Best Philosophical Quotes on Education

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This page contains a collection of philosophical quotes on education, arranged in roughly chronological order. Details about the author, book, chapter number, and translation are included where applicable.

Socrates: Every one of us should seek out the best teacher whom he can find, first for ourselves, who are greatly in need of one, and then for the youth, regardless of expense or anything. But I cannot advise that we remain as we are. And if any one laughs at us for going to school at our age, I would quote to them the authority of Homer, who says, that “Modesty is not good for a needy man.” Let us, then, regardless of what may be said of us, make the education of the youths our own education.

– Plato, Laches, 200B, trans. Benjamin Jowett

Hence you see why “liberal studies” are so called; it is because they are studies worthy of a free-born gentleman. But there is only one really liberal study, – that which gives a man his liberty. It is the study of wisdom, and that is lofty, brave, and great-souled. All other studies are puny and puerile.

– Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, 88, trans. R. M. Gummere

We must not believe the many, who say that free persons only ought to be educated, but we should rather believe the philosophers, who say that the educated only are free.

– Epictetus, Discourses, II, 1, trans. George Long

We can get along without burgomasters, princes, and noblemen, but we can’t do without schools, for they must rule the world.

– Martin Luther, Table Talk, 5247, trans. W. Hazlitt

Since philosophy is that which instructs us to live, and that infancy has there its lessons as well as other ages, why is it not communicated to children? . . . He [the child] owes but the first fifteen or sixteen years of his life to education; the remainder is due to action. Let us, therefore, employ that short time in necessary instruction. . . . Philosophy has discourses proper for childhood, as well as for the decrepit age of men.

– Michel de Montaigne, Essays, I, 25, Of the Education of Children, trans. Charles Cotton

Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation.

– Francis Bacon, Of Studies

Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. . . . There is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises.

– Francis Bacon, Of Studies

A sound mind in a sound body, is a short, but full description of a happy state in this world. He that has these two, has little more to wish for; and he that wants either of them, will be but little the better for any thing else. Men’s happiness or misery is most part of their own making. He, whose mind directs not wisely, will never take the right way; and he, whose body is crazy and feeble, will never be able to advance in it. I confess, there are some men’s constitutions of body and mind so vigorous, and well fram’d by nature, that they need not much assistance from others; but by the strength of their natural genius, they are from their cradles carried towards what is excellent; and by the privilege of their happy constitutions, are able to do wonders. But examples of this kind are but few; and I think I may say, that of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education. ‘Tis that which makes the great difference in mankind.

– John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 1

He that at any rate procures his child a good mind, well-principled, temper’d to virtue and usefulness, and adorn’d with civility and good breeding, makes a better purchase for him that if he laid out the money for an addition of more earth to his former acres. Spare it in toys and play-games, in silk and ribbons, laces, and other useless expenses, as much as you please; but be not sparing in so necessary a part as this. ‘Tis not good husbandry to make his fortune rich, and his mind poor.

– John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 90

Whatever propensity one may have for vice, it is not easy for an education, with which love has mingled, to be entirely thrown away.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Dedication, trans. G. D. H. Cole

All that we lack at birth, all that we need when we come to man’s estate, is the gift of education.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, I, trans. Barbara Foxley

Contrary to the received opinion, a child’s tutor should be young, as young indeed as a man may well be who is also wise. Were it possible, he should become a child himself, that he may be the companion of his pupil and win his confidence by sharing his games.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, I, trans. Barbara Foxley

It is very strange that ever since people began to think about education they should have hit upon no other way of guiding children than emulation, jealousy, envy, vanity, greediness, base cowardice, all the most dangerous passions, passions ever ready to ferment, ever prepared to corrupt the soul even before the body is full-grown. With every piece of precocious instruction which you try to force into their minds you plant a vice in the depths of their hearts; foolish teachers think they are doing wonders when they are making their scholars wicked in order to teach them what goodness is, and then they tell us seriously, “Such is man.” Yes, such is man, as you have made him.

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, II, trans. Barbara Foxley

A man without the proper use of the intellectual faculties of a man, is, if possible, more contemptible than even a coward, and seems to be mutilated and deformed in a still more essential part of the character of human nature. Though the state was to derive no advantage from the instruction of the inferior ranks of people, it would still deserve its attention that they should not be altogether uninstructed. The state, however, derives no inconsiderable advantage from their instruction. The more they are instructed, the less liable they are to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition, which, among ignorant nations frequently occasion the most dreadful disorders. An instructed and intelligent people, besides, are always more decent and orderly than an ignorant and stupid one. . . . In free countries, where the safety of government depends very much upon the favourable judgment which the people may form of its conduct, it must surely be of the highest importance, that they should not be disposed to judge rashly or capriciously concerning it.

– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, V, 1

No child under the age of fifteen should receive instruction in subjects which may possibly be the vehicle of serious error, such as philosophy, religion, or any other branch of knowledge where it is necessary to take large views; because wrong notions imbibed early can seldom be rooted out, and of all the intellectual faculties, judgment is the last to arrive at maturity. The child should give its attention either to subjects where no error is possible at all, such as mathematics, or to those in which there is no particular danger in making a mistake, such as languages, natural science, history and so on.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, Education, trans. T. Bailey Saunders

Instead of developing the child’s own faculties of discernment, and teaching it to judge and think for itself, the teacher uses all his energies to stuff its head full of the ready-made thoughts of other people.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, Education, trans. T. Bailey Saunders

Books are good only as far as a boy is ready for them. He sometimes gets ready very slowly. You send your child to the schoolmaster, but ’tis the schoolboys who educate him. You send him to the Latin class, but much of his tuition comes, on his way to school, from the shop-windows. You like the strict rules and the long terms; and he finds his best leading in a by-way of his own, and refuses any companions but of his choosing. He hates the grammar and Gradus, and loves guns, fishing-rods, horses, and boats. Well, the boy is right; and you are not fit to direct his bringing up, if your theory leaves out his gymnastic training. Archery, cricket, gun and fishing-rod, horse and boat, are all educators, liberalizers; and so are dancing, dress, and the street-talk; and,—provided only the boy has resources, and is of a noble and ingenuous strain,—these will not serve him less than the books.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, Culture

We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation-rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson, New England Reformer

A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can.

– J. S. Mill, Autobiography, I

Who ever really learnt history and geography except by private reading? And what an utter failure of a system of education must be, if it has not given the pupil a sufficient taste for reading to seek for himself those most attractive and easily intelligible of all kinds of knowledge.

– J. S. Mill, Inaugral Address at St. Andrews

Educators are needed who are themselves educated, superior and noble intellects, who can prove that they are thus qualified, that they are ripe and mellow products of culture at every moment of their lives, in word and in gesture;—not the learned louts who, like “superior wet-nurses,” are now thrust upon the youth of the land by public schools and universities.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, Things the Germans Lack, trans. Anthony M. Ludovici

Education is a wonderful thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.

– Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

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