PULL UP YOUR SOCKS!!!!!
The following text was originally published in
PROSPECTS: the quarterly review of comparative education
(Paris, UNESCO: International Bureau of Education), vol. 23, no. 1/2, 1993, p. 39-51.
©UNESCO: International Bureau of Education, 1999
This document may be reproduced free of charge as long as acknowledgement is made of the source.
We are familiar with Aristotle the researcher, the founder of sciences, the logician and the
philosopher, 'the master of those who know'. But we know little of Aristotle the educator.
Historians have not been greatly interested in what he has to say about education. The opinion
expressed by H.I. Marrou in his Histoire de l'éducation dans l'Antiquité (History of Education
in Antiquity) is indicative: 'Aristotle's work on education does not seem to me to be as original
and creative as that of Plato or Isocrates.'
Yet Aristotle devoted as much time to teaching as to research. He is the prototype of the
'professor'. His teachings and lectures are the part of his work that has been handed down to us
over 2,300 years. A pedagogical concern and an educational dimension are present throughout
his writings. It is high time a study was made of Aristotle's approach to education as revealed in
his lectures. This would highlight his characteristic manner of posing a problem and then
discussing it by approaching it from different angles, probing it. We can discern here the didactic
method of the Socratic and Platonic dialogues. Unfortunately the dialogues that Aristotle wrote
to popularize the fruits of his research have all been lost. Such a study would also point out the
way in which he illustrated his lectures with examples, quotations, references and images. On
several occasions he declared that 'it is impossible to think without images'.2
Aristotle was an academic throughout his career. At the age of 18 he entered one of the
most renowned centres of learning of his day, Plato's Academy, where he became noted for the
passion with which he devoted himself to his studies, particularly to reading, a trait which won
him the nickname of 'reader'. He then built up the first great library which served as a model for
the libraries of Alexandria and Pergamon.3 He became a privatdocent in rhetoric and a rebellious
one too, openly and passionately criticizing the doctrines of Plato, his master and forerunner,
who reportedly said of him: 'Aristotle has kicked me just as a colt kicks it mother.'4 After
Plato's death, Aristotle left Athens for Assos in Asia Minor and three years later settled at
Mytilini on the island of Lesbos. There he engaged in many types of research, particularly in
biology. It is not known for certain whether he established schools or study circles at that period
of his life but it is quite probable. In 342, at the age of 41, he was invited by Philip of Macedon
to his court to become the tutor of the young Alexander.
Unfortunately, we know practically nothing about the relations between Aristotle the
educator and his pupil Alexander. Yet what an extraordinary event it was! Jacob Burckhardt
considered that it was through the education of Alexander that Aristotle exerted his greatest
influence on history.5 Peter Bamm has described the encounter in the following words:
Aristotle, that man who with his thoughts constructed a dwelling so vast that it accommodated Western science for
2,000 years, helped, through the ideas he inculcated in Alexander, to create the conditions necessary in order that the
West itself might come into being. If it had not been for Alexander we should hardly know the name Aristotle.
Without Aristotle, Alexander would never have become the Alexander we admire.6
Again, we know practically nothing for certain about the education that Alexander received from
Aristotle. It seems likely that Aristotle prepared for his pupil an annotated version of the Iliad
which was to accompany the conqueror to the limits of the known world. Aristotle may
conceivably have written for Alexander one book on monarchy and another on the colonies.
None of these works has survived to our times and, surprisingly, there is no mention of
Alexander in any of the works that have been preserved except, perhaps, for several very vague
allusions when Aristotle speaks of the king who is a perfect man. It is quite likely that Aristotle
introduced the young Alexander to the natural sciences. And it could well have been Aristotle
who aroused in Alexander that sense of curiosity, that passion for discovery and new experience
which took him as far as India and would most probably have led him to explore Africa had he
not died prematurely. Was it the education he received from Aristotle that made Alexander as
much an explorer as he was a conqueror?
In 334 Aristotle returned to Athens and established his own school, the Lyceum.7 This
was a type of university where research was pursued as an extension of higher education.
Courses for the enrolled students were held in the morning, while the school was probably open
in the afternoon to a wider public and thus performed the function of an open university. It
seems that Aristotle entrusted the running of the Lyceum to the various members of the teaching
staff in turn, each assuming this responsibility for ten days at a time.8 Can this be said to
foreshadow the democratization of education?
