Anda di halaman 1dari 12


Plato and Aristotle are the two most important Greek philosophers. Their work has
been the main focus of interest for students of philosophy and specialists. This is partly
because, unlike most of their predecessors, what they wrote survived in an accessible
form and partly because Christian thought, which was the dominant thought in the
Western world during the Middle Ages and early modern age, contained a high dose of
Platonic and Aristotelian influence.

Plato was a student of Socrates who left Athens disgusted by the death of his teacher.
After travelling for many years, he returned to Athens and opened his famous
Academy. He is the best known Greek philosopher; the triumph of his work has been
so complete and influential in western philosophy, that the famous quote from Alfred
North Whitehead, although an exaggeration, is not far from the truth: The safest
general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a
series of footnotes to Plato.

Plato had many philosophical interests including ethics and politics but he is best
known for his metaphysical and epistemological ideas. One of his most influential
insights is the Theory of Ideas: to Plato, notions like virtue, justice, beauty, goodness,
etc., would not be possible unless we had some direct knowledge of these things in an
earlier existence. We are born into this world with an imperfect memory of these Forms.
In that ideal world of Ideas, one can experience the real Forms which are perfect and
universal. Our world is an imperfect parody of the Platonic flawless and superior world
of Ideas. A knowledge of these Forms is possible only through long and arduous study
by philosophers but their eventual enlightenment will qualify them, and they alone, to
rule society.

Aristotle, a student of Plato for almost 20 years, was the tutor of Alexander the Great.
Aristotles interests covered a wide scope: ethics, metaphysics, physics, biology,
mathematics, meteorology, astronomy, psychology, politics and rhetoric, among other
topics. Aristotle was the first thinker who systematically developed the study of logic.
Some of the components of Aristotelian logic existed long before Aristotle such as
Socrates ideas on exact definition, argumentative techniques found in Zeno of
Elea, Parmenides and Plato, and many other elements traceable to legal reasoning and
mathematical proof. Aristotles logic system consists of five treatises known as the
Organon, and although it does not exhaust all logic, it was a pioneering one, revered for
centuries and regarded as the ultimate solution to logic and reference for science.
Aristotles contribution in logic and science became an authority and remained
unchallenged as late as the modern age: we can recall Galileo who, after careful
observation during the Renaissance, came to the conclusion that most of the Aristotelian
physics and astronomy was not in line with the empirical evidence and yet, Galileos
ideas were widely rejected by his contemporary Aristotelian scholars. Even during the
most obscure times during the Middle Ages, a copy of the Organon, or maybe
fragments of it, could be found in all prestigious libraries.

During the Hellenistic age, four philosophical schools flourished: the Cynics, Sceptics,
Epicureans and Stoics. During this time, political power was in the hands of the
Macedonians. Therefore, Greek philosophers abandoned their political concerns and
focused on problems of the individual. Instead of trying to come up with plans to
improve society, their interest was how to be happy or virtuous.

The Cynics rejected all types of conventions: marriage, manners, religion, housing, and
even decency. The Sceptic philosophical school systematized old doubts: the senses
caused troubles to most philosophers except some rare exceptions like Plato who
simply denied the cognitive value of perception in favour of his world of ideas. On top
of the scepticism of the senses, the Sceptics added moral and logical scepticism.
Epicureanism claimed that life was about pursuing this world's pleasures. They only
believed in the material world, a belief which attracted the opposition of the Stoics.
Stoics said that everything that happens is due to divine providence, therefore,
whatever misfortune occurs, a stoic will accept it without complaint. Stoics rejected
Aristotles views on the relevance of bodily and material goods to human happiness.
Achieving happiness, stoics said, is not important, what is actually important is to
pursue happiness since the outcome of our attempt is not fully under our own control.

Why were the Sophists important philosophically?

