Philosophy of Education

By Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.

This essay is an excerpt from a much larger work I wrote in 1978 about the linguistic muddle which permeated educational theory and practice at the time. I suggested that some of the contributions made by the modern analytic movement in philosophy could help educators, and particularly educational philosophers, deal with some of the murky and confusing terms and concepts which existed in the field of education. I particularly endorsed Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of language-games as one of the techniques which could prove valuable.

Since 1978, in my opinion, nothing much has been done about analyzing and clarifying the terms used in educational theory and practice. So, while I have made a few minor corrections to the original manuscript, nothing in the content of the text has been substantially changed. Why change the text? The problem remains much as it was in 1978, over twenty years ago. Indeed, I think the situation is much worse now. It needs to be addressed. It has not been. This essay is a brief look at how Wittgenstein may help educational philosophers and practitioners with the linguistic and conceptual problems they face in discussing their discipline.

Fundamental to an understanding of the philosophical views of Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) and his concept of language-games is an appreciation for the way in which he conceptualized the function of philosophy. Philosophers have not always agreed on what the purpose of philosophy is and this problem has profound implications for the application of philosophical thought to the questions investigated by scholars in all disciplines of knowledge, including educational theory and practice. So let’s begin with a little background information.

Traditional Philosophy

Historically, philosophy has been concerned with the rational explanation of existence or, as some philosophers would have it, the search for a comprehensive view of nature, a universal explanation of everything. This conception of the purpose of philosophy led to the formulation of philosophical systems which attempted to present an all-encompassing, completely unified, theory of reality. Philosophy has, in the words of John Dewey, “implied a certain totality, generality, and ultimateness of both subject and method.” [1] The traditional conception of philosophy has presented philosophy as a fundamental or architectonic discipline, laying the foundation for all other disciplines of knowledge. The philosopher becomes an investigator into all knowledge and philosophy is the summary of all branches of knowledge. [2]

Traditional philosophy has generally been organized into subdivisions, each with its own particular questions and problems. The nature of all reality in its most general aspects has been the subject of study of the branch of philosophy referred to as metaphysics and the nature of truth and knowledge, including the establishment of the criteria of truth, has usually been the subject of study of the branch called epistemology. Various other subdivisions of philosophy have been ethics or moral philosophy, political philosophy, and aesthetics. [3] Philosophy of education as a subdivision of general philosophy has emerged quite recently and has been the subject of much attention.

Philosophy of Education

Philosophy of education, as a scholarly discipline, has, for the most part, applied the traditional conception of philosophy to the theory and practice of education. Most philosophers of education have concerned themselves with the problems of the nature of man, the nature of truth, and the nature of value, with an eye to the ways in which solutions to these problems may help to unravel some of the problems specific to the educational enterprise. [4] Textbooks in philosophy of education have tended to reflect the traditional conception of philosophy and spend a large proportion of their time discussing the various systems of philosophy, realism, idealism, experimentalism, and so forth, and their application to educational concerns. [5]

Kneller suggested that philosophy of education could be thought of as an activity in three modes or styles: speculative, prescriptive, and analytic. [6] Speculative educational philosophy attempts a synthesis of knowledge about everything that exists, a search for order and wholeness in all knowledge and experience. It seeks to establish theories of the nature of man and reality so as to order and interpret the facts of educational theory and practice.

Prescriptive educational philosophy, also called normative educational philosophy, attempts to formulate goals, norms, and standards for conducting the process of education. It attempts to assess values and judge conduct, seeking to discover and to recommend principles which can be used for decisions made in the practice of education.

Analytic educational philosophy, a relatively recent development in the philosophy of education, attempts to clarify the statements made in speculative and prescriptive educational philosophy, subjecting the terms and propositions of educational thought and practice to rigorous scrutiny. It examines the premises on which educational conclusions rest, analyzes the language of education, and looks at the kind of evidence which can be used to confirm or refute educational propositions.

