20th World Congress
    of Philosophy Logo

Philosophy of Education

"Paideia": An Integrative Concept as a Contribution to the Education of Humanity

Karlheinz Biller
University at Kiel

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)

ABSTRACT: For the sake of humanity, outward compulsion must change into inward check. This is possible with the help of "paideia." I use "paideia" instead of the equivocal German word "Bildung," which comprises the meanings of "education," "formation," and "cultivation." The core of my recently developed concept of "paideia" is that the educating individual does what has to be done in a certain situation. He or she works alone or together with the other. In doing a work the educated individual tries to avoid any disadvantage for the other. The finished work represents the realization of both, the individual as well as the other in a step toward self-realization. This philosophy of education integrates into one single concept the two main traces of theories of education in European countries, namely the theories of "self-being" and those of "selflessness." The concept of "paideia" is a possible answer to actual problems such as the gap between the rich and the poor, the increase of violence, existing political radicalism, exploitation of natural resources and so on. According to this situation, not all people are educated very well. I claim that the expounded philosophy of education is able to contribute to the education of humanity. The combination of "self-being" and "selflessness" guarantees the optimal realization of sense in a given situation. This ensures that the common work of the individual and the other can develop very well, so that both are intertwined in the result.

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)

I. From Outward Compulsion to Inward Control

For many years our present society has been characterized by sociologists and philosophers as being determined by three factors: first science and technology, second mass media including new forms of communications like the Internet, and third individualism and pluralism. These three characteristics of the present situation point to the diminuation of human possibilities. For on one side we live in a society of alleged unlimited possibilities with respect to science, technology, communication and personal individuality. On the other side, however, real thinking and doing, real talk and real self-shaping seem to grow poor or become impossible. The prize we are obliged to pay for our present society, the prize of our possibilities is ironically that of the impossibility of our special possibilities, be they personal or social. So the strive for perfection unmasks itself as an unplanned deterioration in many realms of social and personal life.

According to this situation young peopleorientate themselves in two main ways. On one side they tend to hedonism, ethics of lust and pleasure, as well as to patchwork-identity; on the other side they tend to postmaterialistic orientation combined with the search for a new horizon of sense and meaning. Their orientation is framed by individualism and pluralism. Juvenile behaviour is less worth-, norm- or principle-determined than situation-determined with various principles, be they postmaterial, hedonistic or conventional.

Furthermore it is necessary to see that one cannot have too much freedom to do what has to be done. Therefore freedom must be combined with the ability of mastering one's own interests, needs and desires. During the principally advantageous era of liberation in the sixties of our century freedom mostly was misunderstood asarbitrariness. So no real limits seemed to exist for many people. And as society is trying to understand those who surpass certain limits, delinquents may expect much indulgence. Many of them abuse this generosity. But resocialisation can only then be successful when taken seriously. The individuals must be able to govern their own desires and drives without doing any harm to others. This level is not yet reached by many people. So, these still live in a state of undecision, of uncertainty, and of unsocial orientations.

One way to surpass this desolate situation is a change in the single members of societies. We all must accept the simple truth, that our freedom ends where the freedom of the other begins. Thus, outward compulsion must become inner control. A well proved theory of education and practice is needed as well as well educated people who can be models for others. The following concept of "paideia" wants to refer to all human beings. It even claims to be the right response to the above outlined situation. So, what are the main characteristics of the integrative concept of paideia."

II. Description of the Integrative Concept of "paideia"

The concept of "paideia" can here be outlined only by a few hints, namely the special meaning of "paideia," some scientific disciplines and some general characteristics of the concept.

