What Education Is For

          Love does not dominate, it educates!

                                                            --Goethe, Das Märchen (1795)

Chipmunks are for chipmunking.

—Frank Seeburger

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


To educate is to lead forth into the flowering of full, definitive capacity. Only love can do that. There is no other true educator. Who does not love, cannot educate.

Who does not love confuses education with training to conform, and to submit to what or who claims to have the authority to dominate--a claim that can never be made good.

In 1925 the German philosopher Max Scheler (1874-1928) accepted an invitation to give a talk at the Lessing Hochschule (literally, "high-school," but the German term carries a more elevated sense than the American one) in Berlin.

Scheler entitled his talk “Education and the Forms of Knowledge.”

In that talk, Scheler distinguished between three basically different “forms of knowledge.” 

Scheler's German term for “knowledge” is Wissen. That German word is actually a gerund, that is, a verb made into a noun. To retain that gerundive sense, we could use "knowing" or “to know,” rather than “knowledge,” which tends to obscure the still underlying verbal sense of the German term.

In turn, in German Wissen is the base from which the term Wissenschaft come, That latter word is typically translated as "science."

However, in German Wissenschaft has a broader usage than does science in English. Wissenschaft often connotes not mere knowledge about some state of affairs, but genuine insight into it, "wisdom" concerning it.

The sort of knowing that constitutes such wisdom is the state or condition (-dom) of "having the power of discerning, and judging rightly"--from Old English wis, which shares a common derivation with German Wissen.

Both the English and the German words derive from the Proto-Indo-European root *weid. That root word meant "to see," and hence—in and through seeing—"to know."

Thus, the modern English word wis-dom, just like the German word Wissen-schaft, is the state or condition of knowing insofar as one has seen.

Such knowing through seeing cannot be transferred like information. We must all must acquire it for our own, one by one.

Such acquisition is "education," Bildung in Scheler's German—from bilden, "to build," itself from Proto-Indo-European *bhu, "to dwell."

“Education” is "edifying." Put in less Latinate English, it is "up-building." It makes a properly human home.  

The knowledge, the wisdom, that belongs to such education or up-building is the first of the three basic forms of Wissen that Scheler presents in his 1925 speech.

According to him, the goal of coming to have such knowledge, such wisdom, does not lie in achieving some external goal. Rather, it is the pursuit of knowledge--of "knowing" through and as "having seen"--solely for the sake of  "the becoming and the full unfolding of the person who 'knows'  [der 'weiß’].”

Yet the knowledge that pertains to genuine education is only one of the three basic “forms of knowledge” that Scheler articulates in his 1925 lecture.

The form of knowledge that Scheler ranks lowest of the three is, as he puts it, knowledge for the sake of "domination and reorganization of the world for our human goals and purposes."

Such knowledge, the very form Scheler ranks lowest, is in fact the form of knowledge that characterizes the so-called “positive” sciences as a whole. The positive sciences are always, oriented toward finding what "works," that is, what is capable of producing given, predictable effects.

Such “positive” knowledge is technical knowledge in the broadest sense.

What is more, it is for the acquisition of just such technical knowledge, the lowest of Scheler’s three forms of knowledge, that instruction or training is required.


The form of knowledge I discussed first above, knowledge for the sake of education, is not technical knowledge. It is not knowledge for the sake of dominating and controlling what is known.

Instead, the knowledge that pertains to education is the knowing that lets us learn who we are.

Such educative knowledge—such wisdom—lies beyond all instruction and training.

One might expect Scheler to rank such educative knowledge as the highest of his three basic forms. However, he does not.

Instead, he awards the honor of being the highest form of knowledge to the remaining one of his three basic forms.

According to Scheler, the highest form of knowledge—that for the sake of which all knowledge is ultimately pursued—is neither technical knowledge nor educative knowledge. Rather, it is knowledge devoted to "the becoming of the world."

As Scheler uses the term, world means what is, as such and in the whole. 

Thus, the highest of his three forms of knowledge, the finally definitive form of knowing, is that knowing which actively lets what is as such in the whole come wholly into its own, as it were— into its own highest being as just what it is.  

As Scheler puts it, such knowing--the final form and goal of all knowledge--is precisely the creative knowing that belongs to "divinity":  a "redeeming and salvific " knowing, as he calls it. 

According to Scheler, it is ultimately for the sake just such genuinely creative, redemptive, and healing knowing that all knowledge is to be pursued. 

A bit later in his 1925 talk, Scheler says that he can see "no other name for this tendency" toward the redemption and saving of the world "than 'love'.” In turn, he defines “love” as “spending oneself—in effect springing the boundaries of one's own being and nature" for the sake of the beloved. 

Acquiring the knowledge of "education" is undergoing the process of learning who we are, that we may at last become just that.

In turn, when we at last blossom into what we have learned that we are, we become in effect the opening of space wherein all the world as well has room to bloom, like a rose.

When we at last learn what we are, we learn that we are there for the sake of letting all of "what is" be.

Whereas training adapts us to achieving various human tasks, reducing us to means for attaining human ends set by whomever however, education lets us blossom into ourselves, that we might become what we are.

In turn, when we at last become what we have learned we are, what we become is that which itself at last lets whatever else also is, just be, blossoming into itself--rather than assaulting it with our own demands, turning it into no more than a means for accomplishing our own goals, as though we were the end-all and be-all of creation. 

It is our final vocation as human beings, our ultimate calling as human, to become "love," in Scheler's wise and knowing use of that term. Accordingly, what education is for—as opposed to training, which suits us for some sort of employment—is learning to love (in all the rich ambiguity of that predicate nominative).

In short, we might well say that education if for letting chipmunks chipmunk.

Dakini amid the flowers          NOTE TO MY READERS : After today’s post, I am going to take a month off for the holidays. I plan to resume my weekly posts beginning Monday, January 7, 2019.

Dakini amid the flowers

NOTE TO MY READERS: After today’s post, I am going to take a month off for the holidays. I plan to resume my weekly posts beginning Monday, January 7, 2019.