The following story comes to us from Naples at the close of the 19th century: One cloudy autumn morning, a patient arrived for consultation with one of the city’s best known psychiatrists. He complained of deep depression and terrible melancholy. It was most severe in the evenings when he was regularly overcome by a tormenting fear of life; he couldn’t laugh any more; he had lost all of the joy of living. The doctor listened very intently to the patient’s story and then prescribed a peculiar therapy for him. He explained to his obviously emotionally disturbed patient that the famous comedian, Carlini, was at that time making a guest appearance in the city; his performance was a literal fireworks display of the zest for living. He just bubbled over with an igniting wit, so that out of the depths of his effervescent disposition, full of the joys of life, no one in the audience could escape his contagious humor. The doctor was convinced that the two-hour theater performance would be a virtual cleansing-bath for a tormented soul like his. Twice before, the doctor himself had seen Carlini perform and both times had nearly died laughing. Therefore, he could prescribe no better or more effective therapy for his patient than that he go to the theater that very evening to be cured by the great Carlini. Baffled, the patient hesitated for a moment, became even more solemn, and then mumbled barely understandably that this advice would be of no use. For him, the therapy would be fruitless because, you see—he was Carlini.

Contained in this lighthearted story1 is a serious lesson which each of us at sometime and in the most diverse aspects of our lives has somehow experienced—that being and appearing, thinking and doing, the wants and the oughts, the ideal and the real, the event and the interpretation, the perception and the reality, science and life—do not necessarily agree; they certainly are not one and the same.

We need not go quite so far or take the picture of theatrum mundi so literally as those who consider the whole world and all social life to be a peculiarly bad theater, who extend this stage play of social reality to all areas of human life,2 and who then openly speak of a “theatrocracy.” However, it is indeed not only the politicians, statesmen, soldiers, bankers, businessmen, doctors, and professors who regularly display a behavior which pays tribute more to the theater than to daily life, or at least who operate according to principles prevailing on the stage.3

In his classic work, In Praise of Folly, Erasmus of Rotterdam raised the mirror of real life before our eyes and mockingly exposed the two-faced character of human existence:

If a person were to try stripping the disguises from actors while they play a scene upon the stage, showing to the audience their real looks and the faces they were born with, would not such a one spoil the whole play? And would not the spectators think he deserved to be driven out of the theater with brickbats, as a drunken disturber? For at once a new order of things would be apparent. The actor who played a woman would now be seen a man; he who a moment ago appeared young, is old; he who but now was a king, is suddenly an hostler; and he who played the god is a sorry little scrub. Destroy the illusion and any play is ruined. It is the paint and trappings that take the eyes of spectators. Now what else is the whole life of mortals but a sort of comedy, in which the various actors, disguised by various costumes and masks, walk on and play each one his part, until the manager waves them off the stage?4

In education, the gaping distance between the ideal and the real, thinking and doing are only too familiar to us: there is, for example, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the outstanding founder of modern education who, having neither the time nor the desire to care for his own children, surrendered them to an orphanage; there is Maria Montessori, the great advocate of the child and protagonist of a child-centered education, who placed the raising of her own illegitimate son behind her own academic career—she concealed her little Mario in the country; there is Giovanni Don Bosco, the famous discoverer of preventive methods and uncompromising opponent of any corporal punishment—when he ran into serious disciplinary problems in his own school, he solved them by paddling the young offenders; there is Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who is honored worldwide as the father of the elementary school and the ingenious creator of the Elementarmethode whose educational endeavors almost without exception failed—the teacher disputes in his model school in Ifferten are not only literarily proven, they have already become almost proverbial; the list of examples could be extended as long as you like. An author might attempt to write a comprehensive history of education by portraying the development of educational ideas in all of their historical ramifications and then even believe to have a true image of the historical development of education as it actually took place in its particular eras. But such an author would be in for one shock after another if he were ever to confront this theoretical picture with a factual history of education.5

Normally, we describe this briefly reviewed discrepancy in unsystematic common language as the contrast between theory and practice. Who of us, for example, has not heard the widespread complaint about how far removed our academic-theoretical training is from actual practice? The new teacher thrown into the demands of the school day reports a type of  “Practiceshock”;  and, of course,  it  is scarcely different in other academic professions.  We know only too well the widespread alienation, even hostility, that educational “practitioners” express toward theory. It is just as common to hear complaints about the supposed practical inapplicability of “mere theory.” Even though it is so very subjective and arbitrary, graduate students in education often value their hands-on experience picked up from their practica (e.g., internships, student teaching, etc.) as much more important for their later professional work than all of the combined theory they learned. Parents, who expect “practical” recommendations from educational science, find themselves either fed with sophisticated recipes or else put off by reference to the scientific competence of the pedagogical professionalist.