Scientific research, philosophical reflection and educational activity were intimately
linked in Aristotle's life and work. It is therefore not surprising that Aristotle, whose passion for
methodical analysis extended to whatever attracted his inquiring mind, also analysed the
problems posed by education. He refers to the subject in practically all his writings.
Unfortunately, the works in which he systematically developed his ideas on education have
survived in only fragmentary form. Of his book On Education there remains only the merest
fragment. The exposition of his education system to be found in the Politics terminates abruptly:
a good half of it must have been lost. Using these few pieces of mosaic we shall try to sketch an
outline of Aristotle's paideia.
The goal or purpose of education
For Aristotle the goal of education is identical with the goal of man. Obviously all forms of
education are explicitly or implicitly directed towards a human ideal. But Aristotle considers that
education is essential for the complete self-realization of man. The supreme good to which all
aspire is happiness. But for Aristotle the happy man is neither a noble savage, nor man in his
natural state, but the educated man. The happy man, the good man, is a virtuous man, but virtue
is acquired precisely through education. Ethics and education merge one into the other.
Aristotle's ethical works are teaching manuals on the art of living.
In the first book of The Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle asks in an unequivocal manner
'whether happiness is to be acquired by learning or by habituation or some other sort of training,
or comes in virtue of some divine providence or again by chance'.9 The reply is equally clear:
'virtuous activities [...] are what constitute happiness'.10 There are two categories of virtue:
intellectual and moral.11 'Intellectual virtue in the main owes both its birth and its growth to
teaching (for which reason it requires experience and time) while moral virtue comes about as a
result of habit.[…] None of the moral virtues arises in us by nature.'12 We shall return to the
distinction made here between 'teaching' and 'the result of habit' when we come to discuss
Aristotle's pedagogy. He concludes: 'It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits
of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the
difference.'13 The point could not be more tersely made.
Towards the end of The Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle returns to the question in almost
identical terms: 'The man who is to be good must be well trained and habituated.'14
In Book VII of the Politics, where Aristotle discusses the ideal state and, in particular,
education in that state, he returns to the question, 'How does a man become virtuous?' The
reply15 is similar to the one given in The Nichomachean Ethics. Three things make men good
and virtuous: nature, habit and rationality. Everyone must be born a man as distinct from the
brute beasts; and he must have certain qualities both of body and soul. But there are some
qualities with which it is useless to be born, because habit alters them: nature implants them in a
form which is susceptible of change, under the impulse of habit, towards good or bad. Brute
beasts live mostly under the guidance of nature, though some are to a small extent influenced by
habit as well. Man alone lives by reason, for he alone possesses rationality. In his case, therefore,
nature, habit and the rational principle must be brought into harmony with one another; for man
is often led by reason to act contrary to habit and nature, if reason persuades him that he ought to
do so. We have already determined what natures will be most pliable in the legislator's hand. All
else is the work of education; some things are learned by habit and others by instruction.
Hence certain attributes are necessary in order to achieve happiness, the full development
of the human being. One must be fortunate enough to possess from birth certain natural gifts,
both physical and moral (a healthy and beautiful body, a certain facility, intelligence and a
natural disposition towards virtue). But these are insufficient. It is only through education that
potential happiness can become truly accessible. Education is the touchstone of Aristotelian
ethics. The virtues, wisdom and happiness are acquired through education. The art of living is
something to be learned.
Aristotle's ethics are based on such concepts as happiness, the mean, leisure and
wisdom, which we also encounter in his theory of education.
Clearly in Aristotle's view all forms of education should aim at the mean.16 The eighth
and final book of the Politics (following the traditional order of the text) ends abruptly with a
reference to this principle. 'Clearly, then, there are three standards to which musical education
should conform. They are the mean, the possible, and the proper.'17 The concept of the mean
does not only apply to the ends of education, it is also an instrumentality, a pedagogical
imperative to which we shall return later.
