A Philosophy of Learning

Following is an article I wrote in 2014, and, frankly, I do not recall whether it was published or not. Nevertheless, I think it still is relevant, given the ongoing confusion between education and training, as well as the general disdain for philosophy and critical thinking. We presently are confronted with low information quality, persons on social media (and elsewhere) failing to provide quality sources for their assertions, and a spiraling increase in fake journals, all serving narcissism. Peer review in academia has broken down, a quick visit to Retraction Watch [https://retractionwatch.com] illustrating my concerns. Our future social (especially in academia) directions rest on our core values, or ethos. It may sound radical, but either we as a species come to grips with how we have degenerated into a predatory materialist-oriented way of living or we will undergo the Holocene extinction [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction ]. It is THAT stark a choice. The rest is noise.


What prompts this essay

If a survey of the literature on peer review is any indication of learning quality, the homo sapiens sapiens species is in trouble. Its ability to pass on knowledge is deeply compromised, and corrupted knowledge may affect its very survivability. For example, if medical literature is fraught with inaccuracy about how to stem epidemics or treat various illnesses, whole populations face survivability issues. Yet, we see an emerging body of literature that suggests that not only is there corrupted information but the system that is charged with creating and passing on knowledge to future generations, itself is corrupted. To survive this species needs to value both the content and the vehicle carrying it. In particular, we are referring to “academics”, “education”, “training”, “learning”, “schooling”, “knowledge” and related terms.


Set forth in this paper is the view that many people are ambiguous at best when they refer to “academics'', “education” and associated terms and that by a deeper understand of what they entail and a will to carry out their meaning as the content of learning, this species will have a better chance of survival. At one side of the conceptual spectrum is “learning or learning's sake”. At the other is learning for application, as in doing a task, where there is often a measurable outcome. We often talk about these ideas as if both our audience and we know what they are, but one should re-examine from where many get their understanding.

Use in the literature provides some context, but a common beginning is in our first exposure to new terms through various dictionaries and ostensible standards of usage. Yet, there is ambiguity in the term “education”, and this creates disorder in the way we pass on to our offspring both our views on who we are and why we exist, as well as how we convey these ideas. Analogous to DNA replication, if a disruption occurs in the primary strand, the succeeding generations will be compromised. The problem occurs not so much in the content but the process, itself. Our ability to communicate depends upon being able to convey meaning through a consistent use of a word. That is the content represented by that word must be the same from communication to communication and among all persons using that word. Evidence of consistent use is history, i.e., etymology, and for it I rely for my case that we often don't know what we are talking about when discussing what education is, let alone its purpose or how we should go about doing it. Once the common thread of meaning has been identified, I will show that education is a recursive process, where particular knowledge exists in terms of general knowledge, and vice versa. Once this is established we as humans may see learning (theory and practice) as a part of our being, the way we able able to survive by passing our ability to thrive and our essence to future generations. The thesis, then, is that our passion should be the desire to acquire knowledge and convey others, but we have to know what we are talking about before this happens.

Orienting ourselves to the content of words

The object of learning is knowledge, but what is knowledge and how is it obtained? It is often said that gaining knowledge is through “education”, as in “information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education” [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/knowledge ], “...a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge ], and “Facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education;”


“education” being a common operative word.

Yet, education is only one aspect of learning.


http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/learning ]. Why? “Education” variously defined is:

the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.

[https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=definition+ of+education&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 ]

the action or process of teaching someone especially in a school, college, or university

the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college, or university

a field of study that deals with the methods and problems of teaching [http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/education ]

The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university: a new system of public education

[http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/educatio n ]

The common denominator of these mainline sources is the word “process”, that process being teaching, or instruction. That which is being taught is less defined, the second definition talking about “knowledge, skill, and understanding “. The Oxford dictionary refers to “A body of knowledge acquired while being educated: his education is encyclopedic and eclectic” and “information about or training in a particular field or subject”. The words “training” and “skill” suggest an identifiable field of information that can be passed from person to person with little or no change of content. Yet, there appears to be missing an answer to how this information is developed. In searching for an scrutinizing associated words for an answer, we see “academic” and its derivatives, “academic” variously defined as: usually used before a noun : of or relating to schools and education having no practical importance: not involving or relating to anything real or practical

a person who is a teacher in a college or university

[http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/academic ]


1. of or pertaining to a college, academy, school, or other educational institution, especially one for higher education:

academic requirements.

2. pertaining to areas of study that are not primarily vocational or applied, as the humanities or pure mathematics.