The traditional conception of the philosophy of education has been primarily speculative and prescriptive or normative. Speculative philosophy of education has generally laid the foundation for educational thought and educational thought has been, as Kneller pointed out, largely prescriptive. [7] Analytic educational philosophy is relatively new and has become quite popular as a means of attempting to clarify the terms and propositions of speculative and prescriptive educational philosophy.

Analytic Philosophy and Education

The analytic movement in philosophy tended to oppose the traditional conception of philosophy and, at least in England and America today, philosophical inquiry is largely analytical in temperament and method. [8] While there is disagreement among analytic philosophers about many aspects of analysis, they do generally agree that the function of philosophy does not consist of building philosophical systems which attempt to explain all of existence but, rather, the function of philosophy is the clarification of language. [9]

Ayer, one of the early proponents of analytic philosophy, argued that the philosopher must “confine himself to works of clarification” because “the propositions of philosophy are not factual, but linguistic in character” and the propositions of philosophy “express definitions, or the formal consequences of definitions.” [10] Pap observed that the term “philosophy” is an ambiguous word and stated:

… though we recognize the unfortunate ambiguity of this word, we do contend that if it is used to refer to a cognitive activity distinct from experimental science and mathematical reasoning, it can only mean logical analysis. [11]

Logical analysis is an analysis of language, specifically the language in which concepts are expressed. It searches for clarity and precision and exposes vagueness, ambiguity, and logical and linguistic fallacies. Analysis results in “conceptual revision.” [12]

As was noted previously, philosophy of education has generally been approached with the traditional conception of philosophy in mind. Philosophy of education has been primarily speculative and prescriptive in character. During the past few decades, however, some philosophers of education became interested in the application of analytic philosophy to educational theory and practice. Scheffler, for example, called for the use of philosophical analysis within education because

… such a proposal aims explicitly at improving our understanding of education by clarification of our conceptual apparatus — the ways in which we formulate our beliefs, arguments, assumptions, and judgments concerning such topics as learning and teaching, character and intellect, subject-matter and skill, desirable ends and appropriate means of schooling. [13]

The same idea was suggested by Kazepides and he considered the primary task of philosophy of education to be the elucidation of the “conceptual foundations of educational thought.” [14]

The analytic philosopher of education avoids any comprehensive description of reality and is not interested in prescriptive theories as such. He is interested, rather, in the careful investigation of the many different ways in which one talks about educational experiences. Phenix stated:

… Much of the analysts’ attention has been devoted to the careful discussion of the various uses to which such educational terms as “teaching,” “learning” and “knowing” are put, with the aim of demonstrating by typical examples that no single definition will suffice, but that a number of different interrelated logical constructions must be distinguished. In view of these distinctions, the analysts show that broad generalizations about the process of education, which are standard for the speculative and ideological types of educational philosophy, have no specifiable meaning, but serve mainly as slogans for the propagation of special pedagogical interests. [15]

The conception of philosophy proposed by the analytic philosophers, its aims, techniques, and suggestions for clarifying the concepts of and the way in which one speaks about education, appears to some philosophers of education to be especially relevant in light of the many conflicting ideologies which confront professional educators as well as the concerned layman. [16] Analytic philosophy can help, not only by analyzing and clarifying the language one uses in discussing educational matters but, according to Newsome, can also provide models of theory, statements of criteria for meaning and verification, and help in unsnarling “the logical and linguistic tangles in pedagogical knowledge.” [17]

It was suggested earlier that some differences exist within the analytic movement regarding techniques of analysis even though there is general agreement on the purposes, function, and ends sought by analytic philosophers. Kneller identified two general categories of analysis which he called “formal” analysis and “informal” analysis. [18]

Formal analysis is appropriate especially when used in analyzing the technical language of science and the “formalist” tends to limit the use of ordinary language as a tool of analysis, preferring, instead, to reconstruct concepts through the use of scientific or technical language or the creating of artificial language systems.

