explication of its basic terms “education” and “betterment” which, when understood, enable us immediately to understand the truth of the definition.

Thus is established the sixth proposition in the series which I enumerated as relevant to the minor premise. But the minor premise was that education should aim at the formation of good habits. In order to pass from the truth of the definition (sixth proposition) to the truth of the minor premise, it is necessary to show that human betterment consists, in part if not wholly, in the formation of good habits. The first five propositions enumerated are directed to the definition of the good, as opposed to the bad, with respect to human habituation. Now we have a choice in procedure. “Good habit” is a term in the major premise as well as in the minor. Hence we can establish the definition of good as to habit either in the context of proving the major or of proving the minor. I shall take the former course, for reasons that need not be given. The proof of the minor is thus temporarily completed. I say temporarily, for its real completion depends on the analysis of good habits. For the time being, then, we shall regard human betterment as depending on the formation of good habits, and if it can be so regarded then it is clear that education should aim at the formation of good habits if it should aim at human betterment. The first five propositions enumerated have served the purpose of making this point intelligible, but they are neither self-evident nor proved. That must be accomplished in the proof of the major premise. Unless it is, the minor premise depends upon unverified assumptions about the possibility of a demonstrable distinction among habits as good and as bad.

I turn, therefore, to the proof of the major premise, and here we face two tasks: first, to show that all men have the same natural capacities; second, to show that for every capacity or power which can be habituated there is a natural basis for distinguishing between good and bad habituation. If these two things can be shown, the whole of the major premise will follow necessarily — that good habits are the same for all men. I shall undertake these two tasks in the order named:

(1) The conclusion to be proved (that all men have the same natural capacities) must first be interpreted. It does not mean that all men possess each of these capacities in the same degree, to the same extent. All of the facts of individual difference with respect to every measurable human ability are quite compatible with the proposition to be proved — that the fundamental abilities are the same for all men essentially, that every being born a man is born with the same set of powers, however limited in degree, or however much held in abeyance by pathological conditions, such powers may be. The proof is accomplished in the following syllogism:

Major: All individuals having the same specific nature have the same natural powers or capacities.
 
Minor: All individual men have the same specific human nature.
 
Conclusion: All individual men have the same natural powers or capacities.

Now neither of these two premises is, strictly speaking, selfevident. Each must be proved. I shall return presently to what is involved in their proof, after I have accomplished the second task with equal brevity.

(2) What is to be proved here is the definition of a good habit as that development of a power or capacity which conforms to the natural tendency of that power or capacity. This proof depends upon the conception of the good of anything which can be perfected (which has potentialities capable of being actualized) as the actualization of its potencies. And this, in turn, depends upon the metaphysical conception of the good as convertible with being: Anything has as much goodness as it has being. Hence if a thing is naturally constituted by capacities to be developed, its ultimate good consists in their development, for thereby it has more actual being. Habits as developments of powers are perfections in so far as they increase and complete the being of the thing. But so far as we can only say that whatever has powers subject to habituation is perfected by the formation of habits, without distinction among habits as good or bad, for any habit appears to be the actualization of a power, the development of a capacity. It is necessary, therefore, to go further and show that each power is itself a natural being, albeit an accident of the substance possessing it, and because it is natural can only be perfected by one mode of development. To do this, we must understand the metaphysical truth that every determinate potency is a tendency toward a certain actuality. Hence every natural power of man, being a determinate potency, tends toward a certain mode of actualization, a certain development. Now human habits without qualification are the development or actualization of human capacities for operation or activity, but habits are good only if they are developments conforming to the natural tendency of the power they develop.

This last point must be understood in a twofold manner. (a) In the case of the intellect itself, which, as a power of knowing, naturally tends towards the possession of truth as perfection, the habit of knowledge is good by reason of conformity to the natural tendency of the cognitive power, and the habit of error is bad by reason of violation of that tendency. If the intellect were indifferently a power of knowing and non-knowing, possession of truth and possession of error would be indifferently good as actualizations of the cognitive power. Knowledge (possession of truth) is a good intellectual habit only because the intellect is a power of knowing, not a power of nonknowing. (b) In the case of every human power, other than the intellect itself, the natural tendency of the power, is toward that actualization of itself which conforms to reason. This follows from the subordination of all human powers, in their exercised acts, to reason itself. Hence, in the case of every power there is a natural tendency which habit can violate or to which it can conform; and in conforming, the habit is good; in violating, it is bad. Clearly, then, a man is not bettered simply by habit formation, for if the habits be bad they impede the development of his total nature by violating the tendency of his powers to their own perfection. In short, human nature, partly constituted by its natural potencies at birth, is bettered or perfected in the course of life only through the formation of good habits.