A. The meaning of "paideia"

In his book "The Culture of Education" Jerome S. Bruner defines "education" as "participation in the culture" in which one lives. Yet, "partication" can mean taking part in culture or behaving, living or acting as a part of culture. From my point of view the second meaning of participation is more intense, and leads to a really senseful or meaningful life. Therefore it would be best, if the level of the student's knowledge would be as high as possible. And what does "culture" mean? "Culture" is in the words of Bruner more than "arts and sciences." It means the structures of living, recognizing and thinking of a society. One can say "culture" is comprised, preserved and transmitted by stories, in which meaning is concluded and expressed. Therefore, stories and tales are the "instruments of meaning-making." If we possess "education" in Bruner's sense as the key to the cognitive patterns of culture, we can save life and livelihood of ourselves and those of our culture. Thus educated or—more precisely—"instructed," we can overcome alienation originated by various sorts of scientific, technological, economic and political developments. As one can see Bruner reduces education to instruction. So he has a too narrow view of "education."

In contrast to that position "paideia" is not education, not formation, not cultivation, not socialization and even not personalization.Here, "paideia" is that phenomenon which incalculably accrues to a person while he or she selflessly participates in a special legal and legitimate "common work."

From this point of view, "paideia" obviously is more than the mere gathering of as much knowledge and abilities as possible. It stresses the fact that the merely cognitive understanding of the meaning of stories and tales is insufficient. It obliges the individual to live according to the understood meaning of structure representing stories and tales. The meaning of knowledge and ability which individuals attain is not just to know or to be able or exclusively to foster one's own career but to take care that "the other," too, may develop in the best possible way. "The other" means everything and everyone, in short the whole world around me, especially the "common work," which has to be done.

A"common work" must be legal and morally acceptable by all participants. It occurs in various ways and on different levels. A "common work" may befor instance the fulfilment of a task, a harmonious family life, a good lecture at the university or the effort for a peaceful world. All these examples tend to reach the most important aim for human beings, that is a humane world, in which one's own life and that of others can develop in the best possible way. In other words: Each common work is a part in the global process of building or constructing a humane world on the ground of values, justice, human rights, democracy, and defence against enemies.

B. Some Fundamental Scientific Disciplines of the Concept of "Paideia"

The concept of "paideia" is based on philosophical anthrology, a philosophy of life, and ethical thinking, besides others.

First: Philosophical anthropology.—The faculty of man to decide is the inner reason of the possiblity of education which is one of the original functions of humanity. Therefore pedagogical and anthropological reflexions are indispensable. According to the existentialistic anthropologyman appears as a being which is steadily searching for meaning or sense. Therefore reliable knowledge of human beings in different ages and cultures is helpful. It is necessary to know what can evoke the feeling of having acted in a meaningful way. There are four possible ways: something is meaningful because first one has understood themeaning of it, second one has recognized thepurpose of it, third one has studied thefunction of it, and fourth one has felt the possiblevalue of it. Thus meaning, purpose, function, and value are the keys to a senseful or meaningful life. So sense is one of the basic categories of "paideia." In meeting the world, the individual experiences himself or herself as well as the meeting part of the world. The search for sense and for the basis of being emerge in every individual. Man wants to catch the basis of being in order to get the right measure for acting. Everyone wants to realize oneself in acting sensefully. But this is possible only with the help of values and obligatory tasks. So selfdevelopment is as necessary as a contribution to the development of the world. The need of a theory of "paideia," based on philosophical anthropology, is obvious.

Second: Philosophy of being.—Besides anthropology the background of the theory of "paideia" is a philosophy of life according to which the world appears as a being which implies tasks for the individuals. These tasks ought to be realized. Therefore the world is not only a being but must understood as an obligation. That means, the individuals are obliged to follow the given advices of suitable actions. In this way they realize values and norms which are nothing but rules for successful acting. They learn to behave and to act like civilized persons. Therefore the reality of a human being can be understood as spiritual. The necessary tasks which have to be fulfilled are possibilities for the realization of sense. Generally spoken one can say, together with all sorts of tasks our "spaceship earth" together with the surrounding cosmos offer the whole sense of humanity. So man is bound to acknowledge and fulfil all tasks and advices of a valuable action. This is a possible way to gain one's freedom as a responsible acting person.

