on this page

Or send us an email

Application form

Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal

Pathways to Philosophy

Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner

International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal


P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728

Issue number 43
20th October 2002


I. 'Jean Piaget and Immanuel Kant: The Concept of the A Priori' by
   John Eberts

II. Letters from a Memphis School Teacher

III.  Philosophy for Children: Meeting in Birmingham



What is knowledge? This is a basic question man has asked in his attempt to
understand his rational being. Immanuel Kant and Jean Piaget have both
approached this question in a specific manner.

For Kant, knowledge is based upon the nature of the 'a priori'. This a priori
resides only in the knowing subject, and subjectivity constitutes all that is
valid in the object of knowledge. Kant's a priori is the form of universality
and necessity belonging to these objects. Kant states that even if space and
time are the a priori of sensibility, they underlie the construction of the
mathematical science; thus, all a priori are intellectual.

Jean Piaget has a different concept of the a priori. He agrees with Kant that
knowledge is not derived only from experience, but goes on to state that the a
priori contains a dull concept. It is a structure of objects which appears and
expresses itself outside us, and yet is a knowledge of these structures which
are rooted in the person. "On the one hand, knowledge is never derived
exclusively from sensation of perceptions but also from schemes of action or
from operatory schemes of various levels (vertical Decalogues) [1], both
irreducible to perception alone, on the other hand, perception itself does not
consist in a mere recording of sensorial data but includes an active
organization which is due to the influence on perception as such of this
schematism of actions operations"[2]. In other words, Piaget feels that there
must be a combination of the Physical experience, (with the object itself), and
a Logico- Mathematical knowledge, which forms equilibrium, thus creating true

The Physical experience is one in which the person acts upon the object itself.
This can be seen when little children learn that a bottle has concrete form. For
example, until the child learns that a bottle has an opening at only one end (by
handling the bottle), if a bottle is placed in front of him upside down, the
child will try and drink out of the wrong end.

Logico-Mathematical Knowledge is accomplished not by the Physical handling of
objects, but with abstractions of knowledge based on action. This action is
given characteristics (not already apprehended in the object, yet not taking
any away that are already present). The characteristics are given to an object
by the subject (being subjective in nature). An example of this is when a child
learns how to put objects into an ordered system, giving these objects a
subjective characteristic, like counting rocks and giving them numbers to be
able to determine the amount present.

Piaget's dual position has a number of consequences; above all, we should no
longer refer to the a priori as a strictly formal or even as universal and
necessary. The a priori becomes grasped in experience and Logico- Mathematical
knowledge. From this, it must be realized that the universal imposes these
meanings and here is where the original necessity is found. The meaning's in
the object, but the meaning surpasses any single inclination. Therefore, it
must be the possibility of correspondence that determines the domain of the
various a priori which we apprehend in the object. "As human action is that of
an organism which is part of the Physical universe, we understand also why when
they encounter each other there is harmony between the (concept of adaptation/
assimilation-accommodation)[3] characteristics of the object and the operations
of the subject."[4]

Given these descriptions, the basic problem is as follows: Kant feels that form
is fixed for all experience. That is to say, it is one and the same in each and
every experience, however simple or however complex. From this, he derives his
concept of knowledge as being an analysis of duration, objectivity, and
self-conscience, all being one and the same.

To deal with this point in depth would be an endless task. Yet the failure of
Kant's theory can be shown by Piaget with one fairly simple example. If
knowledge (is) and contains all that Kant states it does, then if one of its
parts is not present the whole of the A Priori is faulty.

This is true because the a priori is the originator of knowledge, and if
knowledge is not present, then it must follow that the a priori does not exist.
{I would be inclined to agree as I construe knowledge to be an internal reality
associated with external elements}. Piaget gives substantiated proof to this
position when he developed the concept of child realism.

Child Realism consists of a confusion of the Inner and Outer, or the subject
and object, in which children get early age experience. Everything the child
sees or feels is common to the world and is only external. He has no concept of
subjectivity. For example: If you ask a young child with what he thinks, he will
say, "With my mouth". Even when you tell him to close his mouth and think of
something, when you ask him what he thought with, he'll say his mouth. This
example has been demonstrated and proved and shows that a child doesn't process
self-consciousness or awareness at an early age. Therefore, Kant's theory must
be in error.

