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Conditions of Knowledge: An Introduction to Epistemology and Education

reviewed by Rena Foy - 1966

coverTitle: Conditions of Knowledge: An Introduction to Epistemology and Education
Author(s): Israel Scheffler
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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Professor Scheffler's contribution to the "Keystones of Education" series can perhaps be best evaluated in the light of the following statement from his book:

Strategies and principles are . . . ways of patterning data into arguments. They do not, however, constitute self-sufficient mechanisms of discovery. A basic problem in teaching is how to transmit our argument, principles, and strategies without closing off fruitful innovations we have not ourselves anticipated. We need to avoid conducting our teaching as if all educative roads lead to our accepted patterns.

Conditions of Knowledge is more striking as an example of good teaching than as merely an achievement in literary excellence. The reader feels that, as Professor Scheffler wrote each page of the manuscript, he was as conscious of his student's mind as of the ideas which he himself was formulating. The book has a definite target: a bright student with no previous formal study in epistemology.

In the first paragraph, the author states his purpose: "An adequate educational philosophy must not only address itself to epistemological problems in their general form but must also strive to view these problems from the perspective of educational tasks and purposes." While one could not question the truth of this statement, one feels that the "educational perspective" has been used primarily to ensure continued motivation and interest on the part of the student as he searches for meaning and relevance in his studies.

Whatever his basic goal, the author has succeeded in explaining clearly the structure of his subject; in relating new ideas to intellectual problems already encountered by most advanced education students; and in leaving the fundamental issues open-ended in such a way that the student, having found no dogmatic assertions to which he can cling, feels impelled to pursue his inquiries alone after closing the disappointingly short book.

In approaching the subject of epistemology, a technique of the master Kant is employed in taking the reader through an intricate maze of possible answers, in facing a few dead ends, and in painstakingly searching for more rational channels. The reader feels that he is caught up in the exciting pursuit of new knowledge even when the author is merely recounting well-beaten paths of predecessors.

Professor Scheffler is clearly not a member of the growing company of instructors who, in the name of academic freedom, encourage students to express uninformed judgments. He exhibits admirable skill in disciplining the reader at critical points and, in other instances, in stimulating him to explore new ideas. He even dares to describe teaching as "trying to bring about learning under severe restrictions of manner—that is to say, within the limitations imposed by the framework of rational discussion."


If Conditions of Knowledge is to be praised first as an example of superior teaching, a major contributing factor is its beautiful structuring of ideas. Sufficient motivation is generated in the introductory chapter to carry the reader through Scheffler's insistence on precise terminology in the second chapter. Faculty members charged with the responsibility of inducting students into the vocabulary of a new field of knowledge in any discipline are advised to study this chapter, which accomplishes the task in the least painless manner observed by this reviewer.

Chapters Two through Five consider the topics, "Knowledge and Truth," "Knowledge and Evidence," "Knowledge and Belief," and "Knowledge and Skill." In each of the four sections, a concise but critical examination is made of divergent treatments of the subject. The reader is made aware not only of the successes of previous thinkers, but of the present limits in the advance of the field. Thus each chapter is part enlightenment and part challenge.

The reviewer cannot find major faults with what Scheffler has written, but can lament that a few things have been treated too sketchily. For example, after his references to the work of Hume, why no mention of the work of Kant? Further, references to the work of Hare, James, Ayer, and Ryle are so abbreviated that they may prove more frustrating than helpful to the student who is yet unfamiliar with the works of those authors. One suspects that these shortcomings are inherent in the development of a series of publications, where word limits are more rigorous. Professor Scheffler needed another fifty pages.

In the very brief concluding section entitled "Intellect and Rationality" he puts his specialized knowledge in perspective rather than on a pedestal. It is regrettable that this disposition has not proved more contagious, especially among some of his own colleagues.

Conditions of Knowledge merits extensive use as a supplementary text in philosophy of education classes. It is the writer's opinion, however, that the little volume will not prove as helpful as Professor Scheffler's collection of readings (Philosophy and Education).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 67 Number 6, 1966, p. 454-454
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 2384, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 1:47:11 PM

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