The educational theories (pedagogy, educology) can be made the object of
descriptive, critical, and normative investigations. There is also an epistemological theory
of educational theories or, for short, a meta-theory of education.3 According to whether
one calls educational theories ‘pedagogy’ or ‘educology’ , one can also call the metatheory
of education ‘meta-pedagogy’ or ‘meta-educology’. It centers on analytical-critical
(or epistemological) philosophy of pedagogical (or educological) knowledge.
In this chapter, 1 would like to report on the most important contributions to the
meta-theory of education made by some of the leading European educational theorists
who have adopted the empirical-analytical approach to educational theory. I begin with
the concept of education (1), briefly sketch the traditional, practical theories of education
(2), as well as the criticism which has been made of them, stemming from the ideal of the
empirical sciences (3), and treat then the meta-theoretical views which Willmann,
Durkheim, and Lochner have expressed on the differentiation of educational theories (4).
I conclude by making my own suggestion which is derived in part from the works of
these authors (5) and report on the present state of the discussion (6).
THE CONCEPT OF EDUCATION
Among the many actions which human beings take are those which are called
‘educating’. They appear in all societies that are known to us. The concept of education
refers to actions by which human beings try to improve permanently the structure of the
mental dispositions of other human beings in some respect, or to preserve those
components judged valuable or to prevent the development of dispositions regarded as
bad.4 Included among those actions are those called ‘teaching’ or ‘instructing’. The
concept of education however is broader than the concept of instruction. It includes not
only the educational actions of the teacher and other professional educators, but also
those of fathers, mothers, and other persons who only occasionally educate. The
institutionalized education, which is performed by teachers in schools, is only a small
part of all the educational actions which occur in the world.
Educational action is always a means to an end. It takes place for a purpose. It only
comes about because the acting person believes that his action is an appropriate means
for achieving what he wants: the formation, the preservation or strengthening of the
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
in the educand which have been established as the educational goal. For this reason,
thought is a prerequisite of education.
Whoever educates depends on knowledge. He needs: (1) knowledge of the goals
(such as virtues, knowledge, belief systems, and abilities in the educand) which he wants
to achieve; (2) knowledge of the personality, living conditions, and the situation of the
educand; (3) knowledge of the available means which appear to be appropriate, under the
given conditions, for the achievement of the established goals.
This knowledge stems primarily from the traditions of the society to which the
educator and his educands belong. It contains normative convictions about the duties of
the human being and the meaning of his life as well as empirical hypotheses about his
nature, his particular conditions and about possibilities of influencing him. This mixture
of normative convictions and the results of one’s own experiences as well as those of
others, interpretations of situations, and educational-technological suppositions is the
oldest form of a theory of education.
PRACTICAL THEORIES OF EDUCATION
The first educational theories were devised in order to guide the educator in his
educational actions. They contain recommendations, rules, instructions or norms for
educational action. They are instructions for the art of education. They are practical
theories, not scientific theories.
The difference between practical theory and scientific theory has been in use over
since Aristotle. According to him the theoretical sciences are those which are desirable
for themselves and for the sake of knowledge,” and the causes of phenomena are to be
examined. In contrast, the purpose of a practical theory is to provide guidance for action,
for praxis. In a scientific theory one attempts to describe and explain what is and what
has been. In a practical theory one tries to express what should be, what should be done
and what not. It contains value judgments and norms as essential elements. According to
Hirst, “scientific theory and educational theory are as different logically as judgments of
what is the case are different from judgments of what ought to be the case.”
The practical theories of education have been devised above all for the education
of the educators. Most of them apply to teachers, private tutors, and catechists, but also to
parents . They are attempts to summarize the knowledge that educators need in order to
educate in the given social-cultural conditions. Depending on the given educational goals
and the personality traits of the educands, practical theories of education which can he
called specific, have been developed: For example, one kind of theory has been created
for the education of princes, another for the education of Catholic priests; one kind for the
education of future scholars, another for working class children; one for the education
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
girls, another for toys.
