Ittoku Tomano, Introduction to Philosophical Thinking (Chikuma Shobo Co Ltd, 2017)

1. What is philosophy?

Philosophy is Useful

   Most people may believe that philosophy is the thinking of difficult and meaningless things which is useless for everyday life.
   Admittedly, the typical ‘philosophical’ questions such as, “What is myself?”, “What is time?”, “What is love?”, “What is language?”, and “What is the meaning of life?” do not seem to be useful.
   Those who are called ‘philosophers’ are the people who cannot help but think about said ‘fundamental’ questions, so they are such drags if you have conversations with them.
   Socrates, the father of western philosophy, asked the passersby in Athens “Hey you, what do you think the Eros (fancy) is?” which made people sick and tired of him.
   If one answered “It is the pounding in my heart” or “A lump in my throat”, he would say “That is not the essence of Eros, but just the symptom.” It is no wonder that most people said “All right Socrates, that’s enough” and left.
   One day, Charicles, an Athenian politician, said to Socrates, “Look Socrates, it is ridiculous that you always think about what justice is or what virtue is at your age. Why not think about something useful such as social politics, money making, and so forth?” Indeed, there were many people who thought that philosophy was useless during Socrates’ time, too.

   However, I strongly believe that philosophy is extremely useful in a unique way in our lives.
   Isn’t the possibility of comprehending the essence of, for instance, myself, love, Eros, and the meaning of life great?
   No, it’s more than great. It is the most important thing when we think about anything.
   Let’s think about education for example. If we don’t have a common understanding about its essence whatsoever, we just bounce off our own ‘educational outlook’ onto each other, and discussing it would become a mess. In effect, the educational debates are always full of conflicts.
   In this sense, it is very important that philosophy asks individuals “What is the essence of education?”
   Of course, not only philosophers think about the essence of education. Those involved in education may sometimes ponder it as well. However, it is exactly philosophy that has thoroughly polished the ‘way of thinking” for these fundamental questions for more than 2,500 years, so there’s a wide gap between mastering the ‘way of thinking’ and not in terms of the depth and the strength of our thoughts.

Grasp the ‘Essence’

   Therefore, we can say that philosophy tries to grasp the ‘essence’ of various things if we can answer the question ‘What is philosophy?’ in one word.
   Is that really possible? There might be a lot of people who think it is impossible, especially in our age of ‘relativism.’ Many people think that there is no absolute truth but only each person’s view of the world.
   Of course, there is no absolute truth in this world. However, that does not mean that we cannot reach a ‘common understanding’ about various things.

   There are many things that we can agree upon like “Oh yes, this way of thinking is essential” in conversation, so there is always a possibility that we can reach a common understanding about the essence of say, Eros or education through dialogues. Once again, it is not the ‘absolute truth’. It is just the essential way of thinking which can be fully understood by everybody. Gaining an insight in such ‘essences’ is the greatest significance of philosophy.

   In this age of relativism, people――even philosophers――have the tendency to say that “Nothing is absolutely right,” and stop thinking at that point. We tend to give up on the difficult problems such as “What is good society?” or “What is good education?” by saying that “Well, whatever, it just depends on each person.”
   And yet, philosophy tries to think thoroughly, saying “This way of thinking must be agreed upon thus far,” and the great philosophers have pondered many themes to great depth and thrown them to the consensus of many people.

Democracy was Invented by Philosophers

   Let’s think about the democratic society in which we are now living. The origin of its idea stems from the ‘essence’ of ‘good society’ which was created by the philosophers such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and G.W.F. Hegel more than 200 years ago.
   In the earlier times, people had relentlessly fought each other. Warfare tentatively stops only when the winner of the battles rules the region most of the time. That is to say, human beings have been living in either the age of the war of all against all or the age of the domination by the rulers for more than 10,000 years.
   How can we put an end to such fierce warfare? This was the question which philosophers had thought for thousands of years.
   However, Hobbes’ philosophy had a big problem after all.
   Indeed, warfare could be stopped if a strong ruler governs the society, but then the vast majority of people would be the ones who are just ruled and have no freedom. That was when J-J. Rousseau had made his presence known. He said that though Hobbes insisted that people should obey the ruler, we need to make this idea up side down. “Let’s make the society,” he said, “not by the ruler’s will, but through the common consensus.” This way of thinking had become the basis of contemporary democracy.