All of the analysis in (2) above (the definition of a good habit), can now be summarized in a single proposition: Every human capacity which can be habituated tends naturally toward a certain development and so, for each power or capacity, good habits are those which conform to the natural tendency of the power they develop. If now this proposition be combined with the conclusion of the syllogism in (1) above (all men have the same natural capacities), we are able to prove the major premise of the original syllogism. Thus:

Major: Every human capacity can be determined by habits which are good by conformity to the natural tendency of the power being habituated.
 
Minor: All individual men have the same natural powers or capacities.
 
Conclusion: All men are capable of having the same good habits.

This conclusion can be converted into the proposition: Good habits are the same for all men. This was the original major. Now if we combine that with the original minor — Education should aim at the formation of good habits we get the conclusion which was to be proved, namely the aim of education should be the same for all men, or the ends of education are absolute and universal. (In the light of the reasoning which establishes it, this conclusion is equivalent to the truth that the moral and intellectual virtues are the ends of education.)

The proof is thus completed. Let me summarize it for you in the following formulation: If education must aim at the betterment of men by forming good habits in them, and if the virtues, or good habits, are the same for all men because their natural capacities are the same and tend naturally toward the same developments, then it follows that the virtues, or good habits, as the ends of education, are absolute and universal principles on which education should be founded.

The conclusion follows logically: but it is true only if the premises — the two ifs — are true.

The truth of these two premises is guaranteed by two propositions which I think cannot be denied by anyone: my first proposition about the constancy of specific human nature, and my second proposition, i.e., the definition of education as a process of betterment.

The ultimate syllogism (the premises of which are proximate to the conclusion) is as follows:

Major: Good habits (virtues) are the same for all men.
 
Minor: The aim of education must be the formation of good habits.
 
Conclusion: The aim of education must be the same for all men.

What education aims at, as practical process, are its ends. The ends of any practical process are its basic principles; hence the ends or principles of education are the same for all men. The words “absolute” and “universal” mean just what is signified by the words “same for all men,” and the conclusion proved is that there are absolute and universal principles of education.

But the conclusion is not proved unless the premises are either self-evident or proved. They are not self-evident. Hence we must see whether they can be proved. In the proof of the major there is a chain of syllogisms, but not the chain Dr. Schilpp constructed.

They are:

I. All individuals having the same specific nature have the same natural capacities.
 
All individual men have the same specific (human) nature. Hence: All individual men have the same natural capacities.
 
II. Taking the foregoing conclusion as a major premise, and adding another minor we have:
 
Every natural capacity tends towards a certain definite development. Hence: All men tend toward a certain definite development.

III. Taking this conclusion, we now add two definitions: (1) habits are the developments of natural capacities or powers and (2) good habits (virtues) are those developments which conform to the natural tendency which each capacity has. By adding these two definitions to the conclusion of the second syllogism, we reach the proposition that good habits are the same for all men (because they all have the same natural capacities, and each of these capacities tends toward a certain development which is the standard for determining whether the habit is good as a perfection of the power in each case). Thus, the major is proved.

Let us turn now to the proof of the minor. Here Dr. Schilpp failed to see that the reasoning becomes practical, for it turns upon what should be done. Only two further premises are needed to prove the minor, which is that the aim of education must be the formation of good habits. These premises are: (1) A man is changed for the better when his capacities are developed by good habits and (2) education is the process whereby men are changed for the better. To amplify this latter point let us say that education is a process of human betterment. Converted into a practical statement, as it should be, this means that education should aim to make men better and that the ends or goals of such an effort are constituted by whatever constitutes human betterment. Hence we can conclude that the aim of education must be the formation of good habits and that the virtues constituting human betterment constitute the ends of education as defined.

The major and the minor having been proved, their proximate conclusion follows: namely, that the aim of education must be the same for all men. Now, in this reasoning, which is nothing but an explicit expansion of what I said in my presentation, there are no illicit conversions. This reasoning is formally valid. This suffices at this point to rebut Dr. Schlipp’s first objection.

By which I mean that, if I am right, education is the process of cultivating the virtues, which are the good habits that form the powers that are rooted in human nature. Since human nature is the same everywhere, and since the powers are rooted in the nature (hence men’s powers differ in degree only), and if what is a good formation of the powers is determined by what is befitting to the nature itself, then what is a good habit is a good habit for any man. There cannot be good habits for some men which are vices for others. In my terms I cannot imagine any fundamental change in the philosophy of education at any time or any place.

If my principles are wrong, of course, it is quite different. But, if I am right in saying that education should assist in the betterment of men by a process which involves the formation of good habits, the perfection of their basic capacities by virtues, then, it seems to me, whatever education is can be known quite adequately at any given time, and will remain the same for all time, so long as there are men who are men. When there are no longer men, something changes; but, so long as there are men with natures and powers that can be perfected in a certain way, these are the principles of education.

