Aristotle and Realism in Education
Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a philosopher who greatly influenced educational philosophical thought for centuries. His search for truth led him to research many areas including metaphysics, ethics, rhetoric, logic, natural science, psychology and language. His father was a court physician to the royal family in the Greek colony of Stagira in Macedon. When he was 17, Aristotle became a pupil of Plato in his Athens’ Academy, where he remained for 20 years. He left the Academy to tutor Alexander the Great, but eventually returned to Athens to found his own school called the Lyceum.
In 335 BC, an anti-Macedonia reaction swept through Athens after the death of Alexander and Aristotle fled to Chaleis (where his mother was born) after which he was indicted for impiety. He died a year later. His views on political and educational philosophy were mostly outlined in his works, Politics and Nicomachean Ethics. Other great works include Metaphysics, On Justice, On the Sciences, Political Theory and Art of Rhetoric.
According to Aristotle, the purpose of humans is to think; if they refuse to think through their free will, then humans “go against the design of the universe and the reason for their creations.” To Aristotle, when humans go against their purpose, “they suffer the consequences of erroneous ideas, poor health, and an unhappy life”. Only through knowledge can they really understand their true destiny.
Aristotle describes three types of knowledge: Theoretical knowledge, which is the highest form of knowledge in that its end in truth; practical knowledge, which guides us in our political and social affairs, advising us about moral and ethical action; and, productive knowledge, which shows us how to make things.
Historical Basis of Realism
Although some of the early pre-Christian thinkers dealt with the problems of the physical world (most notably the early Greek physicist- philosophers, Democritus and Leucippus) the first detailed realistic position is generally attributed to Aristotle. Reality, according to Aristotle was distinguishable into form and matter. Matter is the substance that all things have in common. For Aristotle these to substance were logically separable although always found together in the empirical world.
Aristotle’s philosophy were influential in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century. John Amos Comenius emphasizes the primary importance of the gathering of knowledge or sense data. Comenius felt that the human mind, like a mirror, reflected everything around it.
John Locke was a philosopher as Comenius was an educator. Locke’s greatest contribution both to philosophy and to philosophy of education was his doctrine that ideas are not innate but that all experience is the result of impressions made on the mind by external objects. The implication of this are spelled out in his concept of the tabula rasa or the mind as a blank sheet on which the outside world must leave its impressions. All ideas, according to Locke, must come from either sensation or reflection.
Aristotle’s Influence on American Realism
New Realists, particularly the American school, rejected this notion, giving mind no special status and viewing it as part of nature. For them things could pass in and out of knowledge and would in no way be altered by the process. Existence, they argued, is not dependent upon experience or perception, thus mind ceases to be the central pivot of the universe.
Herbart the new rationalist, argued that all subjects are related and that Knowledge of one helps strengthen knowledge of the others. The relationships between new ideas and old ideas occurred in what Herbart called the apperceptive mass. Within the mind, new apperceptions or presentations united with older apperceptions and struggled to rise from the unconscious level of mind to the conscious.
Philosophical Rationale of Realism
Realism is interested in objects and facts. In general, realists believe in the independent existence of the experiential universe. They have a healthy respect for the “facts” of both the sciences and the social sciences.
Let us look at the old question about the falling tree on the desert island for a moment. The question is usually as follows: “If a tree falls on a desert island and there is no one there to hear it, is there any sound?” How would the idealist and the realist differ in looking at and answering this particular question? If objects exist independent of any knowledge about them, it is obvious that we have an irreconcilable dispute between the realists and the idealists. Where an idealist would say that a tree in the middle of the desert exists only if it is in some mind, or if there is knowledge of it; the realist would hold that whether or not anyone or anything is thinking about the tree, it nonetheless exists. The realist has revolted against the doctrine that things that are in the experiential universe are dependent upon a knower for their existence.
Aristotle believed that human nature involves two aspects — the irrational and the rational. He explains that a person has no control over the irrational, as this concerns either fortune or luck. However, humans have control over that rational aspect of the soul, as the part that they control by reason is what is called moral virtue. Beauchamp, a follower of Aristotle, defines virtue as “dispositions developed through the careful nurturing of one’s capacities for living…to live well”. Moral virtues are considered “universally praiseworthy features of human character that have been fixed by habituation.”
Those who possess moral virtue use their ability to determine what is right and then choose deliberately because it is right says Frankena, another follower of Aristotle. Character develops from moral virtue, as people develop habits that become well-established over time. When people possess excellent character, they have settled into dispositions whereby they want to act appropriately and do so without internal friction. However, not all people possess excellent character. There are those who possess, instead, a strength of will. A strength of will occurs when a person wants to act improperly, but makes himself act properly, resulting in a good action. Weakness of will occurs when a person wants to act improperly, tries to make himself act properly, and fails. Badness of character occurs when a person wants to act improperly, who thinks it is an excellent idea to do so, and does so without internal friction.