Mutual Recognition of Freedom

   Hegel succeeded Rousseau’s idea and delved into this problem much more thoroughly.
   Why do only humans engage in warfare with each other? Hegel thought that it is because only we humans have the desire to ‘live the life we want to live’, namely, the desire of freedom. That is why human kind has continued to kill one another ceaselessly insisting our own ‘freedom’.
   The war never ends even if one becomes the winner and the other becomes the loser. Human beings who want to live ‘free’ can never put up with being robbed of their ‘freedom’. Therefore, those who are dominated inevitably challenge the winner in a fight to the death eventually. Human beings thus have kept engaging in warfare for over 10,000 years.

   The greatness of philosophy lies in the fact that it opens the way of thinking of overcoming these problems by elucidating their ‘essence’.
   Hegel’s answer is as follows; if we really want to be ‘free’, we need to cease insisting our own freedom naively and stop killing each other. On the other hand, the great majority of people could not become ‘free’ if we have the super power govern the country.
   What should we do then? We have only one solution. That is to mutually recognize that we are all equally ‘free’ in existence, and to build the society based on that rule. There is probably no other way than this way of thinking in order for us to live freely and peacefully.
   This is called the principle of ‘mutual recognition of freedom’. I must say that this is the most fundamental principle of contemporary democracy.

   Rousseau’s and Hegel’s thought was an idea which amazed people in that age, because the existence of the super power and inequality was extremely ‘natural’ back then.
   However, we consider the democracy as ‘natural’ now.
   Isn’t it amazing, when you think about it? We finally grasped the idea which enables us to live freely as much as possible only 200 years ago, by learning from the 10,000 year rulers’ and subjects’ history.
   It is hard to say, of course, that the idea is spread out fully all over the country or the world. The world is filled with severe problems such as terrorism and disparities.
   However, I assume that most people think that if we want to live freely and peacefully, we need to develop democracy all over the world.
   That is exactly the essence of ‘good society’, which philosophers have been thinking about and nurturing with each other like a relay.

Esoteric Technique of Philosophy

   It is sometimes said that philosophy just wanders about in search of the unsolvable problems. I must say, however, that that is completely false. The great philosophers have been succeeding their predecessors’ ideas and pressing them forward for certainty.
   It is also said that philosophy thinks just about the problems without answers. It is also false in my opinion, or at least, it makes up only half of philosophy.
   There is an essence of the other half of philosophy.
   That is, thinking all the way through and ‘answering thoroughly’ the problems.
   As I said many times, the answers of them are not absolutely right answers. And yet, philosophy has been questing for a ‘common understanding’ which can be agreed upon by everybody as much as possible.

   In this book, I would like to offer you the ‘esoteric techniques’ of philosophy so to speak.
   How can we have an insight of the essence of various things? How can we find ‘answers’ to the questions without absolutely right answers, which can satisfy everybody as much as possible?

   I am going to talk about the ‘esoteric techniques’ of such philosophical thinking from now on.

Ittoku TOMANO, What is Good Education?, Kodansha Co Ltd, 2011.


1. The Question of this Book

   What is education, and, what kind of education can we call “good”?
   In this book, I would like to offer an “answer” to this question, which hopefully can be agreed upon as a wide and deep common understanding.
   To some extent it has been common knowledge that we cannot find the definite answer to this question in the field of contemporary pedagogy. I assume that a number of people as well as scholars are now thinking that there is no absolute truth. I must say that this way of thinking is right.
   However, on the other side of the coin, those who are involved in education in some form are always desperately confronted by this question. Many teachers have a strong sense of responsibility that how their educational practice right here and now would have a big influence on the children. For this reason, they want to reflect and judge whether their practice is really “good”.


   Questing and elucidating the essence and the principle of the legitimacy of education has an extremely significant meaning not only for the teachers but also those who are involved in envisaging education such as educational administration.