The proof is completely indicated, but the demonstration is far from being completed. I can show its incompleteness easily by now enumerating some of the propositions which are involved in the proof of the original major premise — propositions which are either demonstrable and must be proved or which are self-evident but require their evident truth to be explicated. I say “some” because the enumeration is far from exhaustive; but it will do to indicate how much remains to be proved before this demonstration can be completed. (1) Corporeal substances exist; (2) Corporeal substances are constituted as compositions of matter and form; (3) Corporeal substances differ essentially or accidentally, according as they are individuals of different species (having diverse specific natures) or as they are numerically distinct individuals having the same specific nature; (4) the essential distinction of substance is an absolute distinction in kind, without intermediates; (5) the distinction between living and non-living substances is an essential distinction; (6) living substances have vital powers which are essentially distinct from all other living things; (8) the essential distinction between man and brute as species in the genus animal is that man is rational and brute is irrational; (9) only man can know intellectually and only man has free will; (10) man has all the vital powers possessed by other living things (plants and brutes), and in addition has powers not possessed by them, i.e., intellect or reason, and will; (11) the vital powers of animals can be developed by the modification of instinctive determinations, but only human power resulting from its rational and free exercise; (13) all men are of the same species, i.e., they have essentially the same nature, and differ inter se only in accidental respects, i.e., in such traits as complexion, weight, height, etc., or in the degree to which they possess characteristically human abilities, abilities common, in some degree, to all; (14) all men have the same vital powers, for the vital powers any living thing possesses are determined by its specific nature; (15) a vital power is a determinate potency and as such is a nature having a tendency toward a certain definite actualization; (16) the good is convertible with being; (17) the good of any imperfect thing (anything composite of potency and actuality, or matter and form) consists in the actualization of its potencies; (18) in the case of human powers, the actualization of potency is good only if it conforms to the natural tendency of that power to its own perfection.

In conclusion, I wish to admit, in all fairness to Dr. Schilpp, that although he has not disproved my major premise, in whole or part, neither have I proved it. Here are the propositions I have not proved, all of which can be proved, but not without much more analysis:

1. That there are real species in the world, real essential distinctions.
 
2. That man is a species of animal, essentially distinct from brutes by virtue of an essential difference, his rationality.
 
3. That a specific nature entails specific powers, essentially the same in all members of the species.
 
4. That each power has a natural tendency toward a development which is its proper perfection or completion.
 
5. That the good of anything is its perfection or completion in the respects which it is in potentiality. (On this, we appear to agree.)

I have not proved any of these five propositions, all of which are indispensable to my major premise; nor has Dr. Schilpp disproved any of them; nor do any scientific facts whatsoever constitute such disproof.

I would like to stress that though I do not like to use syllogisms normally — syllogisms are at the tail end of an argument, by the way; the question is whether the premises are true — I would like you to look at these syllogisms carefully. What I did by writing these syllogisms was to show how hard it would be to prove — really prove — the premises, all the way back to the simplest conclusions that I have stated. You would have to do the whole of philosophy and nothing short of it. I think you would have to do more philosophy than has yet been done. I do not know how to do it.

Let me, in conclusion, repeat the definition of education which I gave in the beginning, asserting then that it could be demonstrated. It was: Education is the process by which those powers (abilities, capacities) of men that are susceptible to habituation, are perfected by good habits, through means artistically contrived, and employed by any man to help another or himself achieve the end in view (i.e., good habits). In so far as this definition implies that education should be the same for all men (i.e., should aim at the same ends), its truth is proved by establishment of the proposition that the ends of education are absolute and universal. To do that, as we have seen, requires the whole of theoretic philosophy, and this is presupposed by the philosophy of education. The definition also requires us to understand what the several ends are and how they are related to one another, for it is not sufficient to know simply that they are absolute and universal. Such understanding would involve the complete analysis of the virtues, in themselves, in relation to happiness, to other goods, and to each other. At this point, the whole of ethics is presupposed. And if we examine the definition one step further we see that it calls upon us to understand the means in general, and the social organization and employment of these means, in the process of education-by-another whereby the community cares for its members. At this point, a great deal of political philosophy is presupposed. Hence by examining the definition of education, which has been central to the whole analysis, we learn two sorts of things: first, the reasons why the philosophy of education presupposes almost all of theoretical philosophy, and most of practical philosophy; and second, that a complete understanding of the definition, through demonstration of its truth and demonstrative analysis of its parts, would be equivalent to solving the first five of the seven problems which I enumerated earlier as constituting the whole of the philosophy of education. All that would remain, then, would be two problems concerning educational policy, neither of which is philosophical in the strict sense, but merely an application of philosophy to the discussion of problems which concern educational practitioners.

Now let me turn, penultimately, to the contribution of empirical science to the three basic questions with which I have dealt. I would like to say, first of all, that science cannot answer any of the normative questions involved, and second, that science is principally relevant in regard to the nature of man. Then I will explain how this has become a mixed question of science and philosophy and how one must face that mixed question.