The goal of human action is leisure;18 moreover, 'happiness is thought to depend on
leisure'.19 And one of the essential goals of education that should always be borne in mind is
precisely leisure20 or schole (which is the etymological root of the word 'school'). In the
Aristotelian philosophy of education a central position is occupied by education for leisure. This
is an essential part of the training for the 'business of being a man'. Tricot rightly emphasizes
that leisure is not to be confused with idling,21 with a kind of dolce farniente. It is the faculty of
being able and knowing how to use one's time freely. Freedom is one of the ultimate goals of
education, for happiness is impossible without freedom. Such freedom is achieved through
contemplation or the philosophical life, that is to say, in the activity of the mind relieved of all
material constraints. This is why it is particularly important that education should not have the
character of vocational training. For 'the meaner sort of artisan is a slave, not for all purposes but
for a definite servile task'.22 Furthermore, 'the good man, therefore, the statesman, and the good
citizen certainly should not learn the crafts of their inferiors, except occasionally and for their
own advantage'.23 The same remarks also apply to tradesmen. Aristotle illustrates this point of
view in his extremely detailed account of musical education in Book VIII of the Politics. He
says, for example, that 'neither the flute nor any other instrument requiring abnormal
skill[...]should be made part of the curriculum'.24 And he ends with the categorical statement
accordingly, we reject the professional instruments; and we reject also the professional mode of education (by
'professional' I mean such as is employed in musical contests) in which the performer practises his art not for the
sake of improving himself, but in order to provide his audience with entertainment-and vulgar entertainment at that.
For this reason we consider that the performance of such music is beneath the dignity of a freeman; it belongs rather
to hired instrumentalists, who are degraded thereby.25
Leisure, or schole, which should be the goal of education, is the freedom to apply oneself to
essential matters. It is this form of freedom that leads to wisdom: a life devoted to philosophy
and contemplation, that is true happiness. Through leisure, which is an indication of freedom,
education should lead to man's ultimate goal, an intellectual life rooted in the mind. That is the
true 'business of man' which it is the function of education to teach. And man can only learn it
But man is essentially a political animal, according to Aristotle's celebrated definition.
'A man who cannot live in society, or who has no need to do so because he is self-sufficient,
either a beast or a god; he is no part of a state.'26 Man can only achieve fulfilment in the
community of the polis. Only there can he find happiness. (It should always be borne in mind
that in his treatment of politics Aristotle is thinking exclusively of the polis, the city-state with
precisely defined limits.)
If our thesis is correct and all Aristotle's practical philosophy rests on his theory of
education, then we should find a genuinely political dimension as well as an ethical dimension in
his concept of the goal of education. This is indeed the case. Just as education leads the
individual to virtue, which is the essential source of happiness, so also it creates the conditions
necessary for the establishment and stability of the virtuous polis, that is to say, the polis that
ensures the happiness of its citizens. It is through education that a community is formed. 'The
state […] is a plurality; it should be formed into a social unit by means of education.'27
At the beginning of his Politics, Aristotle declares that 'the state is a creation of
nature'.28 But when he describes the ideal state, he emphasizes that 'a good state, however, is not
the work of fortune, but of knowledge and purpose'.29 And this is the sentence with which he
introduces his discussion of education in Books VII and VIII of Politics. But education does not
only create society, the community which constitutes the city, it also guarantees its stability:
The most powerful factor of all those I have mentioned as contributing to the stability of constitutions, but one which
is nowadays universally neglected, is the education of citizens in the spirit of the constitution under which they live.
You may have an unsurpassed legal system, ratified by the whole civic body; but it is of no avail unless the citizens
have been trained by force of habit and teaching in the spirit of the constitution.30
Thus education has a conservative role, as Aristotle rightly recognizes. Today's advocates of
social progress tend to criticize education for resisting change. But in Aristotle's view change is
not desirable in itself as any change may lead to 'corruption'. What he seeks is an achievable and
stable ideal. For each society and each form of government there exists a system of education.
There is a system of education that corresponds to democracy, another which is appropriate for
an oligarchy.31 It is for that reason that education is the primordial task of the legislator:
No one can doubt that it is the legislator's very special duty to regulate the education of youth, otherwise the
constitution of the state will suffer harm. The citizen should be trained in accordance with the particular form of
government under which he is to live; for each type of constitution has a distinctive character which originally
formed it and makes possible its continued existence...again some preliminary training and habituation are required
for the exercise of any faculty or art; and the same, therefore, obviously applies to the practice of virtue.32
There is one final feature which I wish to include in this sketch of the Aristotelian concept of the
goal of education. If leisure is to be the goal of education for the individual, education at state
level must be an education for peace. Just as leisure is the goal of occupation, so peace is the
goal of war.33
Again, life as a whole is capable of divisions: activity and leisure, war and peace. […] War must be looked upon
simply as a means to peace, action as a means to leisure, acts merely necessary or useful as a means to those which
are good in themselves. The statesman should bear all this in mind when he drafts his laws. […] It is with these ends
in view that children, and indeed adolescents at every stage of education, should be trained.34
The education system
In view of the essential role which education is required to play in the development of the
individual and of society, Aristotle devotes a great deal of space to the development of an
education system in his description of the ideal city. Unfortunately, only a fragment of this
description has survived. A good many questions therefore remain unanswered.
