Understanding the 4 Main Schools of Philosophy: Principle of Realism
Understanding philosophy is important for educators not only so that they possess an individual philosophy but gain more awareness to the philosophies of their students and administrators. In this series on the four main schools of philosophies idealism, realism, postmodernism, and pragmatism will be reviewed to assist with understanding the elements of philosophy. This article focuses on realism.
Realism is the notion that the world exists in terms of matter, separate from the world of ideas and independent of it. Aristotle (384 BC–322 BC), the father of realism, was a student of Plato, and adapted his philosophies from that of his teacher. Considering that both men were from the same small community, it is astonishing that both Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophies of education have endured for thousands of years. Much like idealism, there are three branches of realism: classical, religious, and modern.
The ideas proposed by Aristotle can be classified as classical realism. Classical realism suggests that matter is real and that it is separate from our perceptions. You may not see it, hear it, or feel it, but it nevertheless exists. Education cultivates the capacity to reason, which allows for proper choices. Aristotle asserted that ideas can exist without matter, but matter cannot exist without ideas.
If one understands the matter, then one will be led to understanding the idea. The idea makes it clear that the underlying question of classical realism is purpose. Aristotle also theorized the idea of free will. He realized that some people choose not to reason but encouraged humanity to seek the Golden
Mean by acquiring knowledge. He warned that failure to think might result in extremes of excess or extremes of restraint.
Religious realism in Christianity was founded by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1275). Aquinas presumed that God is pure reasoning, which is the truth of all things. He believed the sole purpose of existence is to reunite the soul with God.
Modern realism was fashioned by the philosophers Francis Bacon (1561–1626) and John Locke (1632–1704). Locke conjectured that everything we know comes from experience and from reflecting on that experience. We are not born with any innate or preconceived ideas, but rather are a blank slate. Bacon attempted to change the structure of realism from deductive reasoning to an inductive approach. The inductive approach would reform realists’ thinking from a specific idea in the physical world to a more general assumption, ignoring preconceived notions. Bacon identified the origins of our preconceived notions, encouraging humanity to disregard these ideas.
Realism has probably had the greatest impact on educational philosophy, because it is the foundation of scientific reasoning. Realist educators encourage students to draw their observations and conclusions from the world around them, rather than confining themselves to an analysis of their own ideas. The modern role of a teacher—that of an organizer, systematizer, and promoter of critical thinking—is largely founded on realist principles. Realist educators are objective, believing in a systematic approach to order and classified knowledge, building on previously learned information. They are less likely to encourage their students to seek the truth in literature and ideas, instead encouraging them to seek the truth by testing learned principles on the world around them.
Military schools tend to promote a realist approach. By developing the character of each soldier, or student, they promote honor and dignity. They promote nationalism: the one truth that is common to each participant. Military schools are orderly and systematic and depend on the process to develop excellence in each man or woman. Military schools maintain a distinct separation from the outside world in order to block distractions and allow the trainees to focus.
Based on the three segments of realism does it align with your school’s education system? It is necessary to know the educational foundation of your school because as a teacher you are viewed as one who is upholding these values and beliefs. Continue reading the other sections of this series to understand the schools of thought pertaining to philosophy.