In talking about the bearing of science on the three problems, the scientist, as well as the philosopher, must accept the definition of education given, or give some reason why he does not, and offer an alternative that will stand up. Since I think this cannot be done, I shall proceed within the framework of the definition, and deal with the three problems that follow from the definition, in the reverse order. I will deal first with the problem of the nature of learning; second, with the problem about the virtues; and third, with the problem about the nature of man.

Insofar as learning is a rational process, involving the exercise of free will and the acts of the intellect, no empirical investigation of it is possible. A full explication of this proposition is difficult, but I am convinced that the one thing that exists in the order of nature that cannot be investigated is reason. No psychological or experimental investigation of reasoning, of the act of the intellect, can be made. Acts of the senses, observation, memory, yes; but not the mind. The rational is not capable of empirical observation.

However, this rational process of learning is affected by infrarational factors such as emotion, desire, the senses, memory, and imagination. To the extent that such things as emotional or sensitive factors enter into the process, empirical inquiry can give us some additional control over the process.

Here is just one example. I think psychiatry, at its best, can do a great deal in the practical order of education. I think psychoanalysis or any of the forms of psychotherapy — to use the most neutral term — is of great use in removing emotional impediments, and if there are impediments to learning, I would like to have them removed before I start to teach. But it is of no use positively. To illustrate, I spent a good part of my youth with this business of the art of reading. I was continually finding people who thought that the improvement of reading had something to do with eye movements. They studied illumination, length of the line, optimum space; but these are only auxiliary. Even with the most perfect optical apparatus, the rational process of reading has to be taught, for reading is a process of the mind, not of the eye.

This simple example makes a point all the way down the line. Empirical psychology can remove impediments, but it only deals with external conditions. The whole of educational psychology has nothing more to contribute from the laboratory. It is useful, but the whole of its utility is limited to that. And when its utility is achieved, the real process must begin, which attacks the problem at the level of reason.

Let me state the kind of proposition in the philosophy of education that derives from the basic philosophical insights of learning that have nothing to do with scientific discovery. Very briefly, a distinction is commonly made between the two kinds of learning, aided and unaided, or learning by discovery and learning by instruction. Men can learn things without teaching, thank God! If they couldn’t, they would learn nothing. It is obvious, I think, that all original learning is done without a teacher. Anything learned initially must be learned by discovery; only after discovery can there be teaching. This distinction between learning by instruction and by discovery is too sharply made. It should really be between learning by aided discovery and by unaided discovery. Whether the teacher is present or not, the actual process of learning is always by discovery. The primary activity of learning is in the mind of the learner, not in that of the teacher. The teacher is auxiliary and not indispensable. The most “indispensable” teacher’s usefulness is strictly a matter of helping the process along, making it a little easier, or perhaps a little less painful: That is all.

The teacher is a dispensable secondary cause. In this, the teacher is like the farmer or the healer. The physician aids the body to produce health; and the soil, the sun, and the seeds produce plants, not the farmer. The farmer merely works with nature; the physician cooperates with nature; and this applies to the teacher as well. The important thing is for the teacher to work in co-operation with the natural process of learning. Such is the whole art and skill of teaching. This may explain why it is so difficult for a physician or teacher to work well except with an individual patient or pupil. Actually, no good teaching really can be done except with one teacher and one student in a room at a time, any more than good healing can be achieved by a doctor’s taking fifteen pulses at once. These words are hard, but the truth should be observed.

The equating of schooling and education is one of the most grievous misunderstandings in our society. I cannot use sharp enough words to rebut the notion that education takes place in school. It is a fallacy with enormous consequences. I try always to use the word schooling when I mean what happens in school, and education when I mean what happens after school. Very little that happens in school can be regarded as achieving the ends of education. What are the ends of education? The achievement of the intellectual and the moral virtues. Are these achieved in a school? Hardly ever! They could not be. Why not? Because the greatest obstacle to becoming educated is youth. The young cannot be educated. They are, we say, immature, and what we mean by “immature” indicates why we should not expect too much from a mind that is immature. Anyone should know that a young person is not wise and cannot be wise. He cannot have any great depth of understanding, or much insight or grasp of ideas in the theoretical order, or take a firm hold of the virtues in the practical, moral order.

What is meant by saying that a college graduate is an educated man? The use of the term “educated man” for a B.A. is preposterous. All of us should understand what schooling is; and when we understand what schooling is, we understand that it is the first, least substantial, most preparatory phase of the total educational process, a process that has meaning only if it goes on for a lifetime. If we look at the educational process, which means slowly becoming wise, achieving real depth of understanding, we see that this is so. The moment of graduation signifies nothing, except perhaps that the graduate has the ability to make money or hold a job.