As a result, any individual somewhat experienced in life might actually think it inappropriate, for instance, for a completely inexperienced young educator authoritatively to lecture about gerontology or confidently to conduct seminars for gray-haired grandparents on raising grandchildren. Professors of education often win our educational acclaim over teachers and the educated lay man less through the persuasiveness of our theoretical arguments than we do through the sheer reference that we have also once stood in school practice and have also had practical experience educating children on our own. However, reasonable thinkers have known for a long time that most educational topics and problems—even more so those to be addressed in this book— demand an entirely different mental effort than the simple recourse to school experience. The well-informed reader is also aware that, if we can ever claim scientific objectivity and, with it, general validity in our statements, we can do so only if we first look beyond our own limited and haphazard experiences and leave ourselves out rather than constantly “insert ourselves.”

Today, sophisticated attempts at theory are regularly discredited in academic studies—especially if they are philosophically based. Instead, “schools” of educational thought patronize the academic customer by claiming to abstain from theory—selling themselves as action-based and as teachings drawn from experience. The study of the great educational theorists is easily shoved aside, instead students turn rather to the experiences of the great educational “practitioners”—from Aichhorn to Zulliger, from Makarenko to Montessori, from Don Bosco to Father Flanagen—which are refurbished to become “practice-relevant.”6 In this effort, of course, it often becomes necessary in a meticulous manner to hide oneself from the fact that these practitioners also were firmly based on an educational theory, even if it was a cryptotheory. Without this theoretical basis their actions would have forever remained just a mere busyness or a blind groping about—and it could hardly deserve status of being called educational practice.

Finally, not to be overlooked, occasionally in some of today’s schools of higher education, self-experience and other therapeutic groups are taking the place of the more academic courses in education, where living out one’s own psychological and psycho-social problems is confused with, or even worse, is equated to be the study of education. At the same time, others often attempt to limit the scientific training of the teacher and educator completely to “practice-drawn” projects, to emphasize “practical” work and to let it take place “on-site.” But in so doing, the well-known and yet always valid warning is often carelessly flung to the wind: “that mere practice actually brings only habit and highly narrow experience incapable of concluding anything; that it is first theory that must instruct how it is that nature has to be inquired of through experiment and observation, if her particular answers are to be yielded.” At the same time, “daily hustle and bustle and individual experience which is imprinted by so many various influences powerfully restricts one’s scope of vision.”7

As these few examples show, in prescientific fields and even at the entrance of an educational science, we are accustomed today to oppose theory and practice as almost contradictions. We tend to think of the word “practice” as life-lived, applied action, and empirical doing. On the other hand, the word “theory” tends to represent to us abstract ideas, pure speculation, and even reality-alienated ideology. If this were true, then the question arises whether these efforts aren’t simply a gross oversimplification which would scarcely endure a serious examination. Could it not be that we are falling into a trap by this common use of the words “theory” and “practice”? That by using these concepts in such a completely uncritical and diffuse manner, we not only fail to comprehend thoroughly their intended reality, that is grasp their meaning, but miss it with almost sleep-walking certainty? Isn’t it possible then, that the inflated use of these concepts has ground them down and has so blunted them that they no longer represent their intended meanings, but like a type of counterfeit money, deceive us from obtaining an actual understanding? This suspicion particularly imposes itself when we see how the nouns “theory” and “practice” are bandied about as expressly modern words and how real conflicts are instigated and fought out—not only on the academic battlefield—with the accusations of “theoryless practice” and “practiceless theory.”

Therefore, the first task of our thoughts is to examine more closely the basis of the concepts “theory” and “practice,” to trace them back to the point of their origin, and to become certain about their original meaning.

In his illuminating book, as detailed as it is convincing, Robert Joly philosophically examines the various life styles of classical antiquity and shows that the concepts of theory and practice go back to the first beginnings of Greek philosophy.8 For the Greeks, however, these terms did not, for instance, characterize two various types of knowledge. For them, the current habit of contrasting theory (as abstract ideas) with practice (as the concrete application to real life) would have been completely unthinkable.  To the extent to which action-relevant  thinking can be placed within the scope of ancient philosophy at all, the question can in no way be classified within the two modern concepts of theory and practice and certainly cannot be understood as the contrast of the two.9

From the early Greek poets to Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, through the Roman tradition of Cicero, Seneca, and Quintillian as well as up to the threshold of the Middle Ages, the concepts of theory and practice pertained much more to the distinction between various types of life style. Corresponding to their tendency and talent for transforming complex matters into simple, rational models of explanation, the Greeks had attempted to reduce the colorful and capricious variety of daily life into three typical life styles: the theoretical, the practical, and the apolaustical.

