Two Approaches to the Philosophy of Education

Comparing the Views of Jean-Paul Sartre and AyatullahJawadiAmuli
f Education,Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli agrees with Sartre in emphasizing the dialectic method in education. And yet, Sartre sees this dialectic, this question-and-response method to be based upon the individual inclinations and particularities of each side, whereas Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli sees it as emerging from a particular environment, a school and a teacher who have a view towards both the ultimate reasons for the created world as well as the human innate.

Two Approaches to the Philosophy of Education: Comparing the Views of Jean-Paul Sartre and Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was the foremost French existentialist philosopher, who focused on what it meant to be human. He understood all of existence to be under the control of humans, and believed that humans are “condemned” to be free, which entails, in turn, a responsibility each must accept. He argued that God has “abandoned” man to act on his own; it is up to humans to take account of all things, and to acquire or to recreate them.[i] With this view of humans in mind, he explored what this existential “freedom” would mean for the philosophy of education.

Sartre’s Philosophy of Education

Sartre attempted to analyze education through his human-centric worldview, based on his notion of the existential “freedom” that humans enjoy, which itself leads to a constant state of change. He states that humans are in a constant state of existential flow, with new possibilities being presented in every moment.[ii] Such new possibilities are not only present in adults, but even in children. Thus, no two chidren are the same. Children vary in terms of their perception and receptivity, and in terms of their likes and inclinations. Having recognized this difference between humans, it would be strange to think that all people must be educated in the same way. Such a uniform education for all human beings, once we account for all of their difference, would be ineffectual and incorrect.

With this approach in mind, Sartre would state that no single rule or power can force a single form of action from humans. Humans have been created free, and because of this freedom, they enjoy an unlimiting power of choice and must choose an appropriate way of educating. In his view, we must simply choose our motives for existence; thereafter nothing can impinge on our ability to attain that goal; no law can limit or determine our progress. “Undoubtedly the free being chooses its self, and this choice determines its essence which in this sense is posterior to the existential act of choice.”[iii]

Principles of Education, According to Sartre

Sartre also viewed the principles of his educational approach as being subjective. He believed that all of man’s responsibilities are entirely his own and no one can save him nor relieve him of such responsibilities. As such, each human must accept that all of his actions and their consequences are ultimately his to bear.[iv] And as was mentioned above, he believed all things to be in a constant process of change and therefore humans can change all things to benefit themselves.[v]

Because, according to Sartre, humans are also in a constant state of flux, and manifest anew in every moment, they also enjoy a relativism making any such uniform and universal educational approach inappropriate.

The Educational Method According to Sartre

It is with these views of humans and their choices that Sartre lays out his preferred educational model. He believes that education requires a two-way exchange, where the student actively thinks and engages with the subject, and is encouraged to debate. It is a dialectic, where students engage each other, with each individual student being the subject for another. The role of the teacher is to encourage the students to continue this dialectic and to cultivate an individual thought process for each student.

Education According to Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli

Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli has also discussed the issue of education and human upbringing. He begins his approach by outlining the general role of humankind with respect to the larger ordered world.[vi] Humans, in his view, are the trustee of God in the natural world. Man is not condemned to be free, nor is he abandoned to act independently and make choices on his own. Rather all of his acts are overseen and he will be held to account for them. This sharply contrasts with Sartre’s view of the absolute freedom of all humans and their control over all of existence. Sartre saw the human will as a force through which humans can decide to undertake whichever process or approach they deem fit. Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli, however, envisions the existing world as a place where man’s choice and freedom must follow a particular process, must be guided, and must abide by the particular limits established throughout all of existence.