Aristotle believed that, contrary to the common practice of his day, education was a
responsibility of the state. What he works out is therefore a genuine education policy.
Like Plato, Aristotle devises a veritable system of continuing education. Education is not
limited to youth; it is a comprehensive process concerning the whole human person and lasting a
lifetime. This process is organized in periods of seven years (just as in Plato's system). The first
period is that of pre-school education. This is the responsibility of parents and more particularly
of the father, who is 'responsible for the existence of his children, which is thought the greatest
good, and for their nurture and upbringing'.35 Upbringing begins well before birth: `the legislator
must decide how best to mould the infant body to his will'.36 With this end in view, Aristotle
indicates the best age for father and mother and even the best period for conception, namely
winter. During pregnancy 'pregnant women also must take care of their bodies',37 they should
'take exercise and eat nourishing food [and] keep their minds as tranquil as possible'. The newborn
should have 'food with the highest milk content' and 'the less wine the better'. Children
must exercise their bodies and become accustomed to the cold from their earliest years. Up to
the age of 5 they should be trained through games, 'but they must not be vulgar or exhausting or
effeminate'.38 All indecent language and improper pictures should be banished completely as
children must be protected from all shameful sensations so that all morally blameworthy
phenomena are foreign to the spirit of young people. 'Between the ages of 5 and 7 they must be
spectators of the lessons they will afterwards learn.'39
At the age of 7, the children enter school. Schooling continues up to the age of 21. It is
divided into three periods of three years each. As only fragments of Aristotle's work have
reached us we cannot know in detail the features and structure of these three cycles of study. Nor
do we possess any specific knowledge about adult education. However, the texts tell us
explicitly that education is not completed at the age of 21:
But it is surely not enough that when they are young they should get the right nurture and attention: since they must,
even when they are grown up, practise and be habituated to them, we shall need laws for this as well, and generally
speaking to cover the whole of life.40
Aristotle's education system is thus clearly a system of continuing education. We should also
note that in Aristotle's view 'the body reaches maturity between the ages of 30 and 35; the soul
by the age of 49'.41 It seems probable that these thresholds also marked stages in the
comprehensive system of education devised by Aristotle.
When considering Aristotle's system of continuing education one must not forget that
his ideal city-like the Greek polis in general-is an educational city. Its citizens are required to
perform different functions in the course of their lives; they must obey, order and judge. They
participate in the service of the gods which is linked to initiation rites. They attend performances
of tragedies. These go to make up a set of elements that contribute to continuing education. As
we have seen, education was for Aristotle the affair of the state. Schools should be public. Here
Aristotle, like Plato, was far ahead of his time. For the education of children in the Greek polis
was a matter for the family. With the exception of physical education and military instruction, all
forms of tuition were private. The introduction of public education always indicates a certain
democratization of education. 'Education must be one and the same for all.'42 But up to what
age? Twenty-one? The texts do not tell us. But at no point does Aristotle mention selection,
though he repeatedly emphasizes that moral and intellectual gifts are unevenly distributed. It is
remarkable that Aristotle seems not to have prescribed any form of selection or competition in
his system of education in a Greece which set a high value on all forms of competition.
