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Pedagogy and Thinking Philosophically

17 October 2022

In late 2020, Dylan Adams and Gary Beauchamp, two colleagues and friends from Cardiff Metropolitan University, invited me to co-author a book with them that introduces undergraduate students studying education to the concept of pedagogy, with an emphasis on different pedagogical perspectives that adopt a more-than human approach to teaching and learning. These perspectives extend the aims of education beyond the immediate concerns of human experience and argue that education should be considered from a more integrated and holistic approach that focuses on the relationship(s) between humans, the other inhabitants of Earth, and Earth itself. These pedagogies are informed by a variety of philosophical perspectives including familiar discourses from ‘Western’ or ‘European’ philosophy, as well as contributions from Latin America, Asia and Indigenous ways of thinking about knowing, being and human behaviour.

Thinking Philosophically

The aim of the book was not only to introduce students to these ideas, but to also help them realise the connections between pedagogy and philosophy, or what we call ‘philosophical thinking’. We argue that these connections can help educators to…

  • Better evaluate and respond to pedagogical claims and the evidence upon which these claims are founded
  • better reflect on, analyse, and understand the specific conditions, circumstances and contexts of the teaching and learning experiences they share with their students
  • gain a better understanding of their assumptions about knowledge, being, human behaviour and values that inform their pedagogy
  • articulate and defend their pedagogical values and practices that they believe lead to ‘defensible decisions’ (Schwab 1969) in the classroom

This post focuses specifically on the first chapter of the book which introduces readers to the ‘basics’ of philosophy. In short, we assert that philosophy, or the love of wisdom, is an act of love for self and others. By thinking philosophically, we engage in careful, creative and systematic questioning of topics, issues, and concerns in a consistent and coherent manner. As a result of this critical thought and self-examination we hope to gain wisdom which, in turn (and to paraphrase Socrates), will enable us to ‘live a life worth living.’

As part of this discussion, we introduce readers to some of the branches of philosophy, with an emphasis on epistemology, ontology and ethics. The following is a brief summary of those concepts:

  • Epistemology is concerned with questions about knowledge – some epistemological questions might be: what is knowledge, what are its origins and limits, and how do humans gain it?
  • Ontology is concerned with questions about being – some ontological questions might include: what does it mean ‘to be,’ what kinds of beings are ‘human’ beings, and what does it mean ‘to be’ fully human?
  • Ethics is concerned with concepts of morality – some ethical questions might include: what is right and what is wrong, and how should moral humans behave (particularly in a world that doesn’t reward morality)?


Additionally, in this chapter we discuss pedagogy, its origins and different interpretations. Pedagogy originates from the Greek words pais (child) and agogus (guide or leader) combined into the term ‘Paidagögus’ or one who guides (or leads) a child. This person, although a slave, was often a loyal member of the family and although not formally responsible for the child’s education, a pedagogue was ‘able to offer his services in the moral education of youths from prosperous families’ (Yannicopoulos, 1985: 174).

Often, in discussions about teaching and learning, definitions of pedagogy are reduced to the ‘science of teaching,’ or more commonly ‘instruction techniques’ used in the classroom. Both interpretations are relevant to discussions of pedagogy, but from the perspective of this book, we emphasise that the ‘act of teaching’ is not random (Žogla 2018:33). Rather, the instructional techniques and other decisions in the classroom are (or as we argue ‘should be’) based on purposeful considerations of and deliberations over teachers’ values, beliefs, relationships and other aspects of teaching that aren’t captured through an interpretation of pedagogy as ‘instruction.’

For us, the ‘science of teaching,’ is closer to a definition of pedagogy that we believe creates the potential for meaningful educational experiences, but a scientific perspective still requires one to consider the relationship between philosophy and pedagogy. Our position in this chapter is that thinking philosophically is the basis from which meaningful and transformative pedagogy is founded. For instance, how can a teacher make appropriate pedagogical decisions in the classroom if they don’t know what they believe about knowledge, its characteristics and how humans engage with it?

This might be a useful analogy: In my supervisions with research students I often discuss the differences between methodology (i.e. the philosophical justification for the methods one uses in research) and methods (i.e. the strategies and actions used to generate research evidence), and we believe a similar relationship exists between pedagogy and teaching. In other words, pedagogy is to teaching, what methodology is to research methods, or put another way, pedagogy is the philosophical justification of the decisions we make when teaching.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is knowledge, how do humans gain it and why do you think this is the case?
  2. What does it mean ‘to be’ human? What kinds of beings are ‘human beings?’
  3. How should a human being behave in a world that doesn’t necessarily reward ethical behaviour?
  4. What philosophies of education do you find most useful for your pedagogical practice and why?


Schwab, J.J. (1969) The Practical: A Language for Curriculum. The School Review, 78(1), pp. 1–23.

Yannicopoulos, A. (1985) The Pedagogue in Antiquity. British Journal of Educational Studies, 33(2), pp. 173–179.

Žogla, I. (2018) Science of Pedagogy: Theory of Educational Discipline and Practice. Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability, 20(2), pp. 31–44.

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