In addition to those specific educational theories, practical theories of education of
a general kind have been established in which one attempts to portray education and all
the factors which influence education in general. They involve the educational goals
which are supposed to be valid for all educands, as well as the personality and
development of educands in general, and the means which are available to the educators.
To describe this subject area, the term ‘general pedagogy’ has come into use.
Both kinds of practical theories of education, the specific and the general, have in
common a practical purpose. They offer a normative orientation about educational goals
and means. The norms which concern educational goals are taken from the religion, the
ethics, or the Weitanschauung of the given society. The norms which relate to the means
stem from psychological knowledge. Corresponding to its practical purpose, the language
in practical theories of education is used not only descriptively, but also prescriptively
and emotively. By means of practical theories of education one attempts not only to
inform, but also to inspire educators to educational actions which correspond to the ruling
belief systems and moral norms.
Since value judgments and moral norms it the greatest importance for the
normative orientation of both the educators and educands, pedagogy in 19th century
academic circles was primarily associated with practical philosophy or ethics. The
earliest academic form of pedagogy was a body of knowledge on the art of educating
joined to ethics. However, it was clear from the beginning that ethics could only offer
normative knowledge about educational goals (and moral aspects of the means), and that
empirical knowledge about the means was dependent on psychology. But since
psychology was also regarded then as a philosophical discipline, it is understandable that
pedagogy was considered as a branch of philosophy. As a practical theory of education it
remained a mixture of evaluative, normative, and empirical sentences which were taken
partly from ethics (and metaphysics), and partly from psychology and historiography.
CRITIQUE OF PEDAGOGY ACCORDING TO THE
IDEAL OF THE EMPIRICAL SCIENCES
As early as 1806 Herbart recognized that pedagogy, as a practical theory of
education, was not a science in the strict sense of the word. In contrast to the traditional
pedagogy, he developed the ideal of a scientific theory of education and called it
[it is] purely theoretical; and since it explains education simply as a fact . . .
it makes every bad action and its effect just as understandable as the good.
Since it actually ignores the difference between right and wrong everyone
can use it
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
Psychological pedagogy is accordingly not at all reformative. It is simply
However Herbart could not create this scientific theory of education himself because in
his day the kind of psychology, on which it must be based, did not exist.
In the 19th century practical theories of education were regarded almost
universally as the only kind of educational theory that is possible. Even today there are
educational theorists who support that view. Since pedagogy gradually reached, within
the framework of teacher education, the rank of an academic discipline, one got used to
seeing it as a special kind of science: a “practical science.” Only a few educationists
have thoroughly thought about its epistemological foundations, its limits, and its uses.
Nevertheless, there has not been a lack of educational theorists who have
recognized, and publicly criticized, the scientific inadequacies of the practical pedagogy.
In 1882, the Austrian Otto Willmann designated “popular reasoning . . . as its main
element;’ it is “rich in advice and well-wishing,” but “poor in observations and facts.”
In 1888 the German Wilhelm Dilthey criticized its “noble popularity, which is the sign of
improper science.” It is characterized by an over-emphasis on educational goals in which
“the most beautiful flowers from the field of moral life, happiness, perfection, ethical
personality . . . are bound together in a friendly bouquet.”
In 1911 the Frenchman Emile Durkheim asserted that “pedagogy has too often
been only a form of utopian literature.”13 The Italian Maria Montessori stated in 1913
that there has “in reality . . . never . . . been a scientific pedagogy.” There is “something
very indefinite, hardly anything clearly intelligible which can be understood in it. One
could say that up to now it has only been the reflection of a science which must first
develop itself out of a chaos of results’ from the ‘positive and experimental sciences.”
In 1928 the German Aloys Pischer attacked German pedagogy for being “more a
collection of creative ideas than knowledge of facts;” and of “remaining in essence . . .
philosophy, more creed and claim than knowledge and proof.”