Nevertheless, this democratic form of education has its limits in that it is reserved for the
children of citizens. Although Aristotle does not say so explicitly, this seems obvious if we take
into account the whole of the Ethics and the Politics. There is no access for the children of
agriculturalists, artisans or retail traders. As for slaves, they are not considered as complete
human beings in any case. But it seems probable that Aristotle prescribed some sort of
vocational training for tradesmen as he quite frequently refers to the importance of a good
apprenticeship for the proper practice of a trade. And in certain conditions he even prescribes a
form of education for slaves: 'Since we observe that education shapes the character of young
persons, it is also essential, when one has acquired slaves, to provide education for those who are
destined for liberal occupations.'43 The question of education for girls remains an open one. In
Aristotle's view, women are certainly not the equals of men. By their very nature they are
destined to obey and are therefore not free. Their bodily and moral virtues are not the same as
those of men. However, 'individuals and the community should similarly endeavour to develop
each of these [physical and moral] qualities in boys and girls'.44 It thus seems that Aristotle also
envisaged public education for girls. Such education would be directed towards 'beauty and
greatness, chastity and a liking for work without greed'.45
We conclude, therefore, that education must be regulated by law, and that it must be controlled by the state. We must
now deal with the nature and methods of public education. At present there is some difference of opinion about the
subjects to be taught [...]neither is it clear whether education should be more concerned with intellectual or with
Aristotle thus poses the question of the content of education. Once again his answer has reached
us only in fragments. And it appears that the parts which have been lost are precisely those
which are the most original. In principle, young people should be instructed in 'such useful
acquirements as are really necessary. Occupations are divided into liberal and illiberal.'47 By
'useful acquirements' Aristotle means such subjects as grammar, arithmetic, drawing and
physical training, but certainly not manual work or anything that could lead to paid work, which
is described as menial. Furthermore, young people must be taught to fill their leisure time nobly.
there are branches of learning and education which must be studied simply with a view to leisure spent in cultivating
the mind. It is likewise clear that these studies are to be valued for their own sake, while those pursued for the sake of
an occupation must be looked upon as no more than necessary means to other ends.48
Aristotle recognizes at least four subjects for instruction: grammar, physical training, music and
drawing. In Politics he elaborates his ideas on physical training and above all on music. He
discusses drawing briefly but the section which should be devoted to grammar is completely
absent. Yet this section must have been particularly interesting in view of the role played by
language in Aristotle's thought. We may suppose that grammar included the history of literature
in addition to reading and writing (bearing in mind that Aristotle prepared a commentary on the
Iliad for the young Alexander and that his texts abound in literary references). Did his grammar
also contain the fundamentals of logic and mathematics? And what about the teaching of the
natural sciences and philosophy? We have no clear answers to any of these questions. All we
know for certain is that he was concerned with the teaching of the sciences, since he mentioned
it on several occasions. We shall come back to this point.
Aristotle is faithful to his principle of the mean in what he says about physical training.
This does not involve over-rigorous training or a brutal upbringing. Neither is it a matter of
paramilitary instruction. For Aristotle physical training is not simply a matter for the body: it
must help to form character, that is, courage and a sense of honour.
Clearly inspired by Plato, Aristotle deals at length with musical education. Even more
than physical training, music is a means of influencing moral character. For this reason it is
essential. Obviously one must be sure to concentrate on good music, for certain musical modes,
rhythms and melodies are harmful to character. Like Plato, Aristotle analyses the Greek
tonalities in this connection and expresses a preference for the Dorian mode, 'that is the most
solemn and sturdiest of modes'.49 It also stands midway between the other modes. Musical
education is also important as pupils learn thereby to judge the beautiful. And it has a general
educational value since it teaches them to listen. But music is the means par excellence of
education for leisure. 'Cultivation of the mind is universally acknowledged to contain an
element not only of nobility, but also of pleasure, because felicity is compounded of both. Now
all men agree that music [...] is one of the greatest pleasures.'50
Teachers are an essential part of any education system but one about which the
Aristotelian texts have nothing to say. It is particularly curious that when Aristotle lists the
various public functions of the ideal state he makes no reference to the teacher. Likewise, when
describing the general plan of the city, he has nothing to say about the location of the school.
Politics ends abruptly with a remark on education: 'Clearly, then, there are three standards to
which [musical] education should conform. They are the mean, the possible, and the proper
[...].' Like all his practical philosophy, Aristotle's theory of education is grounded in good sense.
Extremes and excess are above all to be avoided. The purpose of physical training should not be
to produce champions at all costs. And musical education should be more concerned with the
pleasure of listening to music than with virtuosity. The next point is that pupils should not be
asked to do more than their ability permits. Thus young men should not be given lessons on
political science as they have no experience in practical matters.51 In general, it is necessary to
take account of the intellectual level of pupils as 'argument [is] not powerful with all men'.52
Lastly, education should be limited to what is appropriate for the pupil, taking account of his
age, character, and so on.