Third: Ethics.—Ethical thinking is necessary because given tasks must be analysed for their consequences and values. In being active the individual has an effect on the world by his or her decisions. These actions change the world and react on his or her personal development. A human being can gain his or her existence by working in the world and shaping it. In order to fulfil his or her tasks, the individual needs the help of "paideia." So, "paideia" takes place in the dimension of valuable acting. Thus a philosophy of education is deeply connected with an ethics which above all explores the conditions of the possibility of moral acting of young people. Therefore the central task of pedagogical ethics is to find ways to realize good actions to the highest possible degree for the individual as well as for the society, so that everyone may reach happiness and live a life that makes sense to him, her, or the other.

III. Some Characteristics of the Theory of "Paideia"

The theory of "paideia" wants to be general and to integrate all human beings. It tries to include the tradition of the philosophy of the western and the eastern hemisphere. In doing so, it can reach the needs of all human beings. Some aspects of this theory of "paideia" may be pointed out.

First. Relation: Man is a being of relation. Therefore he or she is able to recognize sense, to long for sense and to realize sense. Further on, human beings have to answer the claim of the good. Good is what improves or takes care not only of the life of oneself but also of that of others and, besides that, the life of one's own species as well as that of foreign species. This is one of the basic aspects of anthropological and ethical thinking in the realm fo "paideia."

Second. Sense: The world holds many tasks for every individual being and urges him, her or it to make ethical decisions, so that the real being of the world can come into existence. Therefore it is senseful to do what has to be done in a certain situation. This is one of the basic aspects of the philosophy of being which can show that ethical thinking is intertwined with "paideia." Educated people ask themselves for ethical legitimation of their actions. The question: "Are we allowed to do what we can do?" becomes as important as the next one: "What will the invented product do to us and how ill it change our life conditions?"In order to be able to fulfil chosen tasks, man needs the best training, schooling and instructing. This is the core of the rather western concept of self-being. Further on, man has to realize the other in order to be able to help him or her to develop in the best possible way. This is the core of the rather eastern and religious concept of selflessness. However, the aim of "paideia" is not the best trained and well developed individual nor sheer selflessness but the ability and readiness to do what has to be done in a certain situation. Human beings have to realize this common work if they want to gain the status of "paideia." Sometimes they even must be ready for sacrifice in order to realize best the "common work."

Third. Common work: The sense-creating factor is the common work because it is able to relate selfishness and selflessness to each other in a dialectical way. In order to reach "paideia," every participant has to do his or her best for the sake of a common work and not for the sake of one's own advantage or career. It is the common work which has to come to existence. In participating in this process the individual can realize its own self. A selfrealization which is educationally valuable can be described as a balance between two poles and a dialectical tension between two sides. First the balance between the poles of self-being and of world-control, secondly the balance between selflessness and world-empowerment. So, by the process of participation in a "common work" one can develop the good qualities of one's own, and master the bad ones for the sake of a common work.

How does "paideia" work?

This understanding of "paideia" can be a frame to educate people all over the world. Yet, certain circumstances of cultural groups such as values must be taken into consideration. Besides that, the curriculum has to be adapted to the people and their culture in a certain area of the world. This means that the general frame of the theory is valid. Therefore this concept of "paideia" can be helpful in educating humanity. The reduction of violence could be an empirical sign of the effectiveness of "paideia" in the field of education.

IV. The Possibility of Reducing Violence by "Paideia"

In order to prove the above mentioned effectiveness of "paideia" it is helpful to look for violence-reducing factors in this theory. But what is to be understood by violence?

Violence is the ultimate ratio or the single possibility of acting sensefully in two certain cases:

first: whenever man thinks he or she is hurt in the dignity as human being and is existentially endangered by the subjective interpreted meaning of a certain situation, and

second: whenever man defines himself as limitless mighty in a certain subjective estimated situation. That is to say, the personal decision is essential.