3. theoretical or hypothetical; not practical, realistic, or directly useful: an academic question; an academic discussion of a matter already decided. 4. learned or scholarly but lacking in worldliness, common sense, or practicality.

5. conforming to set rules, standards, or traditions; conventional: academic painting.

6. acquired by formal education, especially at a college or university: academic preparation for the ministry.

7. (initial capital letter) of or pertaining to Academe or to the Platonic school of philosophy.

[http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/academic ]

Of or relating to education and scholarship:

Of or relating to an educational or scholarly institution or environment: students resplendent in academic dress

More example sentences

1.2(Of an institution or a course of study) placing a greater emphasis on reading and study than on technical or practical work: an academic high school that prepares students for the best colleges and universities

[http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/academi c ]

The commonality here is that “academic” refers to education occurring within the confines of a structure, such as a set of rules, institution, or school. We are at full circle, save for the reference to “ theoretical or hypothetical”, a breakaway from the persistence reference to “education”, or a well-defined set of information. Perhaps by looking at the customary usage throughout recent history (i.e., the etymology) we may see why there is this persistence.

Education as a process occurs within a framework or environment of what we call “academia”. To adhere to a consistent, hence historical use of the term, we tun to the etymology, “education” being

“"A breeding, a bringing up, a rearing") from ēdūcō ("I educate, I train") which is related to the homonym ēdūcō ("I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect") from ē- ("from, out of") and dūcō ("I lead, I conduct")” [http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=educate]

Within this history one finds the seeds of a debate about the nature of that leading, or conducting, and the very nature of that leading, itself. An analysis of this etymology focuses upon:

breeding, bringing up, rearing




One may picture – not unlike that depicted in the novel Brave New World - the manufacture of humans, standing them up like robot, infusing them with a circumscribed set of facts and procedures, pulling them off an assembly line, and shoving them forward to perform their programmed routine. n this post-industrial world, such is not surprising. In the Brave New World philosophy was discouraged, as free thinking was regarded as disruptive and straying from the regularity of a regimented (albeit ostensibly stable) society. Not much in this etymology “education” allows for the individual to explore on her or his own the world and discover truths for that individual's benefit. Rather a leader infuses the person with information (training) to then be in turn transferred to successors. Keeping this view in education in mind, we now turn to the context in which “education” occurs, academia.

Historically, “academia” means,

“1580s, "relating to an academy," also "collegiate, scholarly," from Latin academicus "of the Academy," from academia (see academy). Meaning "theoretical, not practical, not leading to a decision" (such as university debates or classroom legal exercises) is from 1886. “

[http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=acade mia&searchmode=none ]

One can see the radically two different situations here. The first, “education” emphasizes a particular, training, the identification and conveying of particular information, or etymologically, "to discipline, teach, bring to a desired state by means of instruction," 1540s, probably from earlier sense of "draw out and manipulate in order to bring to a desired form" (late 14c.), specifically of the growth of branches, vines, etc. from mid-15c.; from train (n.).

The key words are “desired form”, referring to a specified end, rather than one being exploration and indefinite.

On the other hand, the etymology of “academic”, the framework holding the conveying of specific information in “education” is “..."theoretical, not practical, not leading to a decision. Hence, “education” occurring in the “academic” world means having a person acquire specific information in an open-ended manner, i.e., without restriction.

One may argue that the survival of a species rests on the ability to pass to offspring the lessons learned in surviving this planet's environment. Homo sapiens sapiens is included, but a central difference between us and the rest of the species is how we regard the process and our ability to characterize its direction. An animal may find in the environment an object to be used as a tool, but the human will be able to identify what is need to be done, and not only design, make, and use that tool, but explain the theory of its design and operation. The following presentation occurs within this relationship between the education regarded as training and the structure holding it, academe.

The nature of ourselves being educated and trained

A central difference between animals and plants is the ability to abstract and apply that abstraction. Even insects, such as ants [O. W. Wilson – sociobiology, etc.] , have the capacity to store information and to anticipate, as they collect food for their nests. Various species react to threats, “knowing” the consequences of not doing so. As species become more complicated on an evolutionary scale, these processes become more sophisticated. With the simple species, we speak of simple biological structures, such as ganglia; in the complex ones, there are brains, but other structures, such as dendrites and astrocytes may be involved as repositories and processors of information

[http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273%2814%2900688-6 http://www.columbia.edu/cu/psychology/courses/1010/mangels/neuro/neurocells/n eurocells.html http://www.human-memory.net/brain_neurons.html [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_memory ]. There is a danger, however, of identifying a physical structure storing and processing information and the information, itself, resulting in the classical debate about a mind being apart from a body, “ " I," that is to say, the mind by which I am what I am, is wholly distinct from the body“ [Descartes]. [Ibid.]