In accordance with man's nature, which is composed of the body, the soul and reason,
education should proceed in stages. 'Care of the soul should be preceded by that of the body,
which must be followed immediately by training of the appetites. This training, however, should
be directed to the benefit of the mind, and care of the body to that of the soul.'53 Reason and
intellect only begin to develop in the child from a certain age. Education should therefore begin
with physical training, continue with music and conclude with philosophy.
Aristotle identifies two complementary educational categories: education through reason
and education through habit. For Aristotle 'education through habit' does not mean a sort of
training involving automatic repetition. What he understands by this expression is what we today
would call 'active learning'. Moreover, in the Nichomachean Ethics he emphasizes that 'for the
things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become
builders by building and lyre-players by playing the lyre'.54 This is also true of moral education:
'We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave
acts.'55 It is through habit or active learning that natural dispositions develop. But education
through habit is not limited to the learning of arts and techniques, and to the development of
moral attitudes, but also concerns scientific education. 'It is through the practice of science that
the possessor of science becomes learned in actuality.'56
For Aristotle, then, education is not something to which the pupil must passively submit.
On the contrary, it is action that counts. Here too the theory of education faithfully reflects the
main lines of Aristotelian philosophy as a whole. And this action is a source of pleasure for the
pupil. Aristotle is clearly enough of a realist to see that young people are to be governed not only
by pleasure but also by pain.57 There can be no doubt that Aristotle was a rather authoritarian
Education through habit is connected with three notions which should be mentioned:
imitation, experience and memory. Man likes to imitate; all the arts are based on an imitation of
nature. But imitation is also an essential source of lessons and education. 'Imitation is a
distinctive feature of man from his childhood: imitation separates him from the animals and it is
through imitation that he acquires his earliest knowledge.'58 But a good example is needed if
imitation is to serve the cause of moral education: 'Without a good example there can be no
good imitation and that is true in all areas.'59 Some virtues and types of knowledge can only be
acquired through experience. This applies to prudence, for example, but also to physics:
While young men become geometricians and mathematicians and wise in matters like these, it is thought that a
young man of practical wisdom cannot be found. The cause is that such wisdom is concerned not only with
universals but with particulars, which become familiar from experience, but a young man has no experience. [...] one
might ask this question too, why a boy may become a mathematician, but not a philosopher or a physicist. Is it
because the objects of mathematics exist by abstraction, while the first principles of these other subjects come from
experience, and because young men have no conviction about the latter, but merely use the proper language, while
the essence of mathematical objects is plain enough to them?60
The effect of habit is based on the phenomenon of memory to which Aristotle devotes a text
included in the Parva Naturalia.61 He underscores the imaginative nature of memory and the
importance of repeated acts of recollection.
Education through reason complements education through habit. It is education in the
proper sense of the term including, specifically, the teaching of the sciences. Its aim is to impart
an understanding of causes: 'To teach is to indicate the causes of all things.'62 Education through
reason is concerned with the universal, which surpasses experience. 'Men of experience know
that a thing is, but they do not know why it is, whereas men of learning know the reason and the
Language is the essential instrument of education: 'Language is the cause of the
education which we receive.'64 For that reason, hearing has an important role. 'The faculty of
learning belongs to the person who possesses the sense of hearing as well as memory.'65 One
recalls the role which Aristotle attributes to music in education. He draws a curious conclusion
from the link between hearing and education, observing that it is for that reason that 'blind
people are more intelligent than the deaf and dumb'.66 The place of the problem of language in
Aristotle's philosophical thinking is well known. To a large extent his philosophy amounts
simply to an analysis of the functions of language.
Education through reason is characterized by two methods: epagoge, or learning by
induction, and learning by demonstration: 'Indeed, we learn only through induction or by
demonstration. [...] Demonstration proceeds on the basis of universal principles and induction on
the basis of particular cases.'67 Epagoge is the path that leads from experience to knowledge.
Examples are particular experiences. Aristotle's 'epagogic' pedagogy is a form of teaching
which proceeds from examples to an understanding of causes, as in science, which is always a
knowledge of the universal. For Aristotle 'all teaching given or received by means of reasoning
derives from pre-existing knowledge'.68 But this pre-existing knowledge is quite different from
that discussed by Socrates. It is not the result of a prior vision of ideas. It is the perception of a
concrete fact or knowledge of the term that signifies that fact: 'The fore-knowledge required is
of two sorts: sometimes what has to be presupposed is that the thing actually exists; sometimes it
is the meaning of the term employed, which has to be understood; and sometimes both at
once.'69 Education thus consists in learning the meaning of words, that is, of language, and
advancing towards knowledge by studying examples.70
The theoretical sciences-mathematics, physics and theology-are chiefly taught by
demonstration, that is, not on the basis of examples but starting from universal principles. That
is the highest level of education through reason, which proceeds by means of syllogisms.