In 1966 the Englishman R.S. Peters characterized the state of educational theory as
“an undifferentiated mush.”16 In 1964 the American, Travers, wrote: “What is commonly
referred to as educational theory is much more appropriately described as folklore than as
science.”17 In his book entitled American Educational Theory, published in 1964, Charles
Brauner came to the following conclusions:
With but rare exceptions, the bulk of what is written about education fails
in substance, form, and vocabulary. It fails as scientific interpretation,
communication, and as guidance for instruction. In substance, what begins as if
it were inquiry into………………………………………………………………….
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
human behavior too often ends as a pronouncement on human nature. In form, the
attention given to speculation usually outweighs the effort given to observation or
to logical analysis. In vocabulary, technical terms imported from other fields soon
lose the precision which gave them distinctive meaning and become nothing more
than pretentious synonyms for common words . . . Thus we are confronted, in education,
with an illiterate literary discipline.
For about one hundred years pedagogy has been criticized by educational
theorists in many countries, but this criticism has had little effect. It is true that since the
beginning of the 20th century, also, scientific theories of education have been propagated,
in addition to the practical theories of education, and attempts have been made to realize
them. Herbart’s ideal of a “psychological pedagogy’ has been followed by Lay19 and
20 under the name “experimental pedagogy” and by Fischer21 and Lochner”22
under the name “descriptive pedagogy,” and it seems to be widely realized in modern
educational psychology. But the task of theoretical integration of the results of empirical
educational research into an “empirical science of education” is still far from being
solved. It is even debated whether this task can ever be achieved or whether the empirical
knowledge of educational phenomena for ever remain spread among several empirical
sciences.23 In the meantime pedagogy continues to live in the form of a practical theory
of education in the academic teacher education courses in all countries of the world. That
it has occasionally been called “scientific pedagogy” or “science of education” for
reasons of prestige does not change anything in its overwhelmingly practical character.
Criticism of this kind of pedagogy is possible from various points of view. One
can use as standards norms such as scientific method, proximity to reality, normative
content, usefulness for the educational practitioner, or simplicity and clearness. Most of
the critics who have been quoted here, have based their criticism on the ideal of the
empirical sciences. Pedagogy as ~ practical theory of education is without question far
from this ideal. The defenders of the practical theory of education object that the ideal of
the empirical sciences is not suited to pedagogy because pedagogy is not an empirical
science, but rather a practical discipline. It is frequently called a philosophical discipline.In any case, a normative system of sentences or a discipline with a normative-descriptive
character is meant.
In recent decades a vast amount has been written to justify or criticize pedagogy
as a practical theory of education. The meta-theoretical debate about the scientific
character of pedagogy has already cost the educational theorists too much energy which
could have been used more effectively for the solution of factual problems in their subject
area. On the other hand, one can not abandon the attempt to clarify the epistemological
foundations, since the decision for one or the other foundation is also a decision about the
purpose of an educational theory, ………………………………………………………….
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
the methods and thereby at least partly, and indirectly, about the contents.
For a long time the discussion about the scientific character of pedagogy saw no
progress because most participants believed that there can be and must be only one kind
of pedagogy. According to the traditionalists, this
one pedagogy should be and must
remain a practical theory of education. According to their empirically-oriented critics, it
should finally be re-made into a
scientific theory. Those who favor compromise argue
that it should be at the same time a scientific and practical theory. Since each group
tended to see its own view as insight into the essence of pedagogy, it fought against
deviations from its own interpretations as if they were heresy. Some philosophers of
education branded those educational theorists who favored an empirical science of
education as immoral ‘scientists.’ On the other hand, some educational scientists
ridiculed the supporters of practical theories of education as unscientific moralists. In so
far as these fruitless epistemological arguments are not purely battles for power, prestige,
and influence, the most important causes center on misunderstandings. One has
overlooked the simple fact that there are several possibilities to construct a theory of
education and that educational theories of various kinds do not necessarily exclude one
another, but rather can supplement each other.
Only within the framework of an analytical—epistemological philosophy of
educational theories (or a meta-theory of education) has it been possible to soften the
intensity of the debate among the supporters of the various concepts of pedagogy. The
first and most important step consisted of differentiating among the various classes of
systems of pedagogical sentences.