The Sophists do not have an august reputation, and their successors in ancient times, particularly
Plato, had little praise for their contributions to philosophy. However, that assessment may not be
altogether fair. Unlike the Pre-Socratics, who concentrated on the natural, non-human world, the
Sophists were interested in human nature and human affairs. The Sophists were the first humanists
in Western philosophy. We should also keep in mind that much of their thought was opposed to the
timeless wisdom prized by Plato, and much of how they were characterized comes from Plato.

The Sophists were public intellectuals who popularized existing knowledge and wisdom, with some
original modification. The subjects they addressed included: grammar, theory of language, ethics,
political philosophy and doctrines, religion, ideas about the gods, human nature and the origins of
humankind, literary criticism, mathematics, and last but not least, speculations about the natural world
that had been developed by the Pre-Socratics.

Why is Socrates important?

Depending on the value we have for other philosophers, his work could be evaluated in various ways.
But it is generally interpreted as highly valuable.

According to the god of the temple, Socrates was the wisest of the Greeks.

This was during the Greek Golden Age, when a lot of people possessed some type of wisdom.

Socrates raised the standard, and since then we have forgotten what it is to be wise.

It was important to raise the standard, but what he apparently didnt realize is that it wouldnt always
be the Greek Golden Age. We can benefit even by small ideas of wisdom, and part of wisdom is
believing that youre wise.

If you ask me, there are sophisticated people these days, but theyre like finding a silver dime in a pile
of hay. Wisdom, according to Socrates, is even more rare, and Socrates opposition to sophisticates
had a double-effect of increasing doubt and also reducing faith in sophistication.

If we are to believe Socrates, improving everyone is a good thing, which gives the internal appearance
that some people are wise who are not. However, some of these people are not wise anyway. In fact,
introducing wisdom seems good, until it turns out that no one has wisdom, and sophisticates are
merely pretentious. The effect is to realize ignorance, and destroy illusions of wisdom.

It might be easier to begin anywhere, and ironically Socrates helps us there by providing a method of
critical investigation.

Perhaps he was one of the only bearers of the idea of social equality, an idea he doubtless interpreted
from the condition of the Greek State during the Golden Age. He should have been granted
privileges. It would be better to remember him as a god or a demon than a philosopher, except that
most of those who believe in him want to belittle him in order to feel like philosophers. In this way,
ironically Socrates, like many good politicians, ultimately created his own enemy.

5 Reasons Why Plato and Aristotle Still

Matter Today
Two different world-views; one great debate. And here are five important lessons we can learn from
both of them.

1. Twenty four hundred years ago Plato taught that every human soul has the desire to reach for a
higher, purer, and more spiritual truth that will illuminate our lives and transform our world. Thats
made him the chief spokesman for every religious mystic and every believer in a supernatural reality
the West has ever produced, but also for poets, (whose works he said, are not of man or human
workmanship, but are divine and from the gods), artists and musicians, not to mention lovers who
are also soulmates (theres a reason why its called Platonic love).
2. Aristotle, on the other hand, said the light of truth is found here in the material world, and our job is
to understand and find our place in it. That made him the father of Western science (he wrote the
first books on every field from biology and physics to astronomy and psychology) as well as
technology, and the paragon of logical linear thinking, as opposed to Platos belief in the value of
intuitive leaps of imagination.

3. The entire history of Western civilization has been the great struggle between these two ways of
seeing the world, and that includes not just in every society but within ourselves: the constant
tension between our inner Plato and inner Aristotle, our material and logical versus our spiritual and
creative halves; thats gets played out every day, in every way, in everything we do.

4. Today, Aristotle is the godfather of the Internet, entrepreneurial start-ups, and e-commerce: as he
wrote in his Politics, the entire purpose of society is to enable each person to attain a higher and
better life by the mutual exchange of their different services. Plato speaks instead to the
environmentalist who wants to protect the planet; who sees the Big Picture and want to think
globally, act locally--the bumper sticker Plato would most love.

