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Philosophy of Education

Paideia and the "Matter of Mind"

Shelby L. Sheppard
Western Washington University

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ABSTRACT: Paideiarefers to a particular sort of education which has historically been concerned with learning for the sake of learning, i.e., for the development of mind. As such, paideia is distinguished from specialized learning, training and learning for extrinsic purposes. Paideia is embodied in the traditional notion of Liberal Education which holds that such an education is the development of mind through the achievement of worthwhile knowledge and understanding. A contemporary trend in the literature of philosophy of mind and epistemology is a concern with cognitive functions of the human mind and the role of these functions in the acquisition of knowledge. The functional conception of the mind emphasizes learning (cognitive development) through cognitive training to monitor and control one's own mental processes. The uncritical incorporation of cognitive theories of mind and knowledge acquisition into current educational theory and practice suggests that paideia can be combined with, if not enhanced by, cognitive training. This paper takes the position that such an assumption is misguided and that the 'matter' of mind is an issue which requires clarification for advocates of paideia. The paper contrasts the cognitive approach to a 'conventionalist' conception of mind which, arguably, is the concept of mind assumed by advocates of paideia.

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Paideia refers to a particular sort of education which historically has been concerned with learning for the sake of learning, i.e., for the development of mind. As such, paideia is distinguished from specialized learning, training, and learning for extrinsic purposes. Paideia is embodied in the traditional notion of Liberal Education which holds that such an education is the development of mind through the achievement of worthwhile knowledge and understanding.

No modern philosopher of mind or epistemologist explicitly denies that there is a relationship between knowledge, mind and education. Nevertheless, a contemporary "trend" in the literature of epistemology and philosophy of mind is a concern with the cognitive functions of the human mind, e.g., the conception of mind as an information-processing system, and with the function of these information-bearing processes in the acquisition of knowledge. (1) The emphasis in this literature is on either: i) theories of knowledge acquisition which do not refer to the development of mind through education or conversely; ii) theories of mind which ignore the consequences of such conceptions for the achievement of worthwhile knowledge. Both sorts of theories are supported by current research in cognitive science and psychology. (2)

The uncritical incorporation of such "theories" of mind and knowledge acquisition in contemporary educational theory and practice suggests that the concept of paideia can be combined with (if not enhanced) by cognitive research on learning and cognitive training to proficiently monitor and control one's own mental processes. This paper takes the position that such an assumption is misguided and that the "matter of mind" is an issue which requires clarification for advocates of paideia.

A Conventionalist Conception of Mind

In contrast to the current "cognitive trend" in epistemology and philosophy of mind, several philosophers of education follow the ideas of Wittgenstein, Ryle and Austin regarding conceptual analysis or mapping the logical "geography" of concepts. These philosophers are interested in the linguistic conventions of the concept of knowledge and the implications of the conventions for the development of mind in an educational context. Their ideas among others, constitute what might be called a "conventionalist approach" to the development of mind. (3)

The conventionalist approach provides a sharp contrast to the cognitive approach in that it is a normative approach, i.e., it is an argument for what ought to be the case in the development of mind, rather than what is the case according to the cognitive research. Further, the conventionalist approach is based on the logical criteria of the relevant concepts rather than on empirical evidence and mental models. Finally, in contrast to the dearth of references to education in much of the cognitive literature on development of mind, the conventionalist approach holds that education, i.e., paideia, is the development of mind.

Mind: A Term of Reference

On the conventionalist view, to discuss human minds is to discuss complex interrelationships which cannot be captured by a simple "picture" of a concrete object such as a well, a slate, a machine, etc. For example, Oakeshott argues that:

Mind is made of perceptions, recognitions, thoughts of all kinds; of emotions, sentiments, affections, deliberations and purposes, and of actions which are responses to what is understood to be going on. It is the author not only of the intelligible world in which a human being lives but also of his self-conscious relationship to that world, a self-consciousness which may rise to the condition of self-understanding. (4)

In contrast to the cognitivist view that the mind is a "thing" such that it has functions, processes and mechanisms, conventionalists hold that `mind' is a term used in our ordinary language to refer to the beliefs, desires, fears, intentions, goals, etc., which characterize human thought. In other words, `mind' is simply the expression of an abstract concept, similar to `truth', `beauty' and `justice'.

The concept of mind central to the conventionalist approach (CM) is similar in some respects to the "intentional" view of mind held by some philosophers of mind. (5) CM is also related in several ways to what has been called the "common sense" view of mind. For example, a common sense view of mind might be taken as (to use Ryle's analogy) a map of the "logical geography" of mind.