Informal analysis tends toward the analysis of ordinary language, the language of more general thinking, the language in which common discourse takes place, the language of many disciplines of knowledge outside of the sphere of science as it has become understood. Informal analysis is more inclusive, casual, and unsystematic, attempting to examine concepts and statements in the language in which they occur. [19]

Formal analysis, according to Kneller, “can help to raise the standards of educational research by analyzing the logical structure of presented knowledge, by reconstructing technical language, and by proposing canons … for research itself to observe.” [20] But it is to informal analysis that one turns when interested in clarifying the language of ordinary discourse. The language of education tends to be that of ordinary discourse.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his later years of philosophical inquiry, began to develop techniques for the analysis of ordinary language. One of the major contributions that he made to informal analysis was his concept of language-games.

Ludwig Wittgenstein and Philosophy

In order to understand the philosophical views and analytic techniques developed by Wittgenstein, it is necessary to understand the way in which he conceptualized the purpose of philosophical investigation. In his commentary on Wittgenstein, Fann pointed out that it was in his method that Wittgenstein made his most important contribution to philosophy and that Wittgenstein was really an artist creating “a new style of thinking, a new way of looking at things.” [21] Binkley discussed this notion at length and argued that the analyses performed by Wittgenstein were similar to a stylistic analysis not unlike those that might be performed by someone talking about a painting. According to Binkley, Wittgenstein’s analysis is “a skill like criticism” and “like the best criticism, the best philosophy is also an art.” [22]

Early in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein maintained that philosophy is not one of the natural sciences. Furthermore, philosophy does not result in philosophical propositions. Instead, “the object of philosophy is the logical clarification of thoughts.” [23] Philosophy is an activity, the result of which is the clarification of ideas, an attempt to make propositions clear. Later, in the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein maintains that philosophy involves description and not explanation:

We must do away with all explanation, and description alone must take its place. And this description gets its light, that is to say its purpose — from the philosophical problems. These are, of course, not empirical problems; they are solved, rather, by looking into the workings of our language, and that in such a way as to make us recognize those workings; in despite of an urge to misunderstand them. The problems are solved, not by giving new information, but by arranging what we have always known. Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language. [24]

Philosophy, therefore, results in the “uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense.” [25] Philosophy simply puts everything in front of us but it does not explain or deduce anything. It does, however, untie “knots in our thinking,” so “its results must be simple,” although “philosophizing has to be as complicated as the knots it unties.” [26] When we see more, according to Wittgenstein, our philosophical dissatisfaction will disappear. [27] See more should result in the disappearance of philosophical problems. Philosophy has the tools for the solution of philosophical problems at hand.

So what is the purpose of philosophy? Wittgenstein answered that it was “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle.” [28]

Wittgenstein often compared the treatment of a question in philosophy to the treatment of an illness. [29] But, he pointed out, “we may not terminate a disease of thought” so it “must run its natural course, and slow cure is all important.” [30] Again, the results of philosophy, the untying of the knots in our thinking, are simple, but the process itself can be complex because “the philosopher is the man who has to cure himself of many sicknesses of the understanding before he can arrive at the notions of the sound human understanding.” [31]

Hence, philosophy becomes a kind of therapy, a way of ridding ourselves of intellectual illnesses. Since philosophy does not give injections or pills, therapy of this type will help us to cure the disease by uncovering nonsense, clarifying what we say, and critically examining the language we use. But in the end, says Wittgenstein, “philosophy may in no way interfere with the actual use of language: it can in the end only describe it.” [32]

The Concept of Language-Games

The main theme of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations seems to be that language is best viewed as an activity that involves the uses of words as tools. Words have a multiplicity of uses and to understand a word is to understand the uses to which it is put. It is confusing, therefore, to consider words as merely standing for objects. Philosophy does not seek theories, according to Wittgenstein, nor does it attempt to find objects for words as labels. Philosophical problems arise because language is misconceived and to investigate philosophically means to attend to the uses of language and to come at a problem from numerous directions.