5. Plato and Aristotle are important in personal relationships, too. Choosing the right mate or date
can be as much about finding someone who balances our inner Plato or Aristotle, as it is about
compatibility or shared interests--maybe more so. Thats true for my wife and me; weve been
happily married for twenty-six years. Shes an artist and writer but her instincts are very Aristotelian,
whereas Im a self-confessed Platonist (although a secret Aristotle wannabe).

That works for us. Others might find that a pair of Platonists end up spending too much time
contemplating the Eternal to get anything done, while two Aristotelians have a habit of falling into
workaholic schedules.

So be forewarned. It was Aristotle who said, To attain any assured knowledge about the soul is one
of the most difficult things in the world.


The impacts of the philosophy are many and Epicurus held a variety of
thoughts that have turned out to at least have at least some truth, despite his
inability to fully observe them. For instance, his ideas that the universe is
infinite are more realistic than philosophers who had a very narrow idea of
where the universe and its extent can be found.[7] He also believed no truth
should be accepted as given without some form of proof, an idea that is now
foundational to modern science.

His belief that life and all matters must have basic building blocks are akin to
our modern concept of atoms that was only proven in the 19th century. A key
development that Epicurus indicated in his writings is the concept of divorcing
the pursuit of knowledge from religious pursuits, something that became
popular by the Renaissance, as thinkers from that era began to realize the
importance of separating their work from religious zeal that may have
hindered some advances in knowledge.[8] A key example is Galileos advocacy
that the Earth was not the center of the universe, whereas the Catholic church
at the time held the belief the Earth was the center of the universe.

While Epicurus ideas in science proved to be influential to later generations

and modern science, his philosophy on happiness underwent different
understanding in various periods. Although his teachings on happiness were
often conflated with later understanding of hedonism, later thinkers began to
see the practicality of his philosophy on pleasure as one that avoids pain and
pursues simple pleasures as it avoids indulgence. Some impacts of this
philosophy include what is now called ethical hedonism, where measured
pleasure is taught and pursued as part of mental health treatment to addiction
and other problems faced by patients.[9] In effect, the Epicurean philosophy is
still alive and well in our society and not in a way that simply advocates
unbridled pursuit of pleasure.


Epicurus has been a misunderstood philosopher, yet his influence has been
profound and can be considered one of the founders of modern philosophy.
His ideas continue to influence our world and then longevity of his thinking
shows that it held influence through many major shifts in history. In many
respects, Epicurus was ahead of his time, as he understood life composed of
basic building blocks that simply can be reconfigured to make different things.
This, to some extent, is true, while his philosophy of avoiding harmful things
and pursue simple pursuits that give pleasure, such as friendship, are sensible
and many would likely agree with these ideas.



As may be easy to see, Augustine was a rather impactful figure in Christian

history. He laid the groundwork for the formulation and acceptance of the
doctrine of original sin, launched a nuanced discussion on the role of grace in
the morality and soteriology, and set the trajectory for Christian ethics and
ecclesiology. Augustine is such a formidable thinker that his writings stood,
and still stand, as a bulwark of orthodoxy in the Church. It is important to
note, though, that Augustine is not a static thinker. His philosophy and
theology drastically changed throughout his life. For example, after the
Pelagian controversy he became a more radical proponent of predestination,
in such a way that departed significantly from his earlier works. That being
said, depending on what time period one encounters Augustine, one may be
getting a more or less radical version of his thought. This is why there are
many various denominations who follow him closely, but have drastically
different theological positions.


In regard to Medieval times, St. Thomas Aquinas was thought to be one of the most important and
influential philosophers. He was a priest famous for combining the theological principles of faith and
reason into a philosophy known as Thomism. This synthesis of the foremost western philosophies of
the 13th century became central to the tradition of medieval scholasticism and was adopted by the
Dominican Order of the Catholic Church.