Therefore the conception of the "personal factor," which has been overlooked by research so far, has to be presented at first.

A. The "Personal Factor" as a Central Cause of Violence

The analysis of various theoretical explanations of violence shows the most interesting fact that many theories indicate a"personal factor." Besides many other determining factors of violent behavior many theories presume the significance of orienting or directive values, the level of self-image, the decision-making process, the factor of self-control, techniques of neutralization of a criminal deed, the significance of the definition of deviant behaviour, and the process of learning—in short an enormous amount of personal involvement in the development of violence. This enumeration which is still incomplete shows the enormous relevance of the "personal factor" in the development of violent acting. This insight is important with respect to education because it shows that material things or the belonging to a low social or cultural class is not the most important factor in the development of violence. Therefore the "personal factor" has to be stressed although the circumstances can play an enormous part in the decision-making process. That is to say, the person itself becomes very important especially in the case of group pressure or state of affairs. In referring for instance to the political field it shows that "paideia" should be indispensable.

Another remarkable fact is to be mentioned. On behalf of the "personal factor" neither cultural, sociological, psychological, biological nor philosophical theories can totally explain why one special act of violence has happened. The reason of this deficit is that all these theories are characterized by thelack of "sense" or "meaning" which is the most important motive in making a decision for or against violence. So, once again, the "personal factor" really seems to be the key to the explanation of violence despite the importance of emotional or subcultural influences. It is the mind which reigns the human being despite the might of special drives or the social situation in which one is webbed in. So, the human being can decide and really does decide whether he or she wants to act violently or not.

This exactly is the point where the endeavour of "paideia" can be very helpful.

B. Some Violence-Reducing Hints In The Concept Of "Paideia"

"Paideia" seems to be able to reduce violent behaviour because it stresses the decisive personal factor and it can lead the individual to those aims which violent people have not reached yet. So "paideia" offers exactly those violence-reducing qualities which violent people need.

B1. Predominance of selfishness and lack of self-control

Violent people are used to think from their own point of view. But this sort of thinking often leads them to wrong decisions and to uncontrolled actions. Many violent persons are neither ready to participate in a legal and legitimate common work nor are they able or willing to subject themselves to a strenuous, selfless acting without getting a special profit. Further on, self-sacrifice is a very low ranked value for them. Finally they have enormous difficulties in controlling and mastering their urges.

"Paideia," again, requires a thinking and an acting from the perspective of the other, in other words: it requires "proflexion." This selfless position can be realized with the help of the factor "empathy." Therefore "paideia" is able to lead one's attention away from oneself and towards the other. Through this change in the perspective and the accompanying intensive use of reason, a person can reach a high level of civilization and can foster his or her moral development. This changed perspective contains the chance for a rearrangement of usual thinking and acting. Furthermore he or she has the chance to recognize that violence, especially physical violence, is blamed as an anachronistic problem-solving strategy. Rather, it is crucial to abandon maximal requests in the effort to reach one's own goals and to agree to sacrifices for the other's sake. Before I am brutal against a person I am obliged to try to understand him or her.

B2. Lack of the competence of anticipation

According to psychological studies violent people are not able to anticipate the consequences of their actions thoroughly. "Paideia," however, enables the individuals to pay attention to the consequences of actions. They get used to decide in favour of a special senseful action the consequences of which seem to support the planned common work. So, people who are inclined to beat, can learn to think about the immoral consequences of their deeds. Finally they learn to know other possible actions. "Anticipative thinking" can help to identify the expected sense of meaning of the individual's action. Anticipative thinking is creative thinking. It shows certain deficits in one's own cognitive competence, too. This pressure of having deficits in various fields can motivate a person to study more eagerly.

B3. Undeveloped competence in verbal communication

Many violent people suffer from disturbed relationships, so that they cannot see any more what is good. They very wrongly feel being pursued by everybody. Because of the lack of a well developed quality to communicate verbally in critical situations, they are convinced of having no other alternative than to beat.