Whereas the cognitive view emphasizes the importance of scientific confirmation for theories of mind, conventionalists such as Hacker, Wittgenstein and Ryle argue that a common sense view of mind is not a "theory of mind" in the scientific sense. Rather, it is an account of mind that uses the grammar of our language to note the important criteria or features of mind and the distinctions that we make when we talk about mind. (6)

Baker argues that common sense is "embodied in natural language," it is the "sea in which we all swim - scientists and nonscientist alike." (7) According to Baker, modern inquiries into the nature of mind often assume that "science is the measure of all things," that practical knowledge is of no value unless it is reducible to scientific theory, i.e., the "received" view. Proponents of the received view grant a common sense understanding of mentality which is useful for practical purposes, however, they grant it a probationary status which is subject to scientific verification.

Baker's aim is to expose the poverty of the "received" view. By contrast, Baker wants to show that, "the commonsense understanding of mentality, which is characterized by beliefs, desires, and intentions, requires no special validation by the sciences." She argues that beliefs, desires etc. are "attitudes" which we attribute to others. They are expressed in propositions, thus they are referred to as "propositional attitudes." Baker claims that common sense is inseparable from the larger "linguistic community." She points out that when we speak of a "commonsense conception" the relevant community is "a whole linguistic community."

Baker holds that science is not the only form of knowledge. She claims that law, literature, art and music are "leading sources of insight into human reality." Baker comments that it is "embarrassingly obvious" to mention that commonsense psychology is, and has been throughout history, accessible to many writers and thinkers without the "specialized training" of science. For example, she notes that common sense has been well explored and expanded by Confucius, Augustine, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, T.S. Eliot, and "countless others." Baker argues that:

One endorsing the exclusivity of science must hold either that these writers did not contribute to what we know, or that they were "really" doing science. Since neither alternative has a shred of plausibility, the premise that truth belongs to science alone seems false. (8)

Notwithstanding Baker's convincing arguments for the "common sense" concept of mind, it is important for clarity to distinguish CM from ordinary "common sense," i.e., the employment of previously successful habits to a particular task. Although CM may include ordinary common sense, it differs in several ways. First CM is a conception of mind, i.e., beliefs, desires, fears etc., whereas the phrase `common sense' is used to refer to a way of doing things, i.e., a practical ability. CM is concerned with intellectual concepts which distinguish for example, cognitive perception from sensory perception; whereas `common sense' may be used to refer only to sensory perception. CM can be seen as what Baker calls a "conception of reality" that is learned through acquiring a language, whereas "common sense" may be acquired by simply mimicking or copying a common practice.

Mind, Knowledge and Understanding

In contrast to the emphasis on the functions of the mind, i.e., mental processes and mechanisms found in the cognitive accounts, the development of mind on the conventionalist approach follows from serious consideration of what we mean by mind in the first place. From the many complex arguments that contribute to the conventionalist approach, some important features are commonly used to mark the development of mind. These include; i) references to human capacities and dispositions; ii) the achievement of worthwhile knowledge, and; iii) the development of reason.

Ryle argues that to talk of a person's mind is to talk of the person's "abilities," "liabilities" and "inclinations" to do certain sorts of things. In other words, this is to talk about dispositions to "undergo certain sorts of things" and about "the doing and understanding of these things in the ordinary world." (9) Following Ryle, Kenny points out that mind is related in important ways to particular complex human capacities:

The mind can be defined as the capacity for behaviour of the complicated and symbolic kinds which constitute the linguistic, social, moral, economic, scientific, cultural and other characteristic activities of human beings in society. . . In its primary sense the human mind is the capacity to acquire intellectual abilities. It is a capacity, not an activity; babies have minds even though they do not yet exhibit intellectual activities. (10)

To hold that the development of mind is in large part the development of these capacities is to hold that mental development is based on a complex interrelationship. The individual capacities cannot be looked at in isolation. Language provides the ability to conceptualize and organize beliefs into concepts. The concepts are then used to discriminate between naive and sophisticated beliefs and other concepts. None of this is possible beyond a basic or naive level without the acquisition of worthwhile knowledge.

