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What is the difference between theory, ideology and philosophy?

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What is the difference between theory, ideology and philosophy? How are they the same? How do you use them on a daily basis?

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Compare philosophy, ideology, and theory. How do you use them on a daily basis?

As a matter of daily practice, educators formulate goals, discuss values, and set priorities. Anyone who gets involved in dealing with goals, values and priorities soon realizes that in a modern society such as ours there are many competing choices. Some are incompatible with others. Hard decisions have to be made. Here, for example, are some everyday dilemmas that educators confront: How do we treat a specific student's needs, yet deal fairly with a class of students as a whole? When, if ever, should we bend the rules? Should a teacher ever emphasize good behavior over subject skills?

It is in trying to resolve such questions that the discussion becomes philosophical, even though it may not be recognized as such. And it is philosophy that can help us make better choices among goals, values and priorities. But what exactly is this "philosophy?" And how does it help?

In daily use the term, "philosophy," is not clear-cut. TV programs offer us the personal philosophies of various religious or political leaders. Other people talk about their philosophy in choosing a kindergarten or a college. Some people believe a difference in philosophy distinguishes between Roman Catholic and public schooling practices. Still others talk about Progressive or Back-to-Basics philosophy.

We see then, that the word "philosophy" is vague, yet, asking someone for her philosophy on something is different from asking her how she feels about it. "How do you feel about divorce?" we ask. "I don't like the idea," comes the reply; "but my philosophy on divorce is that you have to consider whether it might not be better to give up rather than stay in a bad relationship."

What, then, is philosophy? To shortcut discussion we can borrow distinctions made by philosopher John Passmore 2 and separate out three common conceptions of philosophy: philosophy as wisdoms; philosophy as ideology; and philosophy as critical inquiry. These distinctions help us sort out different traditions within what is called philosophy by the man-on-the-street (although only critical philosophy is understood to be philosophy in Passmore's own academic tradition).

Although three conceptions of philosophy can be distinguished, there are many common elements shared by them. A person may derive an ideology from a wisdom, and then subject it to critical philosophy. A truth discovered through critical philosophy may come to be uncritically venerated, as, for example, was the insight in America that education should center on the child. The three conceptions of philosophy, in practice, are found in a mix in the day-to-day practice of the schools. Almost every major philosopher in the critical tradition -- famed philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, Kant and others-- have had much to say in the way of wisdoms about education and much in the way of ideology to say about how we should go about schooling.

Our primary interest in this essay is in philosophy as critical inquiry. Wisdoms and ideologies are usually inculcated into us in a way which gives us little opportunity for reflection and criticism: we are taught them as absolute truths as children. But critical philosophy, as we will see, is characterized by an attitude of critical reflection and a practice of analysis that inculcators of wisdoms and ideologies avoid. However, wisdoms, ideologies and critical inquiry are intimately and importantly related, especially in educational practice. Let's examine more closely the difference between these three ideas of philosophy and how each relates to educational practice.

Philosophy as Wisdoms

Philosophy, however one conceives it, is expected to be more than a passing feeling or a kneejerk opinion. It's supposed to be a thoughtful response to a question or situation. The response may not be very extensively thought out, but it's got some element of reflection in it. Philosophy as wisdom incorporates, at the very least, this notion of reflection, of thoughtful response. This conception of philosophy as wisdoms includes two related ideas: personal reflections on broad questions, and prophetic wisdoms. Such philosophy is generally seen as arising out of personal experience or as having sacred origins. For these reasons we tend not to challenge them with a critical question such as, "How do you know that?"

For example, you have probably read or have heard people say things like:

a. You can't expect too much from life without being disappointed sometimes; or
b. Live and let live, that's what I say;
c. Don't smile until Christmas (common advice to new teachers).

Such statements are thought to be philosophical. They are general, they are often offered as reasons for acting, and they have a certain air of thoughtfulness about them. We generally concede people the right to these sorts of reflective opinions and do not press them for further justification.

Then there are the statements or writings of prophetic individuals many of us have been taught to consider both wise and worthy of veneration:

a. Do not covet the favors by which Allah has exalted some of you above others. (Koran, Women 4:30)
b. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. (Exodus, 20:16)
c. Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs, 22:6)

Such wisdoms form the core of religious movements and are treated as sacred scripture. It is important to notice that when people offer philosophy in the form of sacred writings they do not welcome challenge. Indeed, a questioning or skeptical attitude is often thought to be rude or even blasphemous. Similarly, in education we frequently encounter some statements so deeply embedded in schooling culture that they are treated as religious fundamentals. For example:

a Every person should be educated to his or her fullest potential.
b. Always treat a child so as to bolster his or her self-esteem.
c. Practice makes perfect.

Philosophy as Ideology

Philosophy can also be thought of as ideology. An ideology is, by comparison with wisdoms, a more highly organized body of opinion. It usually serves programs of action and organizational needs. Philosophy as ...

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This solution provides an extensive and structured discussion on the three topics of theory, ideology and philosophy in over 3,000 words. This should provide the student with sufficient information that they can pull from to compile their own assignments.

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