The story is told that Wittgenstein one day saw a football game being played in a field as he was passing by. He was then struck with the thought that in language we play games with words. This incident apparently gave birth to a central concept in his philosophy, the concept of the language-game. [33] In an attempt to clarify what he meant, Wittgenstein used two important metaphors. He suggested that languages are games:

We can think of the whole process of using words…as one of those games by means of which children learn their native language. I will call these games “language-games” and will sometimes speak of a primitive language as a language-game. [34]

Then he suggested that languages are tools:

Think of the tools in a tool-box: There is a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screw-driver, a rule, a glue-pot, glue, nails and screws, — The functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects. [35]

Language, like many an individual game or games as a class, is autonomous, requires no justification, is not a product of ratiocination, nor constantly accompanied by parallel thought processes.

Wittgenstein drew an analogy of language with chess to illustrate the autonomy of language. In the game of chess it is not essential to point to some object outside of the game for meaning. Meaning takes place within the game of chess, just as winning occurs within the game and not outside of it. Language also requires no justification. In a sense the rules of language are arbitrary because, like the rules of chess, their aim is that of language itself. Wittgenstein maintained that “if you follow other rules than those of chess you are playing another game” and, similarly, “if you follow grammatical rules other than such-and-such ones, that does not mean you say something wrong, no, you are speaking of something else.” [36] Furthermore, language is not the result of ratiocination but is simply a part of our natural history. Wittgenstein stated:

I want to regard man here as an animal; as a primitive being to which one grants instinct but not ratiocination. As a creature in a primitive state. Any logic good enough for a primitive means of communication needs no apology from us. Language did not emerge from some kind of ratiocination.” [37]

Wittgenstein considered language to be an instrument, a tool, and a language has been learned only when we can play the various games that constitute the language concerned. [38]

Earlier in the development of his philosophy, as seen in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein thought a language was a picture of the world but, later, in the Philosophical Investigations, this view was repudiated and language, as a concept, came to be seen as something which cannot be defined. Language was no longer thought to be a simple product but came to be viewed as a complex process.

The word “language” is not, according to Wittgenstein, the name of a single phenomenon. Instead it is the name of the class of an indefinite number of language-games. Wittgenstein drew an analogy between language and an ancient city to help in explaining what he meant:

Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses. [39]

In other words, new forms of language or new language-games come into existence while others become outdated and are forgotten. It is important to realize, however, as Hartnack pointed out in his commentary on Wittgenstein, that “the members of the class of all language-games have no…property in common.” [40]

Wittgenstein, in the Philosophical Investigations, gave many examples of language-games, among them

  • Giving orders, and obeying them;
  • Describing the appearance of an object, or giving its measurements;
  • Constructing an object from a description (a drawing);
  • Reporting an event;
  • Speculating about an event;
  • Forming and testing a hypothesis;
  • Presenting the results of an experiment in tables and diagrams;
  • Making up a story, and reading it;
  • Play-acting;
  • Singing catches;
  • Guessing riddles;
  • Making a joke, telling it;
  • Solving a problem in practical arithmetic;
  • Translating from one language into another;
  • Asking, thanking, cursing, greeting, praying. [41]

These are all activities in the language that we understand, expressions of our form of life, and as Wittgenstein states, “to imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.” [42] A language-game is a whole “consisting of language and the actions into which it is woven.” [43] A language-game cannot be understood outside the context into which the language is woven. The total environment in which the language is used is part of the language game or, as Kenny stated it, “the words plus their behavioral surroundings make up the language-game.” [44] If, in any given language, one cannot ask questions, give orders, describe things, or make requests, then these activities do not exist there. That is what seems to be meant by saying that language-games are expressions of a form of life. [45] The study of language-games means the study of the use of language against the background and within the context of a form of life.