Thus, to a great extent, education through reason coincides with the scientific approach
or theoretical philosophy just as education through habit coincides with ethical action or
practical philosophy. But the goal remains the same: happiness, the convergence of virtue and
wisdom, the contemplative life of the philosopher or sage.
Although Aristotle's work has reached us in incomplete form and many important texts are
missing, his theory of education can be seen to occupy an important place in his philosophical
thinking as a whole. If the goal of man is one of his essential concerns, it is only through
education that man fulfils himself completely. Human beings possess specific natural aptitudes
but it is only through education that they learn the business of being human and become truly
human: 'It is precisely [nature's] deficiencies which art and education seek to make good.'71 It is
through education that culture is created.
Aristotle's theory of education has lost none of its relevance. His observations on
educational policy and its role in society, his concept of a system of continuing education and
education for peace and leisure, and his educational ideas have much in common with the
concerns of those responsible for education today.
The quotations from Politics are taken from the translation by John Warrington for Everyman's Library, London,
Dent & Sons, 1959; those from the Nichomachean Ethics are from the translation by Sir William D. Ross in `The
World Classics' series, London, Oxford University Press, 1954, reprinted in 1963.
1. Charles Hummel (Switzerland). Studied philosophy at the Universities of Basle (with Karl Jaspers), Rome
and Zurich. Permanent delegate of Switzerland to UNESCO (1970-1987). Member of the Executive board
of UNESCO. Member (and President) of the International Bureau of Education (IBE). Representative of
Switzerland to the Council for Cultural Cooperation (Strasbourg). Ambassador to Ireland (1987-1992).
Author of Nicholas de Cuse and Education Today for the World of Tomorrow and numerous articles on
philosophical and educational subjects.
2. For example, On the Soul, III, 7, 431 a 16; On Memory and Reminiscence, III 449 b 31.
3. W.D. Ross, Aristotle, London, Methuen, 1968, p. 7.
4. Diogène Laërce, Vie, doctrines et sentences des philosophes illustres, Paris, Flammarion, 1965, V, 1, 2.
5. J. Burckhardt, Griechische Kulturgeschichte, vol. IV, Berlin, 1898, p. 397.
6. P. Bamm, Alexander oder die Verwandlung der Welt, Gesammelte Werke, Geneva, Edito-Service, 1975,
7. This generally accepted fact is disputed by Ingemar Düring, Aristoteles (Heidelberg), Winter 1966, p. 13.
8. Ross, op. cit., p. 7.
9. Nichomachean Ethics, I, 10, 1099 b 11-12.
10. Ibid., I, 11, 1100 b 9-10.
11. Ibid., I, 13, 1103 a 4-5.
12. Ibid., II, 1, 1103 a 14-19.
13. Ibid., II, 1, 1103 b 23-25.
14. Ibid., X, 10, 1180 a 14-16.
15. Politics, II, 13, 1332 a 35.
16. For example, in Politics, VIII, 7, 1342 b 14-15: `and so long as we hold that extremes should be avoided in
favour of the mean and we declare that it is this mean that we should pursue [in education]'.