EARLY PROPOSITIONS FOR DISTINCTIONS
AMONG EDUCATIONAL THEORIES
Herbart (1776-1841) already recognized that the usual, practical pedagogy is not
the whole of pedagogy, but only the “first half.”24 However, he did not state in detail his
thoughts about the “second half,” that is, about psychological pedagogy’ as a scientific
theory of education.
As far as I can tell, Otto Willmann (1839-1920) was the first educational theorists
to differentiate clearly between scientific and practical theories of education; he did so in
a lecture given in 1876 at the German University in Prague.25 Both these forms of
pedagogy are based on the difference between the theoretical and practical view of the
process named ‘education’. Willmann brought this difference in relation to the difference
between laws and rules. The laws are statements about what is; rules proscribe what
should be done. The scientific pedagogy limits itself to statements about social and
cultural facts. It ‘doesn’t regulate, nor give instructions, but simply explains; it is
concerned with that which is; it explains education as facts from its societal
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
psychological side;’ it does not state “what ought to be done.’ It is an
analytical, inductive, explicative
In contrast to that, practical
pedagogy -- usually called by Willmann
“Erziehungslehre” (educational doctrine)26 -- is characterized as a system of norms for
action or precepts which, as a matter of principle, are not derivable from scientific
knowledge. The practical pedagogy is normative, ‘demanding” or ‘regulative. Its style is
“the imperative.” It ‘stipulates what should happen, of course under certain given
relationships, because that can not be determined in general and absolutely.” It “is not
universal, but rather peculiar to a specific area,” a ‘specific society,” and tied to a definite
historical situation. The validity of its sentences is limited by time and place.
Among the “educational doctrines” there exist great differences in content. They
can be pursued more or less comprehensively, more or less thoroughly. They range “from
the instruction that something is to be done in a particular way, to an idealistic proposal
for a better education.” They are tied to the existing ethos of a particular society at a
particular time. They depend on the Weltanschauuing of their originators and their
addressees. That does not however exclude the possibility that an educational doctrine
can apply in a “reformatory way to society, religion, and the state’ in order to set in
motion some improvements. Indeed Willmann recalls that the pedagogical reflection is
usually “called forth by the practical drive to improve the existing educational habits and
educational institutions, if not to replace them completely, and in that sense . . . is
directed towards the formation of the future.”
Although Willmann was convinced that “pedagogy can only be treated
scientifically asa part of the social sciences,” he considered practical pedagogy to be
justified, indeed indispensable. He had no intention of proposing its elimination and its
replacement by the science of education. He only opposed the confusion of practical
pedagogy with scientific pedagogy. Willmann, Durkheim, and Lochner only attacked the
claim that practical pedagogy was already the science of education, which did not yet
exist but was to be created by applying scientific methods to problems of education.
The second pioneer in this area was Emile Durlcheim (1858-1917). In an article
entitled “The Nature and Methods of Pedagogy” which appeared in 1911 he stated that
one can think about education with different intentions, namely scientific or practical. In
the former one tries to describe and explain what is or what has been. The result of those
attempts are scientific theories. In the latter one tries to determine what should be done.
Interest is centered on the future. One is concerned with the representation of
contemporary, practical actions, but rather with rules for future action. The results of this
thinking are referred to as “practical theories” (“theories pratiques”) by Durkheim. He
calls the scientific theory of education “science of education”
(‘la science de
, and the practical theories, “pedagogy,” (“Pédagogie”). “Pédagogie is
something other than the science of education.”
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
The “practical theories” have their place between “art” (in the sense of “the
exercise of an ability” or “praxis”) and science. They come into existence when “one
reflects on the processes of action which are thus employed, not to understand and
explain them, but to appreciate what they are worth; if they are what they should be, if it
is not useful to modify them, and in what way, and even more, to replace them
completely with new procedures)’ We are confronted there with a combination of
thoughts whose purpose is to orient actors. ‘Practical theories” are ‘programs of action.”