Aristotle’s Impact on Education
Education provides a balance of the physical, the intellectual and character according to Aristotle. Children are taught useful things that are essential to their role in the state. By educating citizens in reading and writing, other subjects are opened up to them. Educating citizens in bodily culture makes the body strong and hardy, but also develops moral qualities of grace and courage. Children can also gain an appreciation of bodily beauty.
Teaching art and music has direct influence on character development. Aristotle explains his stance on developing character in his seminal work called Nicomachean Ethics. Ethics is considered to contain “a systematic account of the principles by which citizens’ conduct should be regulated. The polity is responsible for educating citizens to become good persons by formulating good habits. Conduct begins with the soul, which is divided into two parts, the intellectual virtues and the moral virtues. All virtues are means to an end, mainly happiness…an activity of the soul. Intellectual virtues result from teaching and moral virtues results from habit.
The Metaphysics of Realism
There is great variety in the metaphysical beliefs of realists. There is so much variety, in fact, that realists could never be grouped together if they did not have certain common ground. They believe that the universe is composed of matter in motion. It is the physical world in which we live that makes up reality. We can, on the basis of our experiences, recognize certain regularities in it about which we generalize and to which we grant the status of laws.
The vast cosmos rolls on despite man. It is ordered by natural laws which control the relationships himself with it or not. It is not unlike a giant machine in which man is both participant and spectator. This machine not only involves the physical universe, it operates in the moral, social and economic sphere as well. The realist sees the immutable laws governing man’s behavior as part of the machine; they are natural law.
The realist may be a monist, believing in one substance; a dualist, believing in two; or a pluralist, believing in many. Whichever he is, he believes that all substances have a real existential status independent of the observer. He sees the world as having an orderly nature and composition which exists independent of consciousness but which man may know.
On the Matter of Knowledge and Truth
Basically, there are two different schools of epistemological thought in the realist camp. While both schools admit the existence and externality of the “real” world, each views the problem of how we can know it in a different way. The realists have been deeply concerned with the problems of epistemology. Realists pride themselves on being “hard-nosed” and not being guilty of dealing with intellectual abstractions
The first position or presentational view of knowledge holds that we know the real object as it exists. This is the positions of the New Realists. When one perceives something, it is the same thing that exists in the “real” world. Thus, mind becomes the relationship between the subject and the object. In this school of thought there can be no major problems of truth since the correspondence theory is ideally applicable. This theory states that a thing is true is as it corresponds to the real world. Since knowledge is by definition correspondence, it must be true.
These real entities and relations can be known in part by the human mind as they are in themselves. Experience shows us that all cognition is intentional or relational in character. Every concept is of something; every judgment about something.
Realism in Education
From this very general philosophical position, the Realist would tend to view the Learner as a sense mechanism, the Teacher as a demonstrator, the Curriculum as the subject matter of the physical world (emphasizing mathematics, science, etc.), the Teaching Method as mastering facts and information, and the Social Policy of the school as transmitting the settled knowledge of Western civilization. The realist would favor a school dominated by subjects of the here-and-now world, such as math and science. Students would be taught factual information for mastery. The teacher would impart knowledge of this reality to students or display such reality for observation and study. Classrooms would be highly ordered and disciplined, like nature, and the students would be passive participants in the study of things. Changes in school would be perceived as a natural evolution toward a perfection of order.
For the realist, the world is as it is, and the job of schools would be to teach students about the world. Goodness, for the realist, would be found in the laws of nature and the order of the physical world. Truth would be the simple correspondences of observation. The Realist believes in a world of Things or Beings (metaphysics) and in truth as an Observable Fact. Furthermore, ethics is the law of nature or Natural Law and aesthetics is the reflection of Nature.
Goals of Education from the Realists Viewpoint
Realists do not believe in general and common aims of education. According to them aims are specific to each individual and his perspectives. And each one has different perspectives. The aim of education should be to teach truth rather than beauty, to understand the present practical life. The purpose of education, according to social realists, is to prepare the practical man of the world.
The science realists expressed that the education should be conducted on universal basis. Greater stress should be laid upon the observation of nature and the education of science.Neo-realists aim at developing all round development of the objects with the development of their organs.
The realist’s primary educational aim is to teach those things and values which will lead to the good life. But for the realist, the good life is equated with one which is in tune with the overarching order of natural law. Thus, the primary aim of education becomes to teach the child the natural and moral law, or at least as much of it as we know, so that his generation may lead the right kind life; one in tune with the laws to the universe. There are, of course, more specific aims which will lead to the goals already stated. For example, realists set the school aside as a special place for the accumulation and preservation of knowledge.
Ann Vitug, Philosophy of Realism in Education. https://www.slideshare.net/annvitug/philosophy-of-realism-in-educationUK Essays, Impact of Aristotle on Education. https://www.ukessays.com/essays/philosophy/aristotle-education-plato.phphttp://www.vkmaheshwari.com/WP/?p=2144