Again, "paideia" tries to enable people to bestow their attention upon the other, to pay their chief attention to certain things, ideas, and animals. They learn to see what the other really needs and what they can do for her or him. They get back gratitude and the impression of having been useful. So, they learn to appreciate a deep relationship. Their thinking is not centered around themselves any longer. Finally they can feel the value of being combined with other people by taking part in the realization of a common work. In this way, love can grow instead of hatred.

B4. Undeveloped moral qualities

Violent people suffer from a lack of good models. They have experience that violence is the best and most comfortable way to get what one wants to have. As the other people of their living space act violently, too, there seems to be no need of thinking about the moral adequateness of one's actions. So bad models prevail.

Although "paideia" cannot change special circumstances and conditions of life in certain areas, it tries to find positive models for adequate solutions of problems. Adults can demonstrate for instance that the thinking from the other's point of view can be very interesting and helpful for a common work. And as children want to be similar to beloved persons they can find good models in them. They learn to act according to one's own confession. So, "paideia" reminds adults of their responsibility for young people.

B5. Wrong conclusions

Violent people often think, violent acting could be a means of self-realizing action, of gaining esteem by others and of acquiring power over others. They argue and conclude from this point of view that violence would be senseful for them. In reality this conclusion is wrong, because violence is only a direct and spontaneous way to a certain aim. But in the long run it is the worst thing one can do. As violence is an enemy of life, it is by no means acceptable by civilized people because that which may be senseful for one person has to be senseful for others, too. In other words, subjective sense must become objective or: individually experienced sense must be generally acceptable. So, what claims to be senseful for oneself must be acceptable by various other people, too. The more numerous these people are, the more widespread the ethical worth of sense will be. As violence endangers the life of one's own and especially that of others, it cannot fulfil this condition. Therefore violence cannot generally be accepted as senseful.

As "paideia" can be equalized with the search for sense, people can experience how to lead a senseful life. As the sense of life is living, the whole organism of living beings is equipped for a certain amount of lifespan. So, under normal circumstances all people want to live. Therefore, life is a precious value. Sense, again, intends to support one's own life. Therefore every single action which claims to be supposedly senseful must be a contribution to the care, nurture, and improvement of life first, of one's own as well as that of others, and second, of the own species as well as that of others. In this way "paideia" can change wrong conclusions of violent people.

B6. Lack of decisiveness to change one's life by means of legal actions

Often, violent people haven't anything to loose any more. They are almost paralyzed by the lack of any positive perspective in their life. They are despaired. The circumstances are desolate and the people, who possibly will act violently, are poorly developed. Therefore they cannot appreciate the actual possession of others. They are convinced that it is up to them to catch illegally those things, which they cannot get legally may be on behalf of a difficult economic situation. They have not developed a positive emotional relation to special goods and to certain individuals. As they are emotionally underdeveloped they are inclined to destroy things and to hurt others.

"Paideia," however, demands to consider that every action really is a contribution to the idea of man. One has to answer the question whether or not a single action will be in accordance to the valuable being of man and therefore it is supposed to be an enrichment in respect of humanity of mankind. All those actions have to be avoided which are inhumane, that means which are in contrast with highest ethical principles, such as the care of life and the classical virtues. Educated people in politics, society, finance, religion and other powerful social groups have to work hard for fair chances for everybody. Therefore they stress the fact that, besides others, a flourishing economy, a low rate of worklessness, and a democratic state which possesses the monopoly of might and violence are important factors for a civilized human society. The part of "paideia" is obviously worthful in this interplay of various forces.

B7. No success at school

Violent youths are bad pupils in most cases. They are easy to be hurt. They misunderstand the actions of others as an assault against themselves. In some cases they may suffer from an underdeveloped selfconsciousness and a negative self-image. So, they think the best thing to do would be to hurt the other.

"Paideia," however, tries to enable them to use their intelligence in order to understand the situation, and to find alternatives of acting violent, and to get better results at school. Consequently they won't be hurt as easily as before. Again a positive effect of "paideia" is to be seen.