Piaget, with his dual theory, takes this aspect of the child's development into
account, showing that the Physical and Logico-Mathematical knowledge develop in
sequence (Physical -> Logico).

With this development, true knowledge of reality develops and the child becomes
aware of both subject and object. Although there may be fault in the system, it
is at least more logical than Kant's.

Piaget's interest was not in knowledge, per se, but in the process of coming to
know: the acquisition of knowledge. I believe that he believed that
Logico-Mathematical knowledge comes about only after the individual moves
through the prelinguistic and concrete operational stages to the formal
operational level. Equilibrium must be accomplished through all stages, and the
individual's knowledge on knowing comes to pass when the congruency, if you
will, of his thoughts, words, and actions meld with external reality. This is
evident as such in the case of conservation of discrete objects, etc... There
is a need to develop the bridge between Kant's concern with knowledge and
Piaget's concern how we come to know. One focuses on the process and the other
on the end result.

I believe the example of thinking with the mouth may relate to the vertical
Decalogue of which Piaget speaks. The child comes to know something at a
prelinguistic level of development and later comes to know that very same thing
at a verbal level. Unfortunately, we tend to encourage verbalization before the
child comes to know that of which he speaks. Yet the child's words use the
adult lexicon and we allow ourselves to think the child is with his own
thoughts when he is merely replying with our words! (This may be applicable to
adults as well.)


1. Parenthesis is author's
2. Jean Piaget 'Psychology and Epistemology'. New York:
The Viking Press 1973 pp. 86,87
3. Parenthesis is author's
4. Op. cit. p. 72

(c) John Eberts 2002

E-mail: jeberts3@tampabay.rr.com



12 October. From Mary Seifert:

Could you please add me to your list of subscribers (and fans)?

I started a web search for educational philosophy hours ago. I simply got lost
in your wonderful publication. It was a bit of a vacation for this inner-city,
Memphis public school teacher (my kids are all from the projects, 8-9 years
old) Thank you for this lovely intellectual experience.


Dear Mary,

Thank you for your generous support and enthusiasm. You'd be surprised how few
people take the trouble to write to me. I have added your address to the list
for the 'Philosophy Pathways' e-journal. If you ever find an educational
philosophy that works with project kids, that would make an interesting
Pathways article :)

All the best,



13 October. From Mary Seifert:

Your innocent response to me triggered this rambling diatribe. Thanks for
giving me the opportunity to vent and to put my frustration into words. They
are probably not concise words or even coherent thoughts but I am getting a
step closer to identifying my frustration which should enable me to define my
own philosophy and approach to public education. Wow! This has been very
therapeutic for me. You see, you do much more good for people than you will
ever know! Again, my thanks! Mary.



I came to teaching late. After working with computers professionally I returned
to school and earned by teaching degrees in my 40s. Now at 50, I find teaching
to be more a passion, a mission, than a career. I have taught in the poorest
school, in the poorest district, in one of the poorest states (Tennessee) and
in the notorious North Philadelphia area aptly named "The Badlands". I am
certainly not exaggerating when I say we (inner city, public school teachers)
are performing miracles every single day. Few people know the extreme need of
our inner city children. Crack is the most incredible drug. It can make a
mother forget she has children. I keep pinching myself because I must be having
a nightmare, it just can't be possible that we allow our children to live in
such misery. It is unbelievable, unimaginable that we have children living in
the utterly abysmal conditions they are in and yet this is 2002 and yet I am in
the United States of America! I will never understand how people can be aware of
the projects and then turn a blind eye to the conditions that exist there. I
don't know how we can claim to be moral and just when we have such conditions
in our cities.

As far as pedagogy, I go against the grain of popular methodology and I
absolutely do NOT teach to what the children know. I take my students to an
alternative universe where there is no violence and where they can feel safe
and accepted. My first task is to make sure the children are clothed, fed, and
feel that school offers a viable alternative to the ghetto. I strive to make
the children feel good about themselves as members of a safe and supportive
learning community. Only when basic needs are met (and I am talking about raw
survival-level) can we expect them to move up Maslow's hierarchy of needs. It
is only then that I can start to push.