The Role of the Intellect in Education

Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli does not see any contradiction between intellectual precepts and religious laws in relation to education and upbringing. Some believe that religious education requires a certain disregard towards the advances of modern thought. However, Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli explains religious education as follows: every form of inquiry has its own set of sources and principles. The substance of fiqh—in terms of rights and laws—are all derived from a set of sources and principles. In the same way, all other forms of inquiry have their own principles [and sources]. The principles of Islamic education are defined by the commands of God and Divine injunctions. The sources are both the intellect and the revealed sources.[vii]

Connecting Education and Upbringing

Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli believes that humans have two separate dimensions to their being: the intellectual and the practical. The intellectual is developed through education, whereas the practical is developed through upbringing. However much the educational dimension is developed, the dimension of upbringing can also be developed. And the dimension of upbringing will be underdeveloped to the extent that the dimension of education is underdeveloped. It is according to this paradigm that he divides humans, in terms of their education and upbringing, into four groups: those who know yet do not act, those who act but do not know, those who are corrupt and ignorant, and those who know and are just.[viii]

Fi?rah (the Human Innate): the Source for an Approach to Proper Upbringing

Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli believes the system of upbringing to be fundamentally constant. The foundation of human upbringing is always singular and immutable, and Islam has introduced to us certain absolute and immutable values. The reason these values are immutable is because they are fundamentally based upon the human innate. In so far as the human innate is unchanging, those values are also universal and immutable.


Jean-Paul Sartre, with a particular emphasis on human will and freedom, would explore the dual issues of education and proper upbringing based on those same principles of the nature of human existence. He believed that God created man free, and thereafter “abandoned” him. He would also pay particular attention to the differences between people, arguing that no two people are the same. Because children also have varied inclinations, their education and upbringing should also be varied. He believed that there can be no single and uniform type of upbringing and education that can be applied universally to all people.

Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli, however, by expounding on a philosophy of creation, and emphasizing the various spiritual inclinations of humans, argues for an approach to education that is based on the human innate. This innate has always remained in a single form throughout history, and God has created humankind based on a single nature. Any educational approach that is based on such an innate faculty would in turn also follow a unitary approach. He then connects the two issues of education and upbringing such that proper upbringing is always based upon proper education. The strength of a person’s upbringing depends directly on the strength of a person’s education. However, Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli agrees with Sartre in emphasizing the dialectic method in education. And yet, Sartre sees this dialectic, this question-and-response method to be based upon the individual inclinations and particularities of each side, whereas Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli sees it as emerging from a particular environment, a school and a teacher who have a view towards both the ultimate reasons for the created world as well as the human innate. He argues that the process should proceed in uncovering these truths, and warns against being purely individualistic and subjective.[ix]



[i] Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism as a Humanism, trans. by Mustafa Rahimi (1380), 29.

[ii] Mahmud Navali, Falsafihh?yi Ikzist?ns va Ikzist?ns?y?lism-i Ta?b?q?, 267.

[iii] I don’t know which reference is meant here.

[iv] Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism as a Humanism, 46.

[v] Howard A. Ozmon, Philosophical Foundations of Education, trans. by Mahdi Subhani-nejad (2011), 413.

[vi] ?yatull?h Jaw?d? ?mul?, Inti??r-i Bashar az D?n, 67.

[vii] A?mad P?rs?niy?, “Falsafeh-yi ?uq?q-i Bashar az D?dg?h-i ?yatull?h Jaw?d? ?mul?”, Isr? Quarterly 3:3 (7) 129-46.

[viii] “Mu???ibah Payr?m?n-i Ta?l?m wa Tarbiyat dar Ma??ar-i ?yatull?h Jaw?d? ?mul?” [An Interview with Ayatullah Jawadi Amuli about Education and Upbringing], in Rushd-i Mu?allim.

[ix] Extensive use has been made throughout of the following two articles: Najmeh Sultani, et al., “Mab?n?-yi Ta?l?m wa Tarbiyat Islam? b? Ta?k?d bar d?dg?hh?yi ?yatull?h Jaw?d? ?mul?”,  (Congere-yi bayn al-Milal?-yi Farhang wa And?she-yi D?n?); Mahdi Subhani-Nejad, “Barris? wa Naqd-i Ni??m-i Tarbiyati-yi Sartre b? Ta?k?d bar ?r??i Tarbiyat?-yi Shah?d Mutahhar?”, Paj?hish dar Mas??il Ta?l?m wa Tarbiyat-i Isl?m?, 29: 23 (Winter 94) 83-106.


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