“Pedagogy” is seen by Durkheim as a “practical theory of this kind. ‘It does not study
systems of education scientifically, but it reflects on them in order to provide the activity
of the educator with ideas to guide it.” Its purpose is to direct the behavior of the educator.
In the “science of education,” on the other hand, educational phenomena are
investigated as “social facts. Its main problem, according to Durkheim, is the origin and
functioning of educational -systems. It tries to observe educational systems as elements
of social systems and to describe, compare, and discover typical manifestations which
correspond to the various kinds of societies. The description and classification of the
“types of education” should be followed by the causal-analytic examination:
we would have to explain them, that is to say, to seek out the conditions on
which the characteristic traits of each of them depended, and how they have
emerged from one another. One would thus obtain the laws which govern
the evolution of systems of education.
The science of education aims therefore at the description of contemporary or past
educational phenomena and at the discovery of their causes and effects. Durkheim knew
that a science of education of this kind scarcely existed in his day, but had to be created
first, according to his program, with psychological and sociological research methods.
For decades the meta-theoretical views of Willmann and Durkheim were paid very little
attention. In Willmann’s case the reason was that he had never published them, because
he himself had rejected them, as a consequence of the experience or religious conversion,
after a short period of critical, empirical-analytical creativity. He then adopted the view
that pedagogy is a mixed, normative-descriptive discipline. In the end, he considered
even “scientific pedagogy”2 9 to be identical with the “Christian pedagogy.” In
Durkheim’s case the very small effect of his views can presumably be attributed to the
fact that he dealt with our subject solely in a short, relatively unknown article in a
handbook, and was otherwise almost only distinguished as a sociologist.
Working independently of both these forerunners, the German educational theorist
Rudolf Lochner (1895-1978) published meta-theoretical considerations of the same kind
which are much more detailed. In his……………………………………………………...
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
main work, published in 1963, he combines a historiography of the epistemological
principles in German pedagogy from the 18th century to 1960 with a systematic
representation of the different structures of the “science of education’ and ‘educational
In 1934, Lochner published the first German text in which the
science of education
is consistently treated as an empirical science.
Its subject area is the educational events in the life of the individual and
society, its course of development, its results, and effects. [Its purpose) is
not to influence an educational action, but rather . . . to recognize existing
situations. In that sense it is directed only at what is.
Lochner tried to observe, describe, and classify those phenomena which one meets
in educational situations, the results of which he called the “phenomenology of
education.” However, in his systematic studies he did not surpass an interesting
categorization of our everyday knowledge of education. He never tried to gain knowledge
about the law-like relationships among the phenomena, which can be used for
explanation, for prediction, and for the solution of educational-technical problems. The
epistemological framework for this kind of investigation is however available in his
According to Lochner, the purpose of “educational doctrine” is action.
Educational doctrine is based on the sciences, among them the science of
education; its task is to state what ought to be, to present goalc and
recommend them, to judge methods, and to prescribe.
By ‘doctrine’ (“Lehre”), Lochner means in this context “an ordered summary of
advice, recommendations or norms, how a subject area . . … is to be organized, mastered,
and improved.” “Doctrine makes demands on the establishment of norms.” Its norms
prescribe actions, and the way they should be executed; but they also serve as a “standard
for the judgment and evaluation of actions, modes of behavior, and conditions.”
An educational doctrine portrays ‘how education should be done, how an educator
should behave, and what he should consider, when he strives to achieve educational
effects. Educational doctrine is concerned with goals and norms and . . their clear
formulation. Its tendency is not research, but rather assistance for practical action.’ It
“seeks to influence educational praxis, as it occurs in groups, that is, to give advice for its
Lochner was the first to present a thorough analysis of the epistemological
structure of the practical theories of education. He showed their non-scientific character
as well as the possibility and necessity……………………………………………………
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
of formulating them in close connection with science. However he neglected the
philosophy of education in his meta-theory. He especially underestimated the importance
of a normative philosophy of education. The reason for that is that up until recently
German pedagogy has been understood and pursued as normative-philosophical
pedagogy in the tradition of practical philosophy. Since Lochner had to battle during his
life against the prejudices of the supporters of this point of view, and for the recognition
of his program of an empirical science of education, he emphasized more strongly the
importance of the science of education rather than the indispensability of the philosophy
of education as its supplement.