Now this may sound heartless but I think this is what is happening. I make sure
my children know that we don't rely on welfare in the classroom. Often they
don't realize that grades are earned not given on a teacher's whim. We set
lofty goals and work hard to achieve them. My students aren't rewarded with
quick candy hits. Rather they work to earn things like bars of soap, bottles of
shampoo, pencils and erasers until self-reliance and achievement becomes a
habit. I work them away from instant gratification by giving them tokens which
they need to hold onto until they have earned ten tokens. The tokens are traded
for whatever thing the children desire. It might be candy but it is more often
than not a bar of soap or a pencil. Wow! I realize now this sounds pretty cold
but I started this when I observed the children's' disregard and disrespect for
things that were "given" to them as welfare or public assistance. I have also
learned welfare here does not cover many necessities. I encourage my students
to work for the "luxuries" they want but don't have at home. . . things like
light bulbs, toilet paper, pencils, paper, and toiletries. This came about when
I visited a home where the children had to climb up on the kitchen table,
unscrew the light bulb and carry it to the living room where it was plugged in
My children seem to respond very positively to the idea that they work and are
thus responsible for their behavior and for their work. They may have no one in
their family who has ever held a job so getting to school on time, being held
responsible for a certain amount of "work" each day is novel to them. They are,
to me, proven problem solvers and I expect a lot from them. They have survived
conditions that would cripple many adults.

When it comes right down to teaching I have to take these children further and
faster than those designated as "gifted and talented". My students need to go
from reading at a kindergarten or first grade level (sometimes even lower) all
the way up to the third grade level by the end of the school year. It is then
they must pass a standardized test in order to be promoted to the fourth grade.
The decision to promote or retain is out of my hands so we can't be satisfied
with one year's gain in one year's time which is generally no easy
accomplishment. The remarkable thing is. . . they do it! I tell them they are
the hardest working kids in Memphis (or Philadelphia).

Something else that seems different is that I keep no secrets from them. I try
to demystify the process, explain the rules, perhaps level the playing field.
Usually I am the first teacher to show them how grades are determined, what
their tested levels are and what they are expected to master. I try to humanize
the process. I tell the kids that this is not a welfare state and that they have
an opportunity to make their own future. I am their teacher not their case
worker, buddy, or mom. I have seen the kids chew up and spit out too many
well-intentioned liberals who want to be the kids' friend. They have plenty of
friends. They need a stable, loving adult in their lives. They do know I love
them although I am regularly asked in one form or another. . . "If you love me,
why don't you beat me?" Seems they have had plenty of beatings "for their own

I do far too much direction instruction, cover too many areas from health and
hygiene totable manners along with the academics, model too many appropriate
behaviors,and expect far too much from the kids. Somehow in spite of me the
children garner suspiciously high marks on state and federal tests, read books
independently, and aren't referred to special education for intellectual or
emotional support. These ghetto kids win too many contests and competitions
that were traditionally won by suburban or middle class schools. They somehow
move from being the behavior problem kids to the role-model kids. My former
students continue to call my home and visit my classroom regularly. They know
they will always be my kids.

I have not completed graduate coursework because I am so disturbed by the way
research is conducted in education. I cannot understand the logic behind our
failure to do research on our poorest children in the schools where 100% of the
kids are deemed "at risk for failure" and living in poverty. We collect data and
extrapolate the information and observations made in middle and upper class
schools and impose our finding as if one size fits all. For example, the School
of Education at Temple University (itself serving an inner-city, non-traditional
student population)does not permit graduate students to do research in Title I
(high poverty) schools because they consider those children to be "too
exceptional, too abnormal" for any applicable conclusions to be developed or
for the research to be "valid"! With more and more of our children living in
poverty they are, at least in my mind, fast becoming (if they are not already)
the norm.

I am turning to you, to your publications,to help me out of this quandary. You
are at a distance, have no vested interest, and perhaps can be objective
critics. From your program perhaps I can become more objective. Maybe I just
need other adults to model clear thinking, to help me develop logic and look at
the crisis of public education more dispassionately. Again you have my gratitude
and my thanks for the service you provide, for enabling us to continue our own
educations from a distance, and for making the materials accessible to all.

(c) Mary Seifert 2002

E-mail: meseif@yahoo.com



At the beginning of this month I attended a meeting in Birmingham convened by
Steve Williams, Editor of 'Teaching Thinking' magazine, to share information on
the non-exam teaching of philosophy in UK schools. I was invited as a
representative of the Philosophical Society of England and International
Society for Philosophers.

