5 Quotes on Education: from the Philosophers

Nov 29, 2019 · 4 min read

Sometimes we forget what is education. Sometimes, we forget why we educate and why we get an education. Here are some quotes from philosophers reflecting their thoughts on why we educate. They are worth thinking through.


“If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.”

— Kong Fuzi (Confucius)

Photo from Wikimedia commons

Confucius, one of the most important philosophers from China, was known as an educator because of his great teaching, and authorship of the Five Classics. These 5 books are among the 9 fundamental textbooks for the Chinese civil service examination, established 1,500 years ago. Aligned with his assertion that “walking among three people, I find my teacher among them,” Kong Fuzi advocates teaching whoever is willing to learn, and learning from whoever that has a lesson to offer.


All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education. This education comes to us from nature, from men, or from things. The inner growth of our organs and faculties is the education of nature, the use we learn to make of this growth is the education of men, what we gain by our experience of our surroundings is the education of things. Thus we are each taught by three masters.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau, in Emile

photo from Wikimedia

The French political philosopher and music theorist was not just an eminent proponent of the Social Contract Theory. He also thought deeply and wrote extensively about education, especially on developing a free-thinking child. His influential book Emile, or On Education, was banned in Paris and Geneva and was publicly burned in 1762 when it was first published.


“The country places and the trees are not willing to teach me anything, but the human beings in town are.”


photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Socrates, actually just explaining his preference for urban life here. Widely known as the man who said “the unexamined life is not worth living”, Socrates is not really too big a fan for examinations. He believes that truth is learned through dialectic, which is co-questioning between individuals.


“If women are to have the same duties as men, they must have the same nurture and education?.. Then women must be taught music and gymnastics and also the art of war, which they must practice like the men?

Plato, in the Republic

photo from Wikimedia Commons.

The philosopher who tutored Aristotle and built the Academy of Athens is certainly himself a well-known educator. Holding that a just society always tries to give the best education to all of its members in accordance with their ability, Plato was one of the first to propose equal education based on men's and women’s ability to learn.


And I think there is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child, than the discourses of men, who talk in a road, according to the notions they have borrowed, and the prejudices of their education.

John Locke, in Some Thoughts on Education

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The British philosopher’s work, particularly on the Separation of Powers, has an immense influence on the formation and organization of governments. He was thought of as an educator because he taught many during his time at Oxford University. Not surprisingly, consistent with his beliefs of punishment in the legal system, he believes in punishment in education not mainly justified on grounds for retribution.


2. Pangle, Lorraine Smith. The Political Philosophy of Benjamin Franklin. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

3. Confucius. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confucius

4. Bertram, Christopher, “Jean Jacques Rousseau”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/rousseau/>.

5. Emile, Or On Education. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile,_or_On_Education

6. Locke, John. 1690. Some Thoughts on Education. Archived at Liberty Fund. https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/locke-the-works-vol-8-some-thoughts-concerning-education-posthumous-works-familiar-letters

7. Madonna Murphy. 2015. Plato’s Philosophy of Education and the Common Core debate. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED559997.pdf


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