An important part of Aquinas' work involves his commentaries on Sacred Scripture and Aristotle. He
is best known for his treatise "Summa Theologica" and the "Summa contra Gentiles." Aquinas lived
during the time when the Aristotelian corpus was translated into Latin, which created a crisis
concerning the relationship between faith and reason. Medieval Christian philosophy and education
was characterized by Thomism, which disputed questions and commentaries brought about by
Aristotle. The academics of medieval universities in Europe employed scholasticism as a primary
method of teaching and critical thought.

Thomas Aquinas is considered to be a saint in the Catholic Church, and his works are studied as a
core requirement and central reference point for those entering the priesthood. Thomas is believed
to have experienced miracles, such as accounts of kneeling before a crucifix and seeing it glowing
with light, and Jesus speaking to him. Aquinas' legacy also includes his Eucharistic hymns, which are
part of the Catholic Church's liturgy.

Why was the Renaissance so important? How did it

affect that period of time?
The Renaissance is important because it is a bridge, or a transitional period between medieval
thinking and early modern thinking. Important changes that really got the ball rolling included the
shakedown in the Catholic Church (Protestant Reformation), the invention of the printing press and
an increase in travel and trade.

Italy in the 14th century was fertile ground for a cultural revolution. The Black Death had wiped out
millions of people in Europe by some estimates killing as many as one in three between 1346 and

By the simplest laws of economics, it meant that those who survived were left with proportionally
greater wealth: either from fewer people inheriting more, or simply by virtue of supply and demand
with fewer workers available, wages naturally rose.

While Renaissance ideas were moving north from Italy, there was a simultaneous spread southward
of innovation, particularly in music. The music of the 15th century Burgundian School defined the
beginning of the Renaissance in that art; and the polyphony of the Netherlanders, as it moved with
the musicians themselves into Italy, formed the core of what was the first true international style in
music since the standardization of Gregorian Chant in the 9th century. The culmination of the
Netherlandish school was in the music of the Italian composer, Palestrina. At the end of the 16th
century Italy again became a center of musical innovation, with the development of the polychoral
style of the Venetian School, which spread northward into Germany around 1600.
Rationalism - It's Meaning and Implications
Rationalism as a philosophy is defined as using reason and logic as the reliable basis
for testing any claims of truth, seeking objective knowledge about reality, making
judgments and drawing conclusions about it. Although rationalism must ultimately
rely on sense perceptions, but it must also couple sense perceptions with logic and
evidence. To be consistent with logic, the thought process of a rationalist must be
free from logical fallacies, catalogued in many introductory books on logic or critical
thinking. There is no place for personal bias or emotion in rationalism, although
emotion and rationalism are not mutually exclusive, each has its place. More on this
later. Freethinking, which is sometimes confused with rationalism, is defined as the
free forming of views about reality independent of authority or dogma, be it from a
divine or human source. If we stick to the strict definitions, then freethinking is not
synonymous with rationalism. One need not be strictly rational to be a freethinker.
One is allowed the leeway to believe or form any opinion, not necessarily rational
(essentially "think as you like"), as long as it is not influenced by existing religious,
cultural or traditional dogma or authority. A postmodernist (Read intellectual
anarchist) may claim to be a freethinker according to this non-restrictive definition.
But rationalism is much more restrictive. It enforces logic and evidence as the
guiding principle in thinking and forming opinions and cognition. So although
rationalism invariably leads to freethinking, but freethinking does not necessarily
imply rationalism, since freethinking may include irrational views, beliefs and
personal bias. I have attempted to provide my own definitions in a precise way in a
recent post (Faith Philosophy and Dogma) to help set the criteria for

What is an example of how empiricism could be used

in life?
it cant be; its self-refuting.

i think the other answers given are generally right with one critical exception: empiricism is not merely the
use of empirical methods to gain knowledge. empiricism is the EXCLUSIVE use of empirical methods for
knowledge. at least, the kind of empiricism most people mean when they use the word.