(1) Pedagogy does not thoroughly answer this question
   As we have seen above, the essence and legitimacy of education is the question which everyone who is involved in education needs to keep asking to some degree in order to practice and envisage education. However, as I am going to discuss deeper in the following chapters, contemporary pedagogy has not been inquiring about this question let alone answering it.
   The reason for this is mainly because it is now apparent that there is no absolutely “good” or “right” education as previously mentioned.


   Educational philosophers have been relativizing those aims and ideals of education that these are the dogmas or violence especially since the late 20th century. It has a great significance, of course, in terms of warning and criticizing the danger that some educational ideals could be absotutized. However, on the other hand, it threw pedagogy into a kind of nihilism where everything about educational discussions can be irresistibly relativized.


(2) Rethink from the First Step
   As discussed above, however, the questions of “what is education in the first place?” and “what kind of education can we call good?” are the extremely important questions for everyone who is involved in and envisaging education. For this reason, we need to think about this question with some methodology and offer an “answer” in some form.
   The purpose of this book is to elucidate and manifest this “answer”. This attempt might seem reckless from the viewpoint of the “common knowledge” of contemporary pedagogy, and would irresistibly take a lot of strong mistrusts and criticisms. However, I believe that I can elucidate the question and can clarify the logic of it which people can verify with each other.
  Obviously, there is no absolutely “good” and “right” education as I have repeatedly discussed, but is it alright that pedagogists just keep insisting that there is no absolutely “good” and “right” education? Why isn’t it possible to put forth a way of thinking (principle) which can reach wide and deep common understanding?
   I would like to write this book with these interests for those who want to rethink education from the first step, and would like the readers to critically examine it from the perspective of whether it can be both helpful as a guide of educational practice and fully persuasive as a scholarly theory.
   The purpose of this book, which tries to review education fundamentally and put forth the principle of education in order to rebuild it, is a philosophical inquiry; but this book is not only for the professionals of pedagogy or philosophy, but also for, I repeat, those who want to deeply reconsider education from the first step. Thus I would like to develop an argument as direct as possible, yet in a manner in which the readers can fully verify the logic of the principle rather than getting into details about overly specialized discussions.

2. The Method
   Let’s layout the scope of this book below.
   How can we discuss education with one another without getting trapped in the danger of absolutizing some educational ideals or the nihilation of relativism? Moreover, how can we elucidate the essence and the principle of the “legitimacy” of education?
   I would like to start the discussion by saying the following. The question of the former can be elucidated most fundamentally by phenomenology, which was created by the 20th century German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938); and the latter can be solved by the philosophy of Hegel, who had an extremely great influence on 19th century philosophy and is as a result called the consummator of modern philosophy.
   Attempting to apply their philosophy into pedagogy might seem unusual since they were not philosophers who focused on education. In actuality, their philosophy is seldom referred in the realm of pedagogy except by some experts. However I would like to say that their philosophy, which evoked a serious thought to human beings and the society and how to think of them fundamentally, is extremely useful because the attempt of this book is to rethink education again and rebuild educational philosophy.
   Needless to say, we cannot ignore a representative 20th century American philosopher John Dewey as a philosopher who thought about education deeply and widely. He certainly is qualified as the most important educational philosopher for his pioneering, fundamental, and broad-ranging educational philosophy. However, I have a conviction that although his thought is still full of the important insights for the educational practices, its real significance becomes much clearer if it is supported by Husserl’s and Hegel’s insights. I will discuss this in the following chapters.
   There are, however, some difficulties to refer to the philosophy of Hegel and Husserl in our time, because they both have been seen as the representative philosophers of vicious truthism and metaphysics. Therefore, declaring that I apply their philosophy to the educational philosophy of mine in order to overcome the nihilism of relativism might possibly be criticized that it is just the reaction which tries to aim at absolutism.
   However, it is an entire misunderstanding that Husserl’s philosophy is metaphysics which quests for the absolute truth, rather, in my understanding, his phenomenology alone could overcome the conflict between absolutism and relativism most fundamentally in contemporary philosophy, and although it is inevitable in a sense that Hegel’s philosophy should be criticized as absolutism because of the constraint of his age, the most important insight of his has been fairly overlooked because of these criticisms.