Why did Wittgenstein suggest the use of the word “game” in his concept of language-game? To answer this question is to reconsider what Wittgenstein said about language. Language is a term that cannot be defined, it has no essence. The problem was raised by Wittgenstein when he pointed out that someone might object to his use of the term “language-game” because he had not said what the essence of a language-game is nor, for that matter, what the essence of language itself is. What is common to all the activities included within the concept of language? Wittgenstein answered:

Instead of producing something common to all that we call language, I am saying that these phenomena have no one thing in common which makes us use the same word for all, — but that they are related to one another in many different ways. And it is because of this relationship, or these relationships, that we call them all “language.” [46]

At this point in his discussion, Wittgenstein introduced the concept of “game.”

One could ask the question: “What is a game?” If language involves just the use of words as labels, then there is a definite answer to this question. If, however, the term “game” is used in a variety of ways, it could be that there is no “object” or essential nature to which the term calls attention. Is there something common to the activities that we call games? Wittgenstein answered:

Consider for example the proceedings that we call “games.” I mean board-games, card-games, ball-games, Olympic-games, and so on. What is common to them all? — Don’t say: “There must be something common, or they would not be called ‘games'” — but look and see whether there is anything common to all. — For if you look at them you will not see something that is common to all, but similarities, relationships, and a whole series of them at that. [47]

After examining various games and showing that, in comparing various games to one another, that many common features drop out while others appear, Wittgenstein concluded that “the result of this examination is: we see a complicated network of similarities overlapping and crisscrossing: sometimes overall similarities, sometimes similarities of detail.” [48]

Board-games have some similarities with card-games but also many differences. What of ball-games and card-games? Is “winning” an essential feature of a game? Consider a child throwing a ball against a wall. Is “winning” and “losing” a feature in this example? What about competition? Is this essential to a game? Consider the game of solitaire. Many other examples could be cited but the point that Wittgenstein is making is that the term “game” has a variety of uses and refers to no outside “object” or essential nature.

The concept that Wittgenstein introduced to characterize the similarities among games is “family resemblances.” He explained this by saying “the various resemblances between members of a family: build, features, colour of eyes, gait, temperament, etc. overlap and criss-cross in the same way,” so he concluded that “‘games’ form a family.” [49] So do the various uses of a word, Wittgenstein argued, and to search for common meanings of a word is a productive as looking for the essential feature of games. The only way we can make sense out of the meanings of a word is by examining language as it is used in all the ways it is used.

What is meant by the concept of family resemblances can be further explained by considering the word “chair.” What is the essential nature of a chair? H. G. Wells presented the following problem:

Think of armchairs and reading-chairs and dining-room chairs, and kitchen chairs, chairs that pass into benches, chairs that cross the boundary and become settees, dentist’s chairs, thrones, opera stall, seats of all sorts, those miraculous fungoid growths that cumber the floor of the Arts and Crafts exhibitions, and you will perceive what a lax bundle in fact is this simple straightforward term. In co-operation with an intelligent joiner I would undertake to defeat any definition of chair or charishness that you gave me. [50]

Consider also barrels or boxes used to sit on. What of stools? The word “chair” appears to present the same problem as the word “game.” There are many similarities but also many differences, and to search for the common meanings of these words is unproductive. Wittgenstein emphasized that one must look at language as it is to make sense out of the terms that make it up and give consideration to the language-game in which the word is being used. He then went on to discuss the notion of meaning.

The Concept of Meaning as Use

Philosophical analysis is a way of clarifying terms, concepts, and propositions. It is an activity which should prevent one from being led astray by the sometimes misleading appearances of language. Concepts are composed of propositions which are composed of terms and the meanings of words become extremely important in understanding any given proposition and concept. Wittgenstein’s concept of meaning becomes relevant here. It has sometimes been thought that Wittgenstein presented a theory of meaning which would aid philosophers in analyzing the meanings of words used in propositions. But it must be remembered that Wittgenstein eschewed the idea that philosophy results in theories.