An extensive discussion can emerge about why episteme os “food for the mind” and techne “food for the body – satisfying physical needs), but , for the purposes of this paper, it argued that learning involves both. It is not not on this ground that the argument is primarily made, but that each relies on the other for its existence and both as a “package” constitute the substance of learning. Such has implications for what occurs in the academic arena.

The framework within which learning occurs

Our species attempts to perpetuate itself, either “innately” or by desire. For us, at least – homo sapiens sapiens – there for the most part, it seems, is a desire for improvement, that desire being translated into the process of learning. That is, one can argue that there is a desire for knowledge (a topic about which will be discussed later). In the extreme case, the desire is translated into a love of knowledge. In mature cases, this knowledge is wisdom, the essence of philosophy. That desire can be an extreme one, a passion, or feeling, or pathos. The direction to which the acquisition of knowledge (and wisdom) and its application is through the word, content bearer, logos …. The reason why is ethos.

More formally, we can articulate:

Ethos : credibility in the process of communication

Pathos: adequate emotions in the process of communication and motivation for information and knowledge sharing

Logos: via technical and natural language, as well as the use of adequate Logics


In keeping with our method of discerning meaning, as described above, we examine the etymology of each of these terms.


Etymologically, ethos is: ethos (n.)

"the 'genius' of a people, characteristic spirit of a time and place," 1851 (Palgrave) from Greek ethos "habitual character and disposition; moral character; habit, custom; an accustomed place," in plural, "manners," from suffixed form of PIE root *s(w)e- third person pronoun and reflexive (see idiom). An important concept in Aristotle (as in "Rhetoric" II xii-xiv).


Ethos (/ˈiːθɒs/ or US /ˈiːθoʊs/) is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology.


One may regard Ethos as referring to the “credibility in the process of communication” [Callaos], “credibility” etymologically being “credo”, or truth. This stems from the Greek idea of virtue, or – from veritas, or true. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truth ]


pathos (n.)

"quality that arouses pity or sorrow," 1660s, from Greek pathos "suffering, feeling, emotion, calamity," literally "what befalls one," related to paskhein "to suffer," and penthos "grief, sorrow;" from PIE root *kwent(h)- "to suffer, endure" (cognates: Old Irish cessaim "I suffer," Lithuanian kenčiu "to suffer," pakanta "patience").

[http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=pathos ]


logos (n.)

1580s, Logos, "the divine Word, second person of the Christian Trinity," from Greek logos "word, speech, discourse," also "reason," from PIE root *leg- "to collect" (with derivatives meaning "to speak," on notion of "to pick out words;" see lecture (n.)); used by Neo-Platonists in various metaphysical and theological senses and picked up by New Testament writers.

[http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=logos ] Each of the ensemble of ethos, pathos, and logos works dialectically to produce the whole: one motivated (pathos) with the truth of the desire for learning (ethos) and communicating (logos) to other members of the species.

Recall that etymologically, education (training) occurs within the framework of the academic (learning without a specific objective – learning for learning's sake).

The contents contained by the framework

We return from the discussion about the interrelationship between academics and education, the former as theory and the latter as practice, each existing because of the other. The etymology of the constituents of learning: episteme and techne.


“...etymologically derived from the Ancient Greek word ἐπιστήμη for knowledge or science, which comes from the verb ἐπίσταμαι, "to know". In Plato's terminology episteme means knowledge, as in "justified true belief", in contrast to doxa, common belief or opinion. The word epistemology, meaning the study of knowledge, is derived from episteme.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Episteme]


“...etymologically derived from the Greek word τέχνη (Ancient Greek: [tékʰnɛː], Modern Greek: [ˈtexni] ( listen)), that is often translated as "craftsmanship", "craft", or "art".”

Episteme pertains to theory and techné to practice, and example being science as theory and technology as practice. Episteme is synthesis; techné is analysis. Synthesis is the bringing together disparate ideas by a means unknown to us to form a new idea. Analysis is the breaking down of a whole into its constituent parts. From a logical standpoint, the former is inductive, the latter deductive. Induction yields conclusions that are not certain, because we cannot account for how we form the premises from which we draw the conclusions. With deduction we can identify in a specific way the premises on which a conclusion is based. Neither induction nor deduction s by itself sufficient to apprehend the meaning of anything. Each exists because of the other dynamically..