I think the best colleges, or the world’s best students, cannot do more (up to the level of the bachelor’s degree) than just two things; and I think these achievements are constant for all schools and societies, because of the nature of man and growth and immaturity. First, a school can train the young in the liberal arts, and by liberal arts I mean the arts of learning. I do not mean that schools make people learned. No one can make people learned. They can be taught how to learn. They can be given the appliances for learning, they can be taught how to read and write and speak and listen and observe and calculate and measure. A person with these skills may be able to learn something in the course of a lifetime. Second, a school can open the doors to learning. It can open the doors to learning by giving the student a good boot out of the school and saying “Now please don’t act as if you were learned. Here is the threshold, here is the panorama. Go on and do something with yourself.” Any college that graduates a student with the assumption that he now knows something is criminally negligent. It must turn out a student with a deep feeling of dissatisfaction, a knowledge of how little he knows. If he doesn’t get it then, we can hope that five years after he graduates he will have it. His college should at least have opened the door, given him the skills, shown him the fields of learning, given him some rudimentary, superficial acquaintance with them, and hoped that with the moral responsibility of his adult years he would do something about educating himself.

The second problem with which I am concerned is that of the moral and intellectual virtues as the proximate ends of education. This being strictly a moral problem, a word will suffice. What the virtues are and how they are formed are questions to which science can contribute nothing whatsoever. Science can contribute nothing to any normative, or moral question.

Finally, I come to the first problem, the nature of man. The question is whether man is rational and free and essentially distinct from brutes. The difference is of a maximum importance. I cannot think of any question, other than the existence of God, which has as far-reaching, practical, moral, political, economic, and religious consequences as the question about man to which I am now going to address myself.

I say man differs, that man is the only rational animal, the only animal with free will. Some will say man differs from the other animals only in degrees of the same powers: more intelligence, more cupidity, more knowledge, more something or other. One or the other may have a little less or a little more, but the difference is only in degree. But I say that men are men, and brutes are brutes. As a consequence religion, ethics, politics, and law are only proper to man, for man alone is rational, man alone is free. I say that distinguishes him from the brute, for whom the opposite set of consequences is true.

In this situation there is only one thing left for me to do. I shall resort to the reductio ad absurdum form of argument. Without proving my premises, I will show you that Dr. Schilpp cannot deny them without also giving up many things he holds dear and truly believes. He holds, I am sure, that cannibalism is wrong, that slavery is unjust. But, unless he is a vegetarian, he does not think that it is wrong to eat animals, or unjust to use animals entirely as means for our human ends. Now the only rational ground which he can give for these fundamental moral beliefs is that man is specifically distinct, essentially different in kind, from every type of brute animal, for if that were not so there would be no reason why power politics is wrong, no reason why some men should not enslave others and use them entirely as instruments, exploit them, etc. Democracy, we are told, affirms one thing above all else — the dignity of each individual man, and this dignity means his worth as an end to be served, that he should never be reduced to a mere means to be exploited. Therefore, I say to you, and to Dr. Schilpp, that he faces this dilemma: either he must say that he does not think such things as slavery and totalitarianism are wrong on objective grounds, that he has only an emotional preference for democracy, but no proof that it is right; or he must admit my major premise and all that it involves — namely that every man has the some specific nature, through which he differs essentially from all other animals, which sameness and difference permit us to argue validly that all men are entitled to the same treatment, a treatment different from that we give animals.

It can be seen at once that, if men are like animals, the question of why we do not train men as we train animals, and why we do not educate animals as we educate men must arise. I would like to know why, if there is no difference between them, we should not treat the two groups the same educationally?

On this question, science — or more specifically, Darwin and his followers, the biologists in general — appears to have something to say. I want to make it perfectly clear that if the Darwinian hypothesis of man’s origin from a common ancestor of the anthropoid apes, by modification through the generations and the extinction of intermediate varieties, is correct, then man cannot be essentially different from the brute, but differs from the brute and the higher mammals only in degree. I am absolutely sure of this, and every bit of Darwin supports me. In the Descent of Man this is the whole mode of Darwin’s argument. If his hypothesis is correct then man is not essentially distinct, and either one of two things is the case: either the animals, too, are rational and free, and we differ in the degree of our rationality and the degree of our freedom, or neither of us are. And whichever horn of that dilemma we take, the educational consequences are that we must treat men and animals the same way — differing only in degree.

My own position is that the Darwinian hypothesis about man’s origin is completely wrong, as wrong as it can be. The error has two sources. The error in Darwin is a good error; the error in contemporary science is a very bad error indeed. I say this without any apologies to anybody. I can think of no more disgraceful episode in the history of science than the thinking of contemporary biologists on this problem, thinking which reflects no understanding of scientific method, thinking which reflects the worst begging of the question that can possibly be imagined.