in other words, empiricism doesnt say that no one else can use empirical methods. other epistemological
approaches can use these means. but empiricism does say that one must use only empirically-derived
information; hence "empiricism."
put another way, empiricism says you can only have knowledge of things you have empirical (physically
observable) evidence for. interestingly, there is no empirical evidence that empiricism is true. simply
stated: there is no physical proof that physical proof is the only kind of reliable proof.

this is not just a word game. think about it: why assume that the nature of reality requires that we can
know it ONLY through empirical means? why assume empiricism? after all, we can not empirically see
that empiricism is true. it is self-refuting.

empiricists are empiricists because of their intuitions that say this is how the world is. unfortunately,
empiricism says intuition is invalid as a source of knowledge. hence empiricism has no way of supporting

there are empiricists who allow for intuition in their methodology. but strictly speaking, they are not really

so in answer to your question: empiricism cannot be used in life (logically anyway). however, empirical
investigation can and should be used. just realize that you dont need to limit yourself to the empirical
methods only.

to use empirical methods, then, simply means to come to hold beliefs based on physical evidence. you do
it all the time, without thinking about it.

but my point is, you use other sources of knowledge besides the empirical.

for example, mathematics is a field full of non-empirical knowledge. if we required observable evidence
for mathematical computations, formulas would, at best, be limited to those things we could re-create
using physical objects to count with. while we can sometimes use the physical world to check our
mathematical proofs, we dont know these concepts through the physical world. we know them through
mathematical intuitions (by intuition i mean intellectual seeming, not gut feeling). such knowledge, then, is

Immanuel Kant: still relevant after all

these years

A s a scholar of English Romanticism, I have long been preoccupied with the

relationship between Britain and Germany. The connection is impossible to

explore without referring to Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher who
died 200 years ago this month. Kant has enormously influenced English
Romanticism as well as my own research. I was first exposed to him in 1956
while studying at the Georg-August University in Gttin-gen. The German
university, founded by King George II in 1734, has always attracted British and
American scholars.
At Gttingen, I followed in the footsteps of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the British
poet, critic and philosopher who returned from the university in 1799 as an
influential mediator of Kantian concepts in literary criticism. Kants ideas, which
helped transform Western thought, sensibility and art, are as relevant today as
they were in his time.

There are four Kantian concepts to which I frequently return. The first is the
primacy of the mind, which Kant likened to a Copernican revolution in
metaphysics. He taught that perception is not determined by the attributes of
things; rather, the universe of things is determined by the attributes of the
mind. What is in the mind independent of our experience, or a priori (concepts
of space, time, cause, effect), determines how we perceive the world.

A second concept is Kants attention to the imagination. Before Kant,

philosophers had relegated the imagination to the lower faculties, along with
feelings and sensations. But Kant insisted that imagination functions hand in
hand with the higher rational and intuitive faculties of the mind. Whats more,
he argued, imagination helps shape all perception as well as the capacity to
contemplate what lies beyond perception.

Because Kant exalted the imagination, he grounded his aesthetics in reason. He

saw the beautiful as that which satisfies the rational sense of harmony, order
and proportion. In contrast to the beautiful, he proposed the idea of the sublime
the third of his concepts to which I routinely pay homage. Sublimity, in
Kants terms, is inherently boundless and characterized by the intrusion of two
alternating emotional factors: an inhibition and an overflowing. To experience
the sublime, said Kant, is to confront a grandeur so vast or powerful that the
imagination is jolted, leaving the viewer consciously frail and incapacitated. This
is followed by an awareness of not only perceiving but also participating
imaginatively in sublimitys grandeur.