Knowledge changes naive beliefs, i.e., "doxa" or opinions, to sophisticated beliefs, i.e., "episteme." Sophisticated beliefs yield sophisticated goal-directed plans or intentions. The success of more sophisticated plans in turn, transform our beliefs and concepts. Knowledge provides the means to both acquire new concepts and to use "old" concepts in new and more sophisticated ways. The development and utilization of concepts has a "symbiotic" relationship with meaningfulness. Hirst points out that:

It is because the concepts are used in a particular way that any proposition is meaningful. The concepts on which our knowledge is built form distinctive networks of relationships. If we transgress the rules of the relationships which the concepts meaningfully permit, we necessarily produce nonsense.(11)

Looked at in a different way, cognitive development can be described as the development of human discriminatory abilities. Our basic "animal" ability to make sensory discriminations leads to the formation of beliefs which, with language, can be expressed in propositional form. Groups of interrelated beliefs form concepts which are used to make further discriminations, e.g., to put beliefs into a variety of categories and to change both the beliefs and the categories in which they fit. The acquisition of knowledge provides new concepts and beliefs with which we are able to make further discriminations. Ultimately, education provides the understanding that is necessary to discriminate between different categories of knowledge.

In addition to these abilities, knowledge provides the cognitive ability to apply standards of correctness to beliefs, concepts and categories. This is in part, what is meant by the ability to reason. Hirst notes that reasoning is not a matter of "a sequence of mental occurrences," rather it is related to developing the natural human capacity for rationality. He claims:

To say one has reasoned something out is . . . to say that one has achieved in the end a relationship between propositions which satisfies the public criteria necessary for giving reasons. The development of rationality is therefore, not dependent on the exercising of particular mental processes, but it is dependent on one's coming to recognize that there are tests of validity for one's arguments and tests of truth for one's beliefs. (12)

Reasoning ability is arguably the central feature of what is called human "intentionality." Reasoning is the means by which intentionality becomes more sophisticated, a way in which mind is developed. For example, plans, i.e., goal-oriented behaviour, become more complex as beliefs become more sophisticated. With knowledge, our desires become more distinct and directed toward more specific ends. However, the satisfaction of desires becomes more complex as social norms and sanctions are realized. Our ability to reason is the way in which we can devise goal-directed plans that establish a balance between the satisfaction of desires and normative social behaviour.

The cognitivist view is not explicitly concerned with the role of education in the development of mind. In contrast, conventionalists argue that to foster the relationship between the acquisition of knowledge, the development of sophisticated concepts, and the development of mind is a primary function of education. Hirst argues that, "to be without any knowledge at all is to be without mind in any significant sense." He claims that, "the acquisition of knowledge is itself a development of mind and new knowledge means a new development of mind in some sense." On Hirst's view:

Knowledge is not a free-floating possession. It is characteristic of minds themselves. Thus, to fail to acquire knowledge of a certain fundamental kind, is to fail to achieve rational mind in that significant respect. Not all knowledge is of equal importance in the development of rationality of course, yet the fundamental relationship between knowledge and the development of mind is of central educational significance. (13)

Hence, education must be concerned with what knowledge is both available and worthwhile and how it is obtained. Hirst asks, "what then is involved in the acquisition of knowledge"? He observes that it involves:

Learning many different concepts, using these in a growing awareness of facts, truths, and forms of many kinds, mastering many logical operations and principles, applying the criteria of different types of judgement and so on. (14)

Hirst concludes that these achievements are in fact, "neither more or less than the very achievement of mind itself."

In contrast to the cognitive emphasis on generalizable information-bearing processes, the conventionalist holds that knowledge is more than simply what constitutes various human "experiences." Rather, knowledge is the means by which we can interpret human experience through the ability to make discriminations provided by the development of our linguistic, rational and social capacities. Hirst notes that what the development of understanding involves is "a progressive differentiation of our experience through the acquisition of new concepts under which it is intelligible." On Hirst's view, we achieve understanding through the use of "categorial and conceptual apparatus" and that having such an apparatus of concepts is "a necessary part of what it means to have a mind." Thus, Hirst concludes:

The development of mind involves the achievement of an array of concepts and on this all intelligibility depends. The provision of experience in itself is quite inadequate for developing even the simplest body of concepts, and without these nothing more complex can possibly be achieved. (15)

Paideia and the "Matter of Mind"

Despite the many references to the development of mind, in particular those found in the work of Hirst and Oakeshott, the traditional view of liberal education is generally taken to be an account of the relationship between knowledge and education rather than an account of the relationship between mind, knowledge and education. Therefore it is important, in light of the influence of cognitive views on contemporary educational discourse, to distinguish the liberal conception of mind from theories of mind such as information-processing.

There are good reasons to assume that liberal education presupposes the conventionalist conception of mind as it is construed in this paper. First, both views are concerned with the logical criteria for the development of mind. Second, both views hold that the acquisition of worthwhile knowledge is central to cognitive development and that the knowledge so acquired is in large part a matter of linguistic conventions, that is, the ways in which the logical nature of language itself shapes our understanding of human experience.