The early Greek lyricist understood this topic well as a literary commonplace; the pre-socratic made it an integral part of philosophical reflection; the sophists saw in it a superb field for exercising their rhetoric; Plato entered into his discussion of the topic with Pythagoras and discussed it in The Republic in direct connection with his doctrine of the three parts of the soul and in parallel to the classification of political constitutions; Aristotle took up the topic especially in the context of his thoughts on human happiness and it was from him that the terms theoretical, practical, and apolaustical received their sharpest conceptual contours. Certainly, there were other characterizations (for example, a five-part schemata also emerged), and the terms fluctuated from thinker to thinker, from time to time—as for example, with Plato; they even changed from early to later works of the same author. But this threefold characterization so powerfully dominated the history of this topic, that we can confidently limit ourselves to it. Because we are only concerned with digging out what was meant by these concepts, we can also disregard that it may well have been Heraclitus who was the first to grasp it in its philosophical depth; that it was Plato who extended it particularly with regard to its psycho-social and political implications; and that it was Aristotle who placed it in a central context of ethics before it received a distinctively ontological meaning in neoplatonism (especially by Plotinus).

The distinction of these various life styles fundamentally includes three essential elements (which are particularly important for our considerations): first, to determine the aims toward which human activities are directed; second, to judge which of these aims is to be seen as the highest and best (to prioritize values); and third, to conceive or sketch a concrete existence, which best represents this aim.10 Through the course of history, the second aspect became decisive: at the latest, since the time of Heraclitus, the idea of the incompatibility of the various life styles appear again and again, a thought which receives dramatic clarity from Euripides; in early Plato and Aristotle it surfaces in full light and in the later course of the history of Western thought it makes the decisive contribution to the formation of the different conceptions of the world—the ancient, the Christian, and the modern-scientific. One need only think, for example, of the highly explosive topic of the conflict between vita contemplativa and vita activa in the late Middle Ages and the transition to modern times.

One such value judgment regarding a hierarchy of life style is found early in the 29th fragment, Heraclitus unmistakably says: “For the only thing the best desire more than anything else is everlasting fame among mortal men; but the multitude (merely) fill their stomachs like cattle.”11 In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle cast this judgment in a graspable form when he said that the apolaustic life, that is, that life devoted to sensual pleasure and passion, could give mankind only a lesser happiness and therefore satisfy only the vulgar and crude mob. The nobler refined people could choose only between the practical life, embodied by the politician, that is, by responsible participation in the public life of the polis (city), or the theoretical life, embodied by the philosophers, that is, the life of the disinterested gaze and contemplation of the eternal, unchanging principles.

At least by the time of Pythagoras, the contemplative life was identified with the philosophic life, and then grosso modo for the period of ten centuries of ancient philosophy, the priority in the rank of order between these two life styles was almost without exception granted to the care of the theoretical life.12 By the time of Cicero, as can be inferred from Tusculanian Discussions, Pythagoras’ picture of the philosophical Godfather had obtained a strong foothold. This was the picture of the privileged few, in contrast to the many, to whom it is given to dedicate themselves to the pure contemplation of things most beautiful, primal, divine and eternal and thereby to come nearest to God and to the highest happiness. Immediately, it may be noticed, and Hannah Arendt has made this especially noticeable,13 that in this process all three life styles pertained to life styles of freedom; from the outset, all occupations which focused on the strains of labor, mere life preservation, or the constraints of daily necessity were left out. (For our purposes, we will fully ignore the question of the social-historical background for such life styles, but it should be only too obvious and easily understood, that without ancient slavery, the luxury of pure contemplation and the exclusive involvement in the public interests of the polis would hardly have been possible.)14 The similarities and differences of the three life styles with regard to the “beautiful,” which, of course, is not the immediately useful and applicable, can be seen with particular clarity. All three life styles lay outside the realm of the useful and are far removed from any compulsion—either of the slave or of the tyrant. While the apolaustic life indulged only in the pleasures of physical beauty, and while the practical life concentrated on bringing forth beautiful deeds in the polis, the theoretical life of the philosopher alone reached the realm of the perpetually and everlastingly beautiful. In any case, to the Greeks the theoretical life seemed to be less empty than the life left to the mercy of pleasure and less hectic than the life dedicated to politics. And thus, to them, the theoretical life also seemed to be happier because it brought those who lived it closest to the divine.

If we now want to ask ourselves a little more precisely what theory and practice mean as different life styles and to ask what aim they set as the highest human activity, then we need to make the concept of theoria a little more exact and distinguish it more fully from the concept of praxis.