In the last few years, doubt about the scientific character of pedagogy and its utility
in educational practice has intensified.
There is almost no other science in which unscientific chatter, one-sided
eagerness, and dogmatic narrowness is so widespread as it is in pedagogy.
This crisis of pedagogy37 can only be overcome when its epistemological fundamentals
are clarified. For this reason the illusion must be given up that everything which is called
‘pedagogy’ (‘educology’) is also scientific. One needs the courage to test pedagogical
systems of sentences on the basis of the methodological rules of science and to
differentiate between their purposes and their values.
Only when it is clear to which norms educational theories should correspond, can
one decide why existing educational theories are inappropriate and how better
educational theories can be construed. The quality of pedagogical theories depends to a
great extent on what kind of meta-theoretical (or epistemological) norms are recognized
by educational theorists and how these norms are followed. Their meta-theoretical views
influence the level of training of the educational professions and thereby the quality of
educational practice. This influence is exerted in the intermediary of educational theory,
as it is transmitted in pedagogical writings and lectures.
Thanks to the meta-pedagogical (or meta-educological) preparatory work
accomplished by Willmann, Durkheim, Lochner, and many others, it is nowadays no
longer very difficult to recognize the deficiencies of the traditional academic pedagogy.
They are rooted in the attempt to connect
in one and the same system of sentences the
normative tasks of a practical theory of education with the descriptive tasks of a
scientific theory. This has led to a blurred collective discipline which neither satisfies the
methodological demands of a science, nor is it as usable for the educator as one would
expect from a practical theory of education.
On the other hand, both tasks must be achieved. We need an empirical science of
education just as urgently as we need practical theories of……………………………….
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
education for the educator, practical theories are no substitute for scientific theories, but
likewise scientific theories can not fulfill those purposes which practical theories must
fulfill. Since it is a question of various kinds of theories, I have suggested that pedagogy
no longer be considered as an inadequate unitary discipline with the twofold normativeempirical
(or practical-scientific) task. I propose that its concerns be divided in three
classes of educational theory (or classes of pedagogical knowledge): the science of
education, the philosophy of education, and the praxiology of education.38 This division
into three classes is based on those three points of view which up to now have been held
towards the problems of education: the scientific, the philosophical, and the practical. I
want to describe briefly the tasks of these three types of educational theories.
A. SCIENCE OF EDUCATION
It is the task of the science of education to achieve scientific knowledge about the area of
action called education. First it is necessary to describe and classify, as exactly as
possible, contemporary and past educational phenomena as a sort of the social-cultural
situations or “fields.” Educational activities can, however, only be understood within the
framework of the end-means relationship. They are means in order to achieve ends.
Therefore it is not sufficient to examine only the means, separated from the ends. Instead,
the educational end-means relationship must be seen in its entirety as the central subject
of the science of education. Its main problem is to research the conditions for the achievement
of educational goals (or ends). It is not a science which only describes facts, but
rather a teological-causal-analytical science.
The attribute ”teological” means that one must begin with the goals (ends or purposes)
which are desired, and which one tries to realize through education. The attribute “causalanalytical”
means that causal relationships must be investigated in order to find
possibilities for intervention by educational actions. One looks for the conditions from
which it depends, that men acquire the kind of personality (a body of psychic
dispositions) which more or less corresponds to the established ideals. Then, one asks
whether and how these conditions can be produced. The educational scientists can not
limit themselves to a description of educational actions and institutions. They rather
should relate these actions and institutions to the given purposes and situation of the educands
in order to test whether they are actually the appropriate means, or whether they
perhaps produce entirely different effects from those which are desired. When means
prove to be inappropriate, one must look for the causes. Then other means should be
looked for which might be more appropriate under the given circumstances. The causes
of success and failure of education is the most important topic of the science of
These problems can only be solved when it is possible to discover laws to which the
individual phenomena in the psychic and social-cultural…………………………………
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
reality follow. In the ideal case a scientific theory of education is a system of such
hypothetical laws which are logically tied together and more or less confirmed. It is a
prerequisite for explanations, predictions, and the solution of technical problems.