Finally, both views hold that; i) mind is not that which is described by psychological or scientific theories of mind; ii) mind is not a mysterious inner essence with mysterious qualities, and; iii) human cognitive development is not achieved by some sort of metaphorical "control" of internal mental processes. Rather, the significance of the acquisition of knowledge to the development of mind can in fact "be based directly on an explication of the concepts of `mind' and `knowledge' and their relationships."

The conventionalist conception of mind is concerned with those linguistic conventions by which beliefs are transformed into knowledge and with the logical relationships between meaning, truth and reality. On the conventionalist view, the transformation of beliefs into knowledge and understanding is brought about by learning in the "paideian" sense. It is often described by Oakeshott and other liberal educators as an "educational engagement." The term `engagement' is used by liberal educators to refer to that qualitative aspect of learning that emphasizes an individual's effort and commitment to learn to understand solely for the sake of learning. Oakeshott says that it is a self-imposed inquiry "to find out what is going on." He reminds us that:

Education is not learning to do this or that more proficiently; it is acquiring in some measure an understanding of a human condition in which the 'fact of life' is continuously illuminated by a 'quality of life' . . . what I have been describing is what the ancient Athenians understood as paideia. (16)

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(1) See for example, Ned Block (1990) "The Computer Model of Mind" in: D.N. Osherson and E.E Smith (eds) Thinking: an Invitation to Cognitive Science (MA: MIT); Jerry Fodor (1994) "Mind and Brain" in Warner & Szubka (eds) The Mind-Body Problem (Oxford: Blackwell Ltd); Philip Kitcher (1987) "Apriori and Necessity" in Paul Moser (ed) A Priori Knowledge (Oxford University Press); Alvin Goldman (1993) "A Causal Theory of Knowing" in Pojman (ed) The Theory of Knowledge (California: Wadsworth Inc).

(2) See for example, Brown, A. L., Bransford, J., Ferrara R. & Campione, J.C.. (1983) Learning, Remembering and Understanding in: P. H. Mussen (Ed.) Handbook of Child Psychology Vol.3.(NY: Wiley); Flavell, J., Miller, P.& Miller, S.(eds) (1993) Cognitive Development (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall); Newell, A., Rosenbloom, P. & Laird, P. (1993) Symbolic Architectures for Cognition in Foundations of cognitive Science Posner, M. (ed) (Cambridge: MIT Press); VanLehn, K. (1993) Problem Solving and Cognitive Skill Acquisition in Foundations of Cognitive Science Posner, M. (ed) (Cambridge: MIT Press).

(3) The "conventionalist approach" is a label for a composite of views which have been amalgamated for the purposes of this paper. To my knowledge there is no such designation found in the literature. The work used to support this view does not imply that the authors (Ryle, Wittgenstein, Kenny, Hirst, Oakeshott) would agree with this designation. What all the views have in common is their interest in the relationship between linguistic conventions, the criteria or conditions for knowledge, and the development of mind through knowledge and understanding.

(4) Michael Oakeshott (1989) "A Place of Learning" 19 in The Voice of Liberal Learning Fuller (ed) (London:Yale University Press)

(5) Although "intentionality" is related to human beliefs, desires, fears, goals, etc., the notion is controversial and subject to various interpretations. See for example, Searle (1995) The Construction of Social Reality (NY: The Free Press); Baker (Explaining Attitudes); Armstrong (1995) "The Causal Theory of the Mind," in Lyons (ed) Modern Philosophy of Mind (J.M.Dent, London)

(6) See for example, Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Blackwell Ltd.); Hacker, P.M.S. (1990) Wittgenstein: Meaning and Mind (Part I) (Oxford:Blackwell Publishers); Ryle, G. (1949) The Concept of Mind (University of Chicago Press).

(7) Lynne Rudder Baker (1995) Explaining Attitudes 223 (Cambridge University Press)

(8) Ibid., 89

(9) Gilbert Ryle (1949) The Concept of Mind 199 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)

(10) Anthony Kenny (1989) the Metaphysics of Mind 21 (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

(11) Paul Hirst (1969) "The Logic of the Curriculum" in Journal of Curriculum Studies, 151

(12) Ibid., 150

(13) Ibid.

(14) Ibid., 148

(15) Ibid., 149

(16) Michael Oakeshott (1989) "The Engagement and Its Frustration" 71 in The Voice of Liberal Learning Fuller (ed) (London:Yale University Press)

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