It is reiterated time and again that Greek philosophy began with a wondering astonishment and had at its core the contemplative gaze of the “never changing.” Perhaps they are right who advise us that if we want to obtain a personal sense of that view of the “well-ordered, uncreated, intransitory, and never changing cosmos,” which was possibly the basic experience of Greek philosophy, we should stretch out relaxed on the beach of an isle in the Aegean some mild summer night and look at the amazing view of the magnificent starry sky. In any case, when Plato described philosophy, in Timaeus, as a gift from the gods stirred by a view of the heavenly firmament and when he made the discovery of the heavenly cycles of reason responsible for the drastic changes in our own mental power, he was referring to an expression which was widely accepted and recurrent from a rich tradition.15 The word, contemplari, which later became common, originally meant, to grasp the holy realm of the earth and of heaven at a glance. Theoria meant, therefore, a process of apprehending reality, in which “the validity of transcendence for reality is concretely inferred.”  As  has been shown, the concept itself refers back to a sacred meaning, which was closely related to spectating and participating in  Oracle consultation and worship celebrations.16 Although today we may be accustomed to identifying theory with science, it is important to remember that such an equivalence can find no, or at most only a very restricted, justification in ancient tradition. Aristotle who actually united the concept of theory with that of science, expressly distinguished between three different sciences: one concerned with action, one which served productive making and one contemplative science. He characterized the first as practical, the second as poietical, the third as theoretical, and it was only the last which directly pursued theory. Of course, for Aristotle, this theoretical science, named last, was ranked as the highest and if we ask what the object of this science was, it would become readily clear why Aristotle called it the “first science” and what led him to equate this theoretical  science  (and only this science)  with  theory  as  contemplative gaze.

In order to bring out the characteristics of this first science, Aristotle, in his Metaphysics, introduced the concept of wisdom (sophia), and thereby distinguished the wise from those only experienced (empeiros), who know merely the what of something while the other knows also the why and the how.17 Knowledge, however, understood as an awareness of the cause, can be differentiated into various degrees: the experienced may be seen as wiser than he who possesses only sensory perception; the master of a skill may be seen as wiser than the merely experienced; the senior craftsman may be seen as wiser than the skilled worker. Aristotle’s purpose in this argument was to show that the object of wisdom was the first causes and principles, for it appeared indisputable to him that wisdom was a science of certain principles and causes.18 These first principles and causes, however, were characterized by certain criteria: they were the universal by which everything subordinate is known; inasmuch as everyone shared it in common, sense experience certainly could not act as an indicator of the wise. On the other hand, because it was the farthest removed from sense perception, the universal was the most difficult for man to know. Because it concerned the first principles, it allowed the greatest precision and therefore made the science that dealt with it the science most needed. Finally, the knowledge of causes made possible the ability of this science to be taught, for “it teaches that which explains the cause of everything.”19

Seen historically, this wisdom and science could be sought and found only after the necessities for a tolerable and comfortable life had first been acquired and the person found the leisure to dedicate himself to this quest. The reason for this—and Aristotle placed the greatest value on this—was that this first science was sought exclusively for its own sake, not for some outer purpose or expected benefit. It could be called a free science for precisely the same reason that we could call man free, because he exists for his own sake and not for some other use.20 In another place, where he defined its object in the sharpest distinction from practical as well as poietical knowledge, Aristotle removed theoretical science even further from any type of direct application or use:

But if there is something which is eternal and immovable and separable, clearly the knowledge of it belongs to a theoretical science—not, however, to physics (for physics deals with certain movable things) nor to mathematics, but to a science prior to both. For physics deals with things which exist separately but are not immovable, and some parts of mathematics deal with things which are immovable but presumably do not exist separately, but as embodied in matter; while the first science deals with things which both exist separately and are immovable. Now all the causes must be eternal, but especially these; for they are the causes that operate on so much of the divine as appears to us.21

Since we are only concerned with what is meant by the term “theory,” we need not further pursue Aristotle’s concept of the first science here. With regard to this question, however, at this point, two issues are emphasized. First, theory, in the sense of the “first science” or the science of first causes and principles, is not sought for the sake of some “practical” purpose nor because of some “practical” application, rather, it is sought exclusively for the sake of knowledge and to escape ignorance. Second, the object of this notion of theory is exclusively to understand the eternal, unalterable, everlasting, first, and unchangeable principles. In other words: only that which cannot be other than it is, or which is so of necessity (and not otherwise), can in the strict sense be known and thereby be the object of theory.