First, I will show why Darwin’s error was a good error, an honest one, and one that makes no fundamental mistake in method. Darwin was fortunate in that when he faced this question in the late sixties (in the Descent of Man; the Origin of Species came some eight or nine years earlier and man was not mentioned), he did not have any paleontological evidence to speak of. The geological record had not yet been explored for the so-called missing links. The fossil remains which later filled the museums, the Heidelberg and the Java men, the Piltdown and Neanderthal men, were not present when Darwin argued his case.

Unless you understand a phrase I used a moment ago, you do not understand the theory of the origin of species. The essential point is the extinction of intermediate varieties. There is no origin of species if no varieties become extinct. If, for example, coming down from an ancestral group, in a spreading population with genetic variations generation after generation, all the varieties survived, there would be a greater range of varieties and no new species. New species originate, Darwin makes perfectly clear — and no one has ever changed this point — by the extinction of intermediate varieties. The varieties that are left, separated in many cases by geographical and physiological obstacles to interbreeding, become more and more dissimilar. At some point the biologist finds it convenient to call these varieties species and to group all the species descended from the original ancestral form into a genus or generic group.

A great contemporary geneticist, Theodosius Dobzhansky of Columbia University, dramatically carries that point one step further in a book called Genetics and the Origin of Species. He says that if all possible genetic combinations or genotypes — every possible configuration of genes and chromosomes — were to be expressed in somatypes (that is, given full bodily expression), and all somatypes, representing genotypes, were to exist contemporaneously, there would be no species, no varieties, no genera, nothing! There would be just one line of individual differences, a flat spectrum. In other words, biological classification is based upon gaps, upon breaks, upon the absence, not the presence, of things.

Now this is very important because two species belonging to the same genus must differ in degree only. Though they are called species, and look like kinds, if all the extinct and possible forms could be replaced between them, there would be a continuous gradation of individual differences — in degree! Hence, Darwin argues, if man descended with the anthropoid apes from a common ancestral form, with modification through descent and the extinction of intermediate varieties, this can be proved by demonstrating that man now differs in degree, and degree only, from apes or higher mammals. If he does differ in degree only from apes or higher mammals, that is at least a supporting reason for believing that he could have originated in this material way. And so, Darwin argues — I think incorrectly — in chapter after chapter using the best evidence he has, that human and animal behavior differ in degree. It could have been the case, he says, that we had the kind of origin which would permit us to be differentiated specifically by the absence of intermediate forms that makes us look different in kind when we are only different in degree.

The point about Darwin is that his mode of reasoning is right. The only way the problem can be solved by anybody is to compare the present nature of man with the present nature of the brute or animals and ask whether they differ in degree or kind. It is impossible to answer the question in any other way. One can argue from a conclusion about man’s nature based upon contemporary observations of behavior to a hypothesis about origin. The origin can never be proved. If one starts with a hypothesis about origin and tries to argue from it to conclusions about man’s nature, how can the hypothesis be proved? It cannot! There is never going to be any evidence to establish the point about origin. The fossil remains do not do it. They beg the question, because fossil remains can only be interpreted if there is already a hypothesis. How can they be put in a series? Even to talk about “missing links” begs the question. The reference to the fossil remains described as missing links supposes that there is a hypothesis about origin.

So I say, throwing out as totally irrelevant all paleontological evidence of the last hundred years, that the argument is still as Darwin put it: Can we observe man and animals now, and answer the question, do they differ in degree or in kind? Here there is a reasonable difference of opinion. I think I can show that the evidence of observation makes it much more probable that man differs from the brute in kind rather than in degree, but this is an open question. Let me illustrate. I think this is a mixed question of science and philosophy because, though you and I observe animals and men, we do not make perfect observations. For example, a great biologist, Robert Yerkes, at the Yale Primate Laboratory in Winter Park, Florida, worked for fifteen years on the speech of the chimpanzee. Our common experience does not tell us anything about the speech of chimpanzees, so we must go to the work of Dr. Yerkes. I will summarize his results very quickly. He found that the chimpanzee makes about 125 separate, identifiable, repeatable sounds. This is the scientific data. Next we must ask the philosophical question: Do the chimpanzees speak or not, in an unequivocal meaning of the word speech? My answer, taking into consideration all of Dr. Yerkes’ data, is, no, they do not. Speech in the unequivocal sense of human speech involves parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adverbs, and conjunctions. It involves syntax. Dr. Yerkes’ observations did not turn up one chimpanzee sentence. This is of the utmost importance. The so-called speech of the chimpanzee, while quite extraordinary, is a series of ejaculations of the kind we make when we are in deep pain. When we are in fear, or anger, or pain, we cry out; so do chimpanzees. But this is not human speech. We make animal outcries, but the chimpanzees do not make sentences. On the day when the first sentence uttered by a chimpanzee is reported, I will say that Darwin is right.