B8. Summary

Without continuing the almost endless list of items, characterizing violent behaviour one can summarize: "Paideia" fosters the development of the person. So, for instance, sense, meaning, responsibility, and sacrifice appear to be important. Therefore "paideia" strengthens the decision-making personal factor. It can fight the decision for a violent act and is able to open a civilized way to handle social problems. The attitude which accompanies "paideia" can enable people to reduce the quantity and intensity of violent acting. People can learn not to appreciate an action because it raises the expectation of a certain personal profit. They can learn to recognize a sacrifice as a great achievement, through which "meaning" or "sense" can be experienced as well. This "thinking from the perspective of the other" can lead to the estimation of the other in his or her otherness. It does not intend to use the other for one's own purpose. Therefore it is very difficult to use violence against him or her. This sort of thinking and acting can be acquired with the help of "paideia." But the underlying values must be adapted to the certain group of individuals in whom the concept of "paideia" has to work. As soon as there can be installed a relation to the other the process of "paideia" can begin. The following synopsis can show the main items of the connection between "paideia" and "violence."

All those remarks show first, that violent persons act primarily according to evolutionary fixed behaviourial structures and second, that these people have not yet reached the common standard of a civil society. Therefore some consequences for these beings have to be drawn.

C. A Few Consequences for Individuals and Groups

The following consequences are derived from the integrative concept of "paideia."

First: Responsibility.—The above described educational thinking leads to the perception of the enormous amount of responsibility which every single person has to overtake. So the individual beings as well as the various groups and powers of a society be they social, industrial, financial, national, religious or cultural always have to be responsible for what they do. The clarifying of one's leading values is necessary as well as the ability of recognizing what is valuable and what is not.

Second: Morality, adult models.—As adults are models for youngsters they must keep in mind this fact. Everyone as well as every social group or political power has to behave correctly or better spoken: honestly. Therefore it would be best, if the adult generation would confess the necessity and the possibility of living according to virtues, and would deliver convincing examples. Moral education starts best with moral grown-ups, moral parents, and moral teachers. The elder generation can educate young people best if it demonstrates that moral attitude is possible. So, in confessing what they are convinced of being good, educators can become needed models of moral orientation for the next generation in a democratic society.

Third: The other.—The thinking from the perspective of the other is useful for everybody in a human society, because everyone gets the real opportunity of developing as many of the resting talents as her or she wants. The other is not only a human being but all what is not the acting person. So the realm of animals, things and plants has to be thought over in the context of "paideia."

Fourth: Balance of self-being and selflessness.—In order to be able to do what has to be done in concrete situations one has to be well instructed and well developed in respect of rationality, emotionality, physicality and relationality which is more than sociability. So, a well functioned educational system is indispensable.

Fifth: Public relationship or PR-management.—In order to become effectful, the concept of "paideia" must be made known to as many people as possible may be even with the help of mass media like television, radio and newspaper. It would be best if the idea of "paideia" could be installed in the centers of all sorts of power by well educated leaders. "Paideia" can lead the individuals to take part in what is going on around them and encourages them to get involved in actions. In doing this, they may recognize what they know or ought to have known. They learn to think about the leading principles of their judgement, and the scale of their values. These and other items show that "paideia" can help to realize the program of Enlightenment.

Sixth: Common work.—In order to think away from oneself the participation in a common work is necessary. This common work is the centre-point of the search for sense and is the main step towards a senseful and meaningful life.

As everybody is able to think from the position of the other while searching for sense it is up to him or her to act accordingly and to start acting at once.

Summary 1:

Summary 2:

Summary 3:

How does paideia work?

Summary 4:

Summary 5:

bluered.gif (1041 bytes)


Back to the

20th World Congress
    of Philosophy Logo

Paideia logo design by Janet L. Olson.
All Rights Reserved


Back to
    the WCP Homepage