Before we pursue these thoughts further and apply them to the question of the scientific character of education, we must now turn to the concept of practice (praxis) and further differentiate it.

As was previously indicated, the concept praxis which, as an ambiguous Greek word from their everyday language, was probably for the first time lifted out by Aristotle and applied as a highly technical term. Originally, in a very wide sense, it included almost any activity which stood open to a free man of that time and it excluded from this wide frame only the manual labor connected with the work of the slave (and to a certain degree, of course, also the theoretical activities of thinking, reflecting, and “gazing” in the sense characterized previously). Seen more precisely, a distinction was made by Aristotle which is of enormous weight for our topic. In several places, he distinguished between “praxis” and “poiesis.” In Nicomacean Ethics, it states: “In the variable are included both things made and things done; making and acting are different.”22 While “poiesis” represented a productive making, which means the artistic production and manufacture of works, and the efficient management of concrete tasks—and therefore was characterized by a type of “technical” knowledge—“praxis,” on the other hand, referred to responsible, self-determined, ideal-guided action (doing), particularly as is manifested in political life.

If we want to clarify the concept of practice in a more narrow and original sense and to see better how education should be classified, it is important to keep in mind at least the three distinguishing characteristics:

1. (Poietic) making always aims at a result, a product—the manufactured object—and its meaning and value are determined only by the outcome. (Practical) acting, on the other hand, always carries its meaning and value in itself. It fulfills its purpose only when “something good and just” is done, independent of whether or not the action actually also succeeds in reaching what was wanted through the doing. For example, building a bridge represents poietic making whose value is determined only by its result: the built bridge over which one can cross a ravine. On the other hand, a gift donated to the needy out of compassionate, brotherly love is good, even if for some reason it never reaches those for whom it was intended. An illustration can also be taken from the Magna Moralia: building a house represents an event which, as a process of productive making must sometime come to an end and which would be senseless if it continued endlessly or without an ascertainable and conclusive result.23 On the contrary, playing a flute is one of purposeful doing and has long reached its end, even before it has ended. So we see and have at the same time seen; we deliberate and have at the same time deliberated; we live happily and have at the same time lived happily. However, it makes no sense to say that while recovering one is already healthy; that while losing weight one has already lost it; or that when one begins production the product has already been produced. With wide-reaching consequences, Aristotle, in his Politics, impressively pointed out that human life is fundamentally praxis and not poiesis, because it carries its value in itself and therefore does not permit itself to be instrumentalized or functionalized for outside purposes. As I have formulated this thought in another context: to use someone always means to abuse him.24

2. The second distinguishing characteristic is closely related to the first: praxis is not a biological, but a thoroughly anthropological phenomenon. It was not accidental that Aristotle characterized “practical philosophy” as that part of philosophy which deals with the problems of man. Praxis applies only to man because its origin, that is, the real moving cause of practical action, springs from a human decision. In turn, this decision is based on effort and reflection which demonstrate the purpose of the action. Therefore, there is no practical action without rational thought or goal-directed reflection, even though thought or mere reflection for itself sets nothing in motion. Whatever else it may also be, the origin of action always lies in the human person.

Praxis, therefore, does not mean any arbitrary operation nor any mere “busyness,” it is not simply something which more or less happens randomly or which occurs here or there. Praxis means to apply the good morally and to direct the political action of man consistent with the common welfare.

3. The third distinguishing characteristic emerges when we compare the type of knowledge claimed by praxis with the type claimed by theory or by theoretical science. Theory, in its strict meaning, consists of “episteme,” that is, of knowledge which is certain; and it can become this certain knowledge only because of its unchangeable and unalterable object. The object of praxis, on the other hand—the just, the good, the excellent—has to manage with neither ontological continuity nor logical necessity. Therefore, praxis is capable of providing only phronesis, that is, a type of sound judgment in specific situations—Aristotle called it being “well-advised.” Thus, praxis is as far removed from technical skillfulness (poiesis) as it is from the certain knowledge of a strict science of universal principles (i.e., theory). This is notable for several reasons.

For one, practical philosophy does not actually aim at knowledge for its own sake, because—as Aristotle puts it in Nicomacean Ethics:

Since, then, the present inquiry does not aim at theoretical knowledge like the others (for we are inquiring not in order to know what virtue is, but in order to become good, since otherwise our inquiry would have been of no use), we must examine the nature of actions, namely how we ought to do them.25

In other words, practical philosophy focuses primarily on doing and not merely on knowing; for it, knowing of the essence of virtue, is not placed in the highest position. This distinguishes it, for example, from metaphysics (the first science according to the theoretical view) where to know the unchanging essence and its categories of classification stands on top. This also, for another example, separates it from logic where priority is given to