There is not, then, a theory of meaning nor a theory of language-games in Wittgenstein’s philosophy. But meaning and language-games are concepts related to each other and language-games are a way of getting at the meanings of words in any given language. Bogen suggested that “language games belong to a technique for examining uses of words and sentences in ordinary language…” [51] The way to clarify our propositions, according to Kenny’s interpretation of Wittgenstein, is “to show how they are applied in language-games.” [52] The way to understand the meaning of a word is to consider it within the language-game to which it belongs. The meaning of a word, then, is its use in the language:

For a large class of cases — though not for all — in which employ the word “meaning” it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language. [53]

The context or situation in which the word is used, the way it is handled within that background, what is done with the word, and the way in which the word is used are all relevant to the meaning of a word. The analysis of the meaning of a word must be performed with context in mind. [54] Hartnack said that “the meaning of a word is learned by discovering its use” for “if its use has been learned, its meaning has been learned, too.” [55] The way in which a word functions is a clue to grasping the meaning of a word and, wrote Wittgenstein, “One cannot guess how a word functions” but “One has to look at its use and learn from that.” [56]

To understand the meaning of a word, then, is very much like understanding an action which does not make sense until one notices what the act does and, then, realize what the action is for, what its purpose is, and what meaning it has. The language-game in which a word is used is critical in understanding the meaning of the word. Language itself is a comprehensive form of life combining the most diverse elements according to rules which are flexible and varied. The language-game is representative of a form of life and words have meanings only within the context of the language-game.

Language-Games and the Philosophy of Education

Language-games involve a form of life and are expressive of the activities that exist in the life of a group of people. What is called “language” is the class of an indefinite number of language-games which, while having no essential feature in common that entitles them to be called a language, do have certain properties which are called “family resemblances.” Many philosophical problems may be solved through a recognition of the language-game which is being used and the meanings of terms as they are used in that specific language-game. Particular attention must be paid, when searching for the meaning of a term, to the situation or context in which the term is being employed. Such, in sum, is Wittgenstein’s general admonition to ordinary language analysis in education.

Educational discourse is permeated with concepts and generalizations which have not been adequately analyzed. It has only been in the recent past that attempts have been made to wrestle with the various meanings of educational terminology. [57] The necessity for subjecting the language of education and educational philosophy to careful analysis was supported by Kneller, who stated:

Some educators pursue the apparent logic of their words and, in so doing, lose the intended logic of their ideas. Others keep the logic of their ideas but drive it into words that misrepresent it. Some communicate meanings they never intended; others fail to communicate those they did intend. Faulty communication exacerbates educational disputes, diverting attention from genuine issues to differences that spring from the misuse or misunderstanding of words. [58]

Educators and educational philosophers risk the danger of becoming unnecessarily divided over issues because they are not aware of the necessity for clarifying the expressions in the language through which they are communicating. While it does not guarantee agreement on the issues, effective communication based on common understandings of terms at least guarantees that the issues and the concepts involved in them are mutually known and understood.

Many of the terms used in education are drawn from the common language of men or from one or more of education’s allied or supportive disciplines. Therefore many of these terms have numerous meanings and one cannot comfortably assume that the meanings of terms remain consistent from ordinary language to discipline or from discipline to discipline.

Consider, for example, the word “understands.” What does it mean to understand something? Does the term “understand” mean the same thing to an educational philosopher as it does to an experimental psychologist investigating learning styles, to a school administrator enforcing the rules of a school, or to a mother teaching her daughter to bake a cake? Does it mean the same thing to understand a rule in mathematics as it does to understand the concept of democracy? Does one verify understanding of historical concepts the same way one verifies an understanding of a school regulation? Is understanding a recipe the same as understanding the meaning of a word?

Other examples of words commonly used in educational discourse, such as “knowing,” “learning,” and “adjustment,” could be cited to show that many words are used in other disciplines in quite specific ways as well as used in the ordinary discourse of laymen. The point to be made, however, is that many terms have a variety of meanings and, unless steps are taken to clarify the meanings one is using, confusion and misunderstanding can enter into any discourse.

Another problem that faces educators and educational philosophers in attempting to communicate with one another, as well as with laymen, is that many of the same educational terms can function in a variety of ways. The same word, for instance, may be descriptive, prescriptive, and motivational. The same word may be used to summarize facts, thereby being descriptive, as well as to recommend policies, thereby being prescriptive, or to move some toward acceptance, thereby being motivational.