In order to achieve this goal, the scientific method must be employed. Simply
expressed, it consists of asking questions on the basis of available knowledge about a
problem area and proposing temporary assumptions (hypotheses) as answers. These
hypotheses are then tested according to their correspondence with the facts and their
logical connection to the other hypotheses of the theory which have been relatively well
confirmed. With regard to methodology there is no significant difference between the
science of education and other empirical social-cultural or human sciences.
B. PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION
Since the word ‘philosophy’ has many meanings, the expression ‘philosophy of
education’ can also have various meanings. Depending on the problem which is being
treated, one can differentiate between epistemological philosophy (German:
analytischerkenntniskritische Philosophie) ,
metaphysical philosophy (or German:
weltanschauflche Phtlosophie), and normative philosophy. What is needed most of all asa supplement to the science of education is a normative philosophy of education that
answers to questions of values and norms which arise in educational planning and action.
Its task is to provide educators and politicians responsible for education with the
evaluative and normative orientation which can not be accomplished within the empirical
science of education.
In a narrow sense normative problems concern the question: “What should I do?”
In a broader sense they deal also with answers to the preceding and more comprehensive
question: “How should I evaluate?” The establishment of norms is only possible when at
first phenomena are assigned values, or non-values, and an order of precedence for goods
(or values) is established. Giving an evaluative meaning to life, by establishing a highest
purpose (ideal, value, or good), is also part of normative philosophy. In summary, then,
the problems are: giving a meaning to life and evaluating and prescribing norms under
the heading of normative problems.
In the normative philosophy of education first of all problems of evaluation are
discussed. They concern all elements of educational situations, especially of course the
ends and the means. One thinks, for example, of the problem of selection of teaching
subjects from our cultural heritage. Only when value judgments have been made, is the
prescription of norms by a ‘norm-giver” possible.
The problems of prescribing norms form the second part of this area. It is
important to differentiate between norms which express what should
be, and norms
which express what should or should not be done. The former……………………………
META-THEQRY OF EDUCATION
ideals, and the later, norms for action.
The tasks of a normative philosophy of education can most easily be classified
according to the end-means model. Following this distinction one can differentiate
between a normative philosophy of educational goals and a normative philosophy of themeans. In discussing the means, one must differentiate between the educators and their
educational actions, on the one hand, and material means on the other. The first group is
treated in the
normative ethics for educators. It is divided into the normative ethics of the
virtues of educators (the teaching of virtues) and the ethics of educational actions of the
educators (the teaching of duties). The second subject area, the evaluative theory of the
material means, includes the normative theory of teaching contents
and the normative philosophy of educational organizations. Thus the normative
philosophy of education is not limited to moral norms concerning education, but also
includes value judgments. Resides moral value judgments, also legal, aesthetic, religious,
economic, hygienic, and other values are to be taken into account.
C. PRAXIOLOGY OF EDUCATION
The praxiology of education does not have a scientific purpose, but a practical one.
It has been invented in order to supply educators with a knowledge related to praxis
which they need for rational, educational action. It refers in every case to a specific
social, cultural, institutional, and personal area of educational action. It is proposed from
an ideological (German weltanschaulichen) point-of-view, and is evaluative. Accordingly
it consists of normative and descriptive sentences. It ought to be free from scientific and
philosophical accessories which do not directly serve its purpose. In summary, one can
define it as a mixed normative-descriptive system of sentences which is to inform specific
groups of educators living in a specific social-cultural situation about their educational
duties as well as the means available for the execution of their duties. It is also meant to
inspire them to educational action according to the valid Weltanschauung and morality.