Also at the meeting were Roger Sutcliffe from the Society for the Advancement
of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education (SAPERE), Karin Murris,
representing the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain (PES) and
Simon Bayly, Development Manager for the Society for the Furtherance of
Critical Philosophy (SFCP).

A representative of the Royal Institute of Philosophy (RIP) had also accepted
the invitation to attend the meeting, but at the last minute was prevented from
doing so by illness.

The aim of the meeting was to discuss "approaches and materials" and "whether a
campaign for more philosophy to be done in schools, both formally and
informally, would be appropriate."

In his letter of invitation, Steve Williams wrote: "There are reasons why now
might be a good time to raise these issues. The most recent National Curriculum
document goes further than any of its ancestors in highlighting the need for
learners to be good thinkers. In the 'Values, aims and purposes' section, the
'Why?' of the National Curriculum, there are a couple of bold statements aimed
at schools. School curricula should 'enable pupils to think critically and
creatively, to solve problems and make a difference for the better'. They
should also promote 'an enquiring mind and the capacity to think rationally.'
Philosophy could contribute to these aims. Also, there are opportunities for
informal philosophy classes in summer schools through initiatives like the
'Excellence in Cities' programme."

I found the meeting exciting and very productive. One of the key issues that we
all agreed on was the difference between teaching 'thinking' or 'critical
thinking' and awakening an interest in philosophy as such. The value of
philosophy for the student goes beyond its immediate practical benefits,
measured in terms of improved performance in other school subjects.

Roger Sutcliffe explained the ideas behind SAPERE. Trained by Matthew Lipman in
the USA, founder of 'Philosophy for Children', Roger Sutcliffe launched SAPERE
as a campaign to introduce philosophical enquiry to school students of all
ages. SAPERE runs courses for school teachers, and organizes regular
conferences and study weekends on Philosophy for Children.

Simon Bayly told the meeting how the SFCP originated in Germany in the 30's,
inspired by the writings of Leonard Nelson. Persecuted by the Nazis, the SFCP
found a permanent home in the UK. Their method, called 'Socratic Dialogue' is a
rigourous approach to philosophy which can be practiced both by philosophers and
those new to philosophy. No mention is allowed of names of philosophers or
philosophical ideas. The aim is to allow the discussion to develop through its
own dialectical momentum without the intrusion of external 'knowledge'.

Karin Murris, trained in both the Lipman and Nelson methods, said that the PES
had originally been slow to recognize the importance of these ideas, but was
now fast catching up. The journal of the PES consists largely in academic
discussion of the philosophy of education. Yet in the last few years there has
been a decline in the importance of this subject in teacher training
certificates and degrees. This is something which the PES is now striving to

I told about the story of 'Pathways to Philosophy' from its beginnings, and how
my views about teaching philosophy had evolved over the last seven years. My own
excursion into philosophy in schools with the 'Possible World Machine' program
has shown very promising results. Matthew Del Nevo's 'Continental Community of
Inquiry', recently added to the Pathways site was a valuable new resource for
school teachers in the UK and elsewhere.

We all agreed that university philosophy departments have on the whole been
slow to recognize the importance of philosophy in schools. As someone with a
foot in both camps, I explained the reason why contemporary academic philosophy
appears so remote to those outside university departments, and how academic
philosophers are now searching for ways to bridge the gap.

The big question remained, How to increase the awareness of philosophy amongst
schools and school teachers? We discussed various ways that a campaign might be
conducted. The consensus was that the only effective method was 'seduction'. The
publicity should be angled towards stimulating an initial interest in philosophy
amongst school teachers, rather than bombarding schools with facts and figures
about how well school children and students who have taken philosophy courses

I went away from the meeting feeling that there was much work to do, but full
of ideas and very optimistic about the prospects for the future.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2002


Web sites:

PES: http://www.philosophy-of-education.org

RIP: http://www.royalinstitutephilosophy.org

SAPERE: http://www.sapere.net

SFCP: http://www.sfcp.org.uk

TEACHING THINKING: http://www.teachingthinking.com

  Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
  Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

  To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
  request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

  The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
  reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
  comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net

Pathways to Philosophy

Original Newsletter
Home Page
Pathways Home Page