The concept of “equality” may be used to describe an actual situation such as “this pencil is equal in length to another pencil,” or it may be used to prescribe a desirable state of affairs such as “everyone in the world should have equality when it comes to equal human rights.” On the other hand, “equality” may be used as a motivational term to urge people to support equal rights.

Other concepts, such as “student needs” and “learning by experience,” have been identified as having different functions, descriptive, prescriptive, and motivational, depending on the context in which they are used and the intentions of the user. [59] Since these and many other terms of education and educational philosophy may be used in a number of sense, it is important that the uses be clarified by careful and painstaking analysis so as to prevent confusion and misunderstanding.

Generally speaking, the language used within professional education is ordinary language, the common language of men. [60] Education has not developed a highly technical vocabulary such as has been the case in the physical and biological sciences. The language of the “exact” sciences appears, it is true, in many examples of educational research, but the larger problems within the field of education tend to be philosophical and “practical” in nature and discussed in the language of ordinary life. [61]

It is the use of ordinary language to discuss complex issues in education that tends to give rise to the perplexities that often face educators and educational philosophers in communicating with one another. Particularly in the use of normative words, the making of normative statements, and the formulation of normative theory, many problems arise because of misunderstandings about the uses of words and the context in which they are used. The function of an analysis of educational terminology is to make one aware of the different senses in which words in ordinary language are used within education and to clarify the concepts, slogans, and other expressions that so often lead to linguistic problems.

The analytic movement in philosophy has given rise to techniques sometimes referred to as informal analysis or ordinary language analysis. These techniques have become very helpful in analyzing the terms and statements appearing in educational discourse. [62] Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the participants in the analytic movement, has been considered one of the major leaders in the development of ordinary language analysis and one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. [63] The techniques he specifically developed may well be very valuable in helping educational theorists, philosophers, and practitioners deal with important concepts in educational theory and practice.


Wittgenstein seldom wrote in an organized manner, in fact, most of his writings are presented in the form of aphorisms and some are notes that were taken down by his students as he lectured. The main contribution to language analysis made by Wittgenstein, which has been the concern here, is his concept of language-games. Hedley has informed the educational community that Wittgenstein’s concept of language-games “remains as yet unrelated to the area of educational philosophy in a specific manner.” [64]

It is my hope that the situation Hedley refers to will not remain the status quo and that educational philosophers and practitioners will acknowledge the value that analytic philosophy, and particularly Wittgenstein’s concept of language-games, has to offer in cleaning up the current linguistic muddle in educational theory and practice.

Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.

The Moral Liberal recommends: Great Books of the Western World


Notes and References

  1. John Dewey, “Philosophy, Education and Reflective Thinking,” in Toward a Philosophy of Education, ed. Thomas O. Buford (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969), p. 180.

  2. Ostap E. Oryshkewych, The Philosophy of Education (New York: Philosophical Library, 1966), p.2.

  3. A.C. Ewing, The Fundamental Questions of Philosophy (New York: Collier Books, 1962), pp. 19-21.

  4. Adrian M. Dupuis, Philosophy of Education in Historical Perspective (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966), p.3.

  5. Three textbooks which have reflected this view are: Van Cleve Morris, Philosophy and the American School (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1961); John S. Brubacher, Modern Philosophies of Education (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1969); and Theodore Brameld, Philosophies of Education in Cultural Perspective (New York: Dryden Press, 1955).

  6. George F. Kneller, “The Relevance of Philosophy,” in Foundations of American Education: Readings, ed. James A. Johnson et al. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1975), pp. 321-11.

  7. George F. Kneller, Logic and Language of Education (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1966), p. 207.

  8. Philip H. Phenix, “Curriculum and the Analysis of Language,” in Language and Meaning, ed. James Macdonald and Robert R. Leeper (Washingtron, D.C.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, NEA, 1966), p. 27.