The question is open; it is not a question that is going to be settled now. Scientists have every right to say let us do more research. My difficulty is that I cannot positively infer, in the absence of certain behavior, the absence of power. I wish I could. I wish I could say that because chimpanzees and other mammals do not do certain things, they lack the power. I can only say that it is highly probable that if in thousands of cases, and for thousands of generations, animals have not behaved in a certain way, they lack the power which we infer is present in men because they do behave in a certain way. But it is only probable. It will take until the end of time to find the answer. Nevertheless one must act in terms of probabilities, and I say that the probability, at the moment, in terms of all the available evidence, is very high that Darwin is wrong in his hypothesis about the origin of man.

Now, if we give up Darwin’s hypothesis, there is only one other we can turn to. I think this is the reason why most people obstinately want to hold on to Darwin. The only other hypothesis about the origin of man is a theological one. If man is by nature rational and free, and essentially distinct from the brute, then he is specially created by God, and that is all there is to it. Emergent evolution has no alternative that will stand up. If we conclude from the evidence that the nature of man is this, we are led from that evidence to the theological hypothesis of creation just as definitely as we are led from Darwin’s conclusion to Darwin’s hypothesis. I must add that I am speaking not of the creating of man in both body and soul, but in soul only, for there is every reason to believe, in terms of the evidence — embryological evidence in this case — that man’s body had a perfectly natural evolution exactly as Darwin described. But at a certain point in the natural formation of the human body through descent and modification, the infusion of a rational soul marked the instant of man’s existence on earth. Whoever cannot swallow that must swallow Darwin, with all the consequences. There is no other choice.

To go one step further, the one thing I would expect this audience to agree on — and I should be very shocked if it didn’t — is that one cannot accept both Genesis and Darwin. I know all the attempts to gloss over this problem, and I am not concerned with the order of days or any of the difficult problems of exegesis in Genesis. I am concerned with only one passage, the passage which says that God made man “in His own image.” There is no passage in Genesis which says that God made anything else in his own image. The meaning of “His own image” is that he made man a person. A “person” means, theologically, a substance with intellect, reason, and free will. Man resembles the “image” of God because he is a person, and man alone is a person. Every other being is a thing. If Darwin is right, this is not true, and no attempts to get rid of the socalled conflict between science and religion can possibly change it. If Darwin is right, Genesis is wrong; and the consequences for Christian doctrine and the subject of our discussion, the Christian philosophy of education, are even greater than they are for the secular, natural philosophy of education.

I do not know how there could be a Christian philosophy of education that did not have among its premises the propositions that God made man in his own image, that man is a person, destined to a personal goal different from any goal a thing might have. I do not know the meaning of the doctrine of the Incarnation, the doctrine of personal immortality, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, any of the things in the Creed if Darwin is right. And yet, to my amazement, most people go on holding their religion in one hand and their science in the other, unaware, uncognizant, turning their eyes away from the contradiction which stares them in the face. In this particular case, I think the contradiction is resolvable simply on the grounds that philosophical criticism of any competence would show that Darwin is wrong.

If I may have one moment more, I would like to make two more points. I said at the beginning that there had been one great change in educational philosophy in the last hundred years, a change not produced by science or connected with science except indirectly. That is the coming into being of industrial democracy. Industrial democracy, whose indispensable godfather is obviously science, never existed until the twentieth century, and had its bare beginnings in the nineteenth. It is the society taking as its principles that all men are treated as equals in the political order; the equal status of citizenship with suffrage; and the access of all men to free time or leisure through the industrial emancipation of human beings from toil. Its educational result has been enormous.

In 1900, ten per cent of the children of high school age in the United States were in school. In 1950 the figure was over 85 per cent. In 2000 more than 95 per cent of the eligible young people will be in college. In 1850 the hours of work were fourteen hours a day. Children went to work at the age of seven and they worked until they dropped. In 1950 work starts late and ends early and the norm is forty hours a week. In the year 2000 it is going to start later, end earlier, and add up to twenty hours a week. All this has the most extraordinary — and frightening — significance for the problem of education. Anyone who is not scared out of his wits by what I’m going to say isn’t seeing the picture.

In the past, a small body of men, less than 10 per cent of the population, were free men. The rest were slaves, servile, a faceless mass of subhuman beings. No one paid any attention to them as far as schooling was concerned, as far as culture was concerned, as far as civilization was concerned. Those free men who had political power had free time. They were liberally schooled, and their being liberally schooled enabled them to use their free time, in their adult life, in the liberal pursuits of leisure which are the pursuits of art and science, the institutions of the Church and of religion. This is what the Greek citizens did, what the Roman patricians did. This is what Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, and Thomas Jefferson did. They were the free men; the rest were forgotten.