Kants fourth concept is art for arts sake. How, he asks, is a beautiful rape,
murder, disease or death possible? (The history of art provides numerous
instances of each.) Kant answers that a work of art is judged exclusively by its
inherent aesthetic criteria not by ethical or moral considerations external to

Since Kants death, we have grown suspicious of the claims of systematic

philosophy to provide one all-encompassing account of being. Kant nevertheless
continues to reward readers by challenging and provoking notions of how the
mind knows itself and the universe around it notions now reinforced by
research in cognitive science. Its not scientific corroboration, however, that
makes Kant relevant in the 21st century. Rather, his significance lies in that
shadow of personal identity where MRI scanners and other probes cannot

What is the significance of utilitarianism?

Utilitarianism says that we should always do what will have the best consequences for all those
affected by our actions. "Best consequences" generally refers to well-being, in some sense, although
utilitarians differ on whether this means happiness, and the reduction of suffering, or something like
the satisfaction of preferences.

Utilitarians don't just focus on their friends or family, or their fellow-citizens. They are concerned
about distant strangers. They are concerned about future generations (so utilitarianism tells us why
climate change matters, for example, even if its most severe effects won't be felt for another
century). And "all affected" includes all sentient beings, so the suffering of animals matters too.

That's a clear and straightforward ethical position. Virtually everyone agrees that it's better for
sentient beings to be happier and have less suffering. That's not enough to make everyone a
utilitarian, because some people think that in addition, there are absolute moral rules one must
never break. Most moral rules are useful guides to what will bring about the best consequences. But
if they are not if we really know, with certainty, that obeying a moral rule will have worse
consequences than breaking it should we still obey it? Why? That's the challenge utilitarianism
poses to other views.

Utilitarianism changes people's lives in many ways. For example it leads many people to
support Effective Altruism, a growing movement of people who want to be as effective as possible in
making the world a better place. They want to do (advert warning, this is the title of my forthcoming
book) The Most Good You Can Do. That doesn't mean that all EAs are utilitarians, but utilitarians
are, or ought to be, EAs.

What is the significance of positivism

Thanks for the A2A. There is very little I can add to the excellent answers by Ron Maimonand Olaf
Simons. They both address the empiricism of positivism, that it is based on experience, and in
particular, sense experience. Sense experience is taken to be foundational to the construction of
empirical knowledge, and thus foundational for the empirical sciences. They also both address the
significance of positivism for theories of meaning.

The logical positivists, including early Wittgenstein, held a very strong version of positivism,
applying it to all fields of knowledge. That way, they could eliminate a whole set of overly
metaphysical questions in philosophy. But most mathematicians, for example, do not believe that
their questions and theories are based, or need to be based, in sense impressions. So its important to
note that positivism is significant only in the context of the empirical science. Questions which can
be reduced to sense experience are best answered by sense experience. Such a contextualization of
fields and modes of knowledge requires a more pragmatic basis. That same sort of pragmatism can
also be used as a basis when addressing meaning and meaningfulness. So the contemporary
pragmatic view is that that positivism has a limited scope, relevant to the domain of the empirical
sciences. The recent neo-positivism of some (mostly scientists or pseudo-scientists trying to do
popular philosophy) claims that the empirical sciences are the only source of knowledge and
meaning, better known as scientism. But once they loosen that claim to include tools like logic and
math which are used by every scientist, they also weaken the foundational aspect of their positivism,
creating a need for some other foundation for making that choice.
The other aspect of positivism which is not addressed regards observation. Observation, while
foundational to the empirical sciences, is not very well understood. Positivists claim that sensations
are fundamental, direct and unanalyzable. Early Russell called them sense data, and believed they
were the atoms of logical analysis. But when they talked about sense data, sensation, and sensory
experience, they werent talking about the electrical stimulus of individual nerve cells. They didnt yet
have that technology and science. We now know we never directly experience the stimulus of
individual nerve cells. Our perception of our sense experience is a sort of pre-conscious
reconstruction of the stimuli of many nerve cells from all our sense organs. Our perception of our
sensory stimuli is our brains best attempt to make coherent sense of them, and partly in the context
of what we already believe. So how could they form the foundation of meaning and knowledge by
themselves when meaning and knowledge is required to makes sense of, and in a sense, experience
them. That is to say, positivism falsely presupposed direct sensory experience. We now know sensory
experience is extremely indirect.