  9. George L. Newsome, Jr., “Analytic Philosophy and Theory of Education,” Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society (Columbus, Ohio: n.p., 1960), p. 43.

  10. Alfred J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic (New York: Dover Publications, n.d.), pp. 51-57.

  11. Arthur Pap, Elements of Analytic Philosophy (New York: Macmillan Co., 1949), p. 6.

  12. George L. Newsome, Jr., “Philosophical Analysis as Conceptual Revision: An Analysis of Two Theories of Meaning,” Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annula Meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society (Atlanta: n.p., 1970), p. 20.

  13. Israel Scheffler, “Philosophical Analysis and Education,” in Foundations of American Education: Readings, ed. James A. Johnson et al. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1975), p. 378.

  14. A.C. Kazepides, “On the Nature of Philosophical Questions and the Function of Philosophy of Education,” Proceedings of the Twenty-Sixth Annal Meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society (Atlanta, n.p., 1970), p. 130.

  15. Phenix, “Curriculum and the Analysis of Language,” pp.29-30.

  16. Newsome, “Analytic Philosophy and Theory of Education,” p. 48.

  17. Ibid., p. 45.

  18. Kneller, Logic and Language of Education, pp. 115-206.

  19. Ibid., p. 169.

  20. Ibid., p. 168.

  21. K.T. Fann, Wittgenstein’s Conception of Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), pp. 109-10.

  22. Timothy Binkley, Wittgenstein’s Language (The Hague, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff, 1973), pp. 13-14.

  23. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1960), p. 77.

  24. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan Co., 1953), p. 47.

  25. Ibid.

  26. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, ed. G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 81.

  27. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, ed. G.H. von Wright, R. Phees, and G.E.M. Anscombe, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1967), p. 109.

  28. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 103.

  29. Ibid., p. 91.

  30. Wittgenstein, Zettel, p. 69.

  31. Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics, p. 157.

  32. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 49.

  33. Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (London: Oxford University Press, 1958), p. 65.

  34. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 5.

  35. Ibid., p. 6.

  36. Wittgenstein, Zettel, p. 59.

  37. Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty, ed. G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright, trans. Denis Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe (London: Basil Blackwell, 1969; Harper Torchbooks, 1972), p. 62.

  38. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 151.

  39. Ibid., p. 8.

  40. Justus Hartnack, Wittgenstein and Modern Philosophy, trans. Maurice Cranston (New York: New York University Press, 1965), p. 71.

  41. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, pp. 11-12.

  42. Ibid., p. 8.

  43. Ibid., p.5.

  44. Anthony Kenny, Wittgenstein (London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1973), p. 14.

  45. Hartnack, p. 66.

  46. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 31.

  47. Ibid., pp. 31-32.

  48. Ibid.

  49. Ibid., p. 32.

  50. H.G. Wells, First and Last Things (London: Constable and Company, 1908), p. 16.

  51. James Bogen, Wittgenstein’s Philosophy of Language: Some Aspects of Its Development (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), p. 206.

  52. Kenny, p. 17.

  53. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 20.

  54. Mary Jane McCue Aschner, “Meaning and Thinking,” in Language and Meaning, ed. James B. Macdonald and Robert R. Leeper (Washington, D.C.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, NEA, 1966), pp. 82-83.

  55. Hartnack, p. 69.

  56. Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, p. 109.

  57. See particularly: B. Othanel Smith and Robert H. Ennis, eds., Language and Concepts in Education (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1961), and R.S. Peters, ed., The Concept of Education (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).

  58. Kneller, Logic and Language in Education, p. 208.

  59. Ibid., pp. 207-29.

  60. Ibid., p. 208.

  61. Ibid., p. 207.

  62. Ibid.

  63. George Henrik von Wright, “Biographical Sketch,” in Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, by Norman Malcolm (London: Oxford University Press, 1975), p.1.

  64. W. Eugene Hedley, Freedom, Inquiry, and Language (Scranton, Penn.: International Textbook Company, 1968), p. 5.