Practical pedagogy has four tasks: (1) it should offer educators an evaluative
interpretation of the social-cultural situation; (2) it should state the educational goals; (3)
it should provide practical view points, rules, recommendations of instructions for
educational action and the formation of educational institutions; and (4) it should rouse,
encourage, and support the value orientation and the dispositions necessary for morally
valuable educational action (or the professional virtues of the educator). The praxiology
of education has therefore a situation-interpretative, a teleological, a methodological or
technological, and an ethical element. Its contents depend on the cultural situation of a
society and the state of mind of its members. Even when it is designed with a critical and
reformatory intention, it must be related to the existing state of mind and the existing
From an epistemological view the praxiology of education can also……………..
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
be called ‘practical canonics’, that is, a system of instructions based on science and
ON THE PRESENT STATE OF THE DISCUSSION
Since 1967 these meta-theoretical proposals have been discussed a great deal in
central and eastern Europe. Objections come primarily from those educational theorists
who reject the difference between science and weltanschauung (or ideology).
Accordingly they also reject the ideal refraining from value judgments in the science of
education and believe instead that value judgments, the prescription of norms, and
partisanship in systems of scientific sentences are necessary and appropriate.
Supporters of various religious, philosophical. andpolitical beliefs agree that they
want a “complete pedagogical theory” (German: paedagogische Gesamttheorie) of theirideological orientation to be recognized as a “scientific’ theory of education.41 Besides
Catholic theorists of education, especially Marxists are opposed to my proposals for
differentiation.42 They favor the maintenance of a denominational, practical theory of
education as the only legitimate system of pedagogical sentences. They brand the
program of a purely empirical science of education as ‘‘positivistic.’’
My proposal for differentiation is also opposed by educational philosophers who
regard pedagogy as a normative or (practical) philosophical discipline. They believe that
an empirical science of education is superfluous because in their opinion psychology,
sociology, and biology are sufficient for the investigation of educational phenomena.
They regard empirical knowledge of education peripheral, in comparison with normativephilosophical
knowledge.44 On the other hand, educational philosophers, who take a
phenomenological-hermeneutic view, show more understanding and sympathy for the
ideal of an empirical science of education and for the necessity of demarcating it from the
philosophy of education and the praxiology of education.
Finally there are supporters of the program of the empirical science of education
who believe that the praxiology of education is superfluous because all problems can be
solved within the framework of the science of education.46 Among empirical educational
scientists, there is also much skepticism with regard to the usefulness of a normative
philosophy of education.
Discussions of this kind can be useful for the clarification of the existing
epistemological possibilities. It should not be forgotten, however, that meta-theoretical
considerations and decisions as such are not sufficient to produce better theories of
education. The analysis of the epistemological fundamentals has to be followed by
systematic theoretical work. In future days the results of this theoretical research will
show which of the epistemological programs, that rival today, has actually proved
META-THEORY OF EDUCATION
1. Prom the Greek paidagogike techne (Latin: are paedagogical), meaning the art ofeducation and the knowledge of the art of education.
2. Recommended by Elizabeth Steiner, “Toward Educational Theorizing Without Mistake,”
Studies in Philosophy and Education, Vol. 7 (1969), pp. 154-137.
3. See Wolfgang Brezinka, Mletatheorie der Erziehung, Munich: Ernst Reinhardt, 4th
Revised Edition, 1978.
4. Wolfgang Brezinka, Crundbe~riffederErziehungswissenschaft, Munich: Ernst Reinhardt,
3rd Edition, 1977, p. 95.
5. Aristotle, Metaphysics, A, I, 982, a.
6. Paul H. Hirst, “Educational Theory,’ in J.W. Tibble, Editor,
The Study of Education,
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966, p. 42.
7. See Johann Friedrich Herbart, “Allgemeine Paedagogik” (1806), in Paedagogische Schriften, edited by
Otto Willmann und Theodor Fritzsch, Leipzig: Zickfeldt, 3 Volumes, 3rd Edition,