The significant of the realization that sensory experience is indirect complicates the problems of
observation and measurement in science, especially at the extreme micro and macroscopic edges.
Poets for a long time have recognized that, in order to have some sorts of experience, or to
understand the meaning of some terms, we need to understand their compliments. Relational terms
are only understood in terms of their relations. For these, the reductionist approach of positivism
doesnt work. There are no foundational variables from which to understand relational terms. In
science, measurements often, if not always, require relational terms. If I want to measure a
quantified unit, that unit must be defined such that it can be delimited from its environment. A point
on a line, for example, must be distinguished from a line. But they can only be done so by referring to
one another. The problem of observation and related Measurement problem remains one of the most
significant problems in philosophy of science. And positivism is insufficient, even to assist, in solving
it, if it has an solution. The best a positivist can do is ignore it as meaningless just as other
metaphysical questions in science, such as the logical structure of causation.
Why is Sartre's work on existentialism so important?
And why is existentialism itself so important?
I see existentialism as embracing the most basic points of subjective experience and rejecting both
societal narrative ideals and objective philosophies.

Societal narratives are all the stories and structure that society uses to condition and domesticate a
"proper" functioning individual. One is told what to believe, what's important, how to relate to
others, purposes in life, etc. God, country, laws, taxes, morality, "success", station, caste and all that.
J Campbell referred to these as folk or ethnic ideas. These are "narratives" because even though they
provide day to day "truth" in allowing the society to function, it's all just made up.

Objective philosophies come as part of the societal narrative but also can be explored on their own
merits. God, metaphysics, causality, ethics, Maths, etc. While these can be interesting to explore,
more often than not they take on a life of their own and end up again making false narratives
according to the proclivities of the philosopher or school. For instance, Christianity, capitalism,
socialism, conservatism, liberalism, libertarianism, environmentalism, spirituality, etc. Many people
hand over control to these constructs based on attraction or repulsion.

So to avoid these false paths, one can embrace the subjective and only the subjective experience of
being human. What is apparent which cannot be rejected from a subjective point of view? We live,
survive and die with no definite purpose or rules. Emotions exist and choices are made. Work from
there, deconstruct the rest, beware constructing narratives and see where you as an individual
emerge. Generically this fits into the idea of a "path" or "elemental" ideas which exist in many

What is the relevance of pragmatism to education?

We don't explicitly teach pragmatism, yet we expect it to develop in the student. That we don't do
this may be a mistake. Students often learn it indirectly by the fact that they are assigned too much to
learn, too much homework, and they endure stress that requires some way to cope. The best way to
get through school is to be pragmatic; to figure out what needs to be done and what doesn't; but we
don't teach that.

In my senior year at Columbia, I got admission into a sociology course that was taken primarily by
freshmen. (Yes, I was a physics major, but I believed in trying to get a broad education.) The
reading assignments were long; typically a thousand pages every week. I was astonished to realize
that most of my classmates were attempting to read it all. I just picked out the important parts and
read that. In class, I always knew the answers to the professors questions, because I had read the
relevant sections.

When I thought back on my freshman year, I realized that I had spent most of that working much
harder, reading everything, and not being as well prepared. Somehow, in an additional three years at
college, I had learned how to cope with the system, how to be pragmatic. I was indeed learning just
what the professor hoped I would learn, but I was working only 1/4 as hard as most of the other

There are many other things we don't teach. We teach very little on verbal presentation, a subject
once known as rhetoric, but now ignored. In fact, the phrase "just rhetoric" has become a criticism.
Quora participants can probably add a long list of things we learn in high school and college, things
that we are expected to learn, but things that we are never explicitly taught.