17. Politics, VIII, 7, 1342 b 32.
18. Ibid., VII, 14, 1333 a 30 sq.; VII, 15, 1333 b 15.
19. Nichomachean Ethics, X, 7, 1177 b 4.
20. Politics, VII, 14, 1333 b 3.
21. J. Tricot's translation of Politics, Paris, Vrin, p. 528, note 2; see also Düring, op. cit., pp. 481 sq.
22. Politics, I, 13, 1260 a 42.
23. Ibid., III, 4, 1277 b 3-6.
24. Ibid., VIII, 6, 1341 a 17.
25. Ibid., VIII, 6, 1341 b 8-14.
26. Ibid., I, 2, 1253 a 26-28.
27. Ibid., II, 5, 1263 b 36-37.
28. Ibid., I, 2, 1252 b 30.
29. Ibid., VII, 13, 1332 a 31.
30. Ibid., V, 9, 1310 a 12-17.
31. Ibid., V, 9, 1310 a 18.
32. Ibid., VIII, 1, 1337 a 10-20; see also Nichomachean Ethics, X, 10, 1180 a 34-35.
33. Ibid., VII, 15, 1334 a 15.
34. Ibid., VII, 14, 1333 a 31 b 4.
35. Nichomachean Ethics, VIII, 13, 1161 a 17-18. The same idea is also to be found in Economics, I, 4, 1344
36. Politics, VII, 16, 1335 a 5.
37. Ibid., VII, 16, 1335 b 12.
38. Ibid., VII, 17, 1336 a 28.
39. Ibid., VII, 17, 1336 b 35.
40. Nichomachean Ethics, X, 10, 1180 a 1-4.
41. Rhetoric, II, 14, 1390 b 9.
42. Politics, VIII, 1, 1337 a 22.
43. Economics, I, 5, 1344 a 27.
44. Rhetoric, I, 5, 1361 a 8.
45. Ibid., I, 5, 1361 a 6.
46. Politics, VIII, 2, 1337 a 32-49.
47. Ibid., VIII, 2, 1337 b 5.
48. Ibid., VIII, 1338 a 10-13.
49. Ibid., VIII, 7, 1342 b 13.
50. Ibid., VIII, 5, 1339 b 18-21.
51. Nichomachean Ethics, I, 1, 1095 a 2.
52. Ibid., X, 10, 1179.
53. Politics, VII, 15, 1334 b 26-27.
54. Nichomachean Ethics, II, 1, 1103 a 33; Metaphysics, O, 8, 1049 b 30-33.
55. Ibid., II, 1, 1103 b 1-2.
56. On the Soul, II, 5, 417 b 5.
57. Nichomachean Ethics, X, 1, 1172 a 20.
58. Poetics, 4, 1448 b 4-9 (quoted in p. Somville, Essai sur la Poétique d'Aristote et sur quelques aspects de
son posterité, Paris, J. Vrin, 1975, p. 44).
59. Economics, I, 6, 1345 a 9.
60. Nichomachean Ethics, VI, 9, 1142 a 12-20.
61. On Memory and Reminiscence, I, 449 b 4 sq.
62. Metaphysics, A, 2, 982 a 30.
63. Ibid., A, 1, 981 a 28-29.
64. De Sensu, I, 437 a 12.
65. Metaphysics, A, 1, 980 b 25.
66. De Sensu, I, 437 a 16.
67. Posterior Analytics, I, 18, 81 a 39-40.
68. Ibid., I, 1, 71 a 1.
69. Ibid., I, 1, 71 a 11-12.
70. See on this subject the analysis by Gunther Buck, Lernen und Erfahrung, 3rd ed., Darmstadt,
Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1989, p. 28 ff.
71. Politics, VII, 17, 1337 a 2.
The literature on Aristotle is enormous, although books which examine the educational thoughts of the philosopher
are somewhat rare. The following selected bibliography only contains those publications which deal with Aristotle
the educator at some length and to which I have referred.
Aubenque, p. Aristote et le Lycée. In: Histoire de la philosophie, Encyclopédie de la Pléiade. vol. I.Paris,
Barreau, F. Geschichte der Pädagogik. Heidelberg, Quelle & Meyer, 1968.
Blättner, H. Aristote et l'analyse du savoir. Paris, Seghers, 1972.
Braun, E. (Herausg. und Übersetzer). Aristoteles und die Paideia. Paderborn, Ferdinand Schöningh, 1974.
Düring, I. Aristoteles. Darstellung und Interpretation seines Denkens. Heidelberg, Carl Winter Universitätsverlag,
Gauthier, R.-A. La morale d'Aristote. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1973.
Hamelin, O. Le système d'Aristote. Paris, J. Vrin, 1976.
Jaeger, W.W Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development. 2nd. ed. Trans. by R. Robinson. New
York, NY, AMS Press, 1948.
Louis, p. La découverte de la vie. Aristote. Paris, Hermann, 1975.
Pietri, C. Les origines de la `pédagogie'. Grèce et Rome. In: Histoire mondiale de l'éducation. vol. I. Paris, Presses
Universitaires de France, 1981.Ross, W.D. Aristotle. London, Methuen, 1968.
Ruggiero, G. de. La filosofía greca. Bari, Laterza, 1946.
Sandross, E.R. Aristoteles. Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 1981.