Today we have a society in which all men are destined to be free — just as free as the Greek citizens and the Roman patricians, with more free time, more comfort, more power, more convenience, with as much political power. What is the educational consequence of this? What demand does it make upon education? It means giving every child of normal intelligence a liberal schooling through the bachelor of arts degree, without any vocational training whatsoever, and seeing that every adult after his liberal schooling continues with liberal learning for a lifetime. If this is not done, the free time, the power, and the lack of training in how to use them will result in the most morally degraded and corrupt society imaginable, one that will be destroyed more completely than any atomic bomb could possibly destroy it.

And yet there is not one educator in the world who has the faintest notion at the moment of how to give all children liberal schooling. It is not being done. The opposite is being done. The problem is not even being faced yet. I cannot say with what horror I view the acceptance of the Conant report, which turns our eyes away from the problem. It is a vile thing.

The problem must be faced. The problem is that of truly educating every child, not just the gifted. Schooling the gifted child is no problem. It has been done successfully in the past, and it can be done again. Our problem is a new one. We have to take every child and give it the full treatment. Children come to us as containers. Some are quart containers, some are pint containers, and some are half-pint containers, and some are, perhaps, even quarter-pint containers. And we all know that a quart of liquid cannot be put into a pint container. Equal educational treatment means putting a quart of liquid into the quart container, a pint of liquid into the pint container, and half a pint of liquid into the half-pint container. One thing more! If cream, thick cream, represents the substance of liberal schooling, the teacher is not doing the job if he pours cream into the quart container and dirty water or skimmed milk into the pint container. The job is to put a quart of cream into the quart container, and half a pint of cream — the same substance — into the half-pint container.

When I say this to teachers, they look at me as though I were crazy. They say, “You know, you’re forgetting about that half-pint container. There is a very narrow opening at the top, and cream is very thick. You can’t get it in, and it flows over the side.” My answer to that is: get a funnel. The invention of the funnel is the problem, but a funnel is what we will have to invent to get cream in half-pint containers, If cream is easily poured into quart containers, we must find the devices for seeing that cream gets into halfpint containers too.

The problem is not just one for the teachers and the educators. It is the problem of our society. Plato said very wisely, at the end of the Republic, that what is honored in a country is cultivated there. I do not think American education can be made better until American society is made better, and I mean by this, the general moral and spiritual tone of our whole national life. The things we value in this country are reflected in the way we school our children.

The American parent, not the teacher, is the number-one enemy of the school system. The American parent sacrifices and saves and sends his child to school and college for absolutely the wrong reason: that it is going to help him get ahead in the world, make more money, get a better job. That is why the schools are so bad. The parents’ minds must be changed. Education has nothing to do with earning a living or getting ahead in the world in the gross physical sense. But as long as the parents make these demands on schools and school boards, the faces of educators will never be turned to the real problem.

As a country and as a people we must understand the order of values which would make it possible to have a school system or a schooling that understood the pursuits of leisure, that understood what the good life is on earth. As long as we think the goods of the body are the highest order of good it is impossible to make sense of leisure. We do not make sense of leisure in America: we have instead a group of simpleton pleasures, recreation, amusements, play, idleness, time-killing; none of which is leisure at all, but the very opposite of leisure. But the misunderstanding of leisure in this country, again, is merely a reflection of the low state of American understanding of the order of goods, and what goods there are in human life.

So if you ask what are the problems of education in our time, I say again, these problems and how these problems, in turn, bear on the formation of educational theory of our time, the understanding of democracy, the understanding of leisure — these are the problems. And I am saying how schooling and education bear on these problems and how these problems, in turn, bear on the formation of educational philosophy, just as the problem of Darwin’s being right or wrong has a profound bearing on the principles of educational philosophy, both secular and Christian.

Source: Philosophy is Everbody’s Business, Winter 2004, published by The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas

[Great Books of the Western World GBotWW=”1″]


Recommended read: Mortimer J. Adler’s, The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought


Return to the Radical Academy’s Mortimer J. Adler Archive

All Mortimer J. Adler articles courtesy of The Center for the Study of The Great Ideas.

Read the Moral Liberal’s Policy on Intellectual Property Rights, Copyrights, & Fair Use.


Mortimer Jerome Adler (1902 – 2001) was an American philosopher, educator, and popular author. As a philosopher he worked within the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions. He worked for Columbia University, the University of Chicago, Encyclopædia Britannica, and Adler’s own Institute for Philosophical Research. Adler went on to found the Great Books of the Western World program and the Great Books Foundation. He founded and served as director of the Institute for Philosophical Research. He also served on the Board of Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica from its inception and became its chairmen. Spearheading the fifteenth edition of Britannica he was instrumental in the major reorganization of knowledge embodied in that edition. He founded the Paideia Program, a grade-school curriculum centered around guided reading and discussion of difficult works (as judged for each grade). With Max Weismann, he founded the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas. He also served along with Max Weisman on the Board of Directors of Jonathan Dolhenty’s Radical Academy.