Kant on Education

In Lectures on Pedagogy, Kant establishes his conception of education. Kant believes education is enlightenment and is ultimately the unity of discipline and freedom. Kant’s conception of education succeeds in unifying these characteristics and I will use this paper to refute what I believe to be the most significant objection to this view. Firstly, I will briefly explain Kant’s ideas, followed by how one is likely to object. By refuting this objection, I will reinforce his argument by adding Kant’s definition of ‘training’ as a further component to his conception of education.

Kant views education as enlightenment, which he describes as “the human being’s emergence from his self-incurred minority” (17). To be in minority, in this sense, is to lack the capacity to independently use one’s own understanding, rather, one requires direction. This minority is self-incurred as nobody can prevent you from using your own understanding other than yourself.  For this reason, this emergence from minority is an internal process. Furthermore, to be in minority means you are not thinking for yourself, and therefore you are not the one to set your ends.

Once you have gained the capacity to set your own ends, Kant believes discipline is needed, specifically self-discipline. This discipline is required for you to set moral ends for yourself; meaning ends that will not undermine your ability to set your own ends. The practice of this discipline results in freedom. A person is free and continues to be free when self-governed and able to set ends that do not contradict their ability to set them. Kant refers to freedom as self-determination, rather than the ability to satisfy immediate pleasures or lack responsibilities or restrictions. In that way, Kant unites discipline with freedom, as one cannot be free without being disciplined. His idea of education as enlightenment is constructed with these two concepts. To emerge from the self-incurred minority is to be disciplined and free and is, therefore, the result of Kant’s conception of education.

Now that we understand his ideas, we can look at the common objection that is initiated by his definition of ‘training’ in a contemporary context and how one would use this term to refute his argument. Kant contrasts discipline from training, defining the latter as an activity where the ends have already been set for you. Considering Kant’s view in modern society, institutionalized schooling is a form of training. An institutionalized school has certain courses an individual must enroll in and have a certain number of credits that must be achieved to graduate. Therefore, graduation through this process, or ‘training’, is to meet these ends which you have not set for yourself. In that way, according to Kant, an institutionalized school does not unite discipline and freedom and, thus, is not education.

I will now dedicate the rest of this paper to defending Kant’s concept of education, while still considering institutionalized schools as educative. Since institutionalized schools have previously set ends, a student of such a school would not, by Kant’s definition, be free. However, I will argue that a student or a trainee, can still become self-disciplined. This discipline would, in time, lead to freedom, as the two concepts are interdependent. In this way, training can be a component of education as enlightenment. I draw this conclusion from two premises: training can be a means to a further moral end, and training can promote or maintain a state of enlightenment.

Kant’s conception of education consists of two levels: merely negative and positive. Merely negative education is his general idea that discipline forms the life. Positive education, on the other hand, is concerned with what ends to pursue and how to go about pursuing them. This type of education, according to Kant, is made up of three parts: cultural, prudential, and moral education. Cultural education is to acquire contextually relevant skills, prudential education is to use those skills effectively, and moral education is to learn how to set moral ends.

The training of an institutionalized school can be considered cultural and prudential education. An introductory class would be considered cultural, as it teaches the basic concepts and skills of a certain subject. There are then more advanced classes that focus on prudential education; trying to further develop those skills and knowledge.

What I would like to emphasize is the significance of cultural and prudential education to moral education. The goal of a moral end is to change how things are with how things should be. This can be achieved by setting ends that do not undermine one’s ability or freedom to set these ends. It could not be expected of an individual to know how things should be, if they are not prudent in their culturally relevant skills and knowledge. For this reason, each component of positive education is, in some way, dependent of the others.

Without the training, such as that from institutionalized schools, one would not be as culturally or prudentially educated, and would therefore be less qualified to consider how things should be. The setting of these long-term cultural and prudential ends is what allows the best moral ends to be set by the individual. Since, in the case of institutionalized schools, training is the process of cultural and prudential learning, training is therefore an important component of education, as it is a means to set moral ends.

In addition to its importance to positive education, training can promote or maintain a state of enlightenment. As explained by Kant, one must emerge from self-incurred minority to begin the ongoing process of enlightenment. This definition requires you to have been, at some point, in minority, and therefore to have had your ends set, in the case of modern schools, by the institute. Training is significant to education because without it, there is no state of minority that prepares you for emergence, and therefore enlightenment would be unobtainable.

It can be argued that in order to maintain a state of enlightenment, one must continue their cultural and prudential education. It is unrealistic to claim a person will set every end for themselves after enlightenment, as there will always be restrictions from authoritative bodies. It is therefore necessary to continue to pursue the three levels of positive education. In the changing world, to know what is best and how things should be requires persistent learning, and training allows this.  Kant believes enlightenment is an ongoing process and this is a simple reason why.

Training can promote enlightenment, as one can be disciplined without being free. Regardless as to whether your ends have been set to some degree, such as by an institutionalized school, this does not stop you from setting ends within or outside what has been set for you. A student from this type of school who is undergoing training is not fully restricted in their ability to set appropriate ends, as long as they do not conflict with the ends that have already been set. In this way, a student in training can be disciplined by setting appropriate ends where they are able. Furthermore, this practice encourages self-development and seems to be a stepping stone in the journey for enlightenment. Thus, the act of training can both maintain and promote enlightenment.

Although, according to Kant, training is not education, as it does not allow an individual to be enlightened, it is, in fact, necessary in the overall process of learning. I have illustrated Kant’s conception of education, that understanding is contingent on self-discipline and freedom, brought into question whether contemporary schools are educative, and rejected this objection through the defense of my thesis: training, such as that of institutionalized schools, is an important component in education as enlightenment. Training, in addition to its purpose, can be a means to a further moral end and both promotes and maintains enlightenment. Although one does not set their own ends in training, one can be disciplined and use their cultural and prudential education on their path to enlightenment.




Works Cited

Kant, Immanuel. “Lectures on pedagogy.” Anthropology, History, and Education. Trans. Louden B. Robert. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 437-485, 525-527.

Kant, Immanuel. “Answer to the question: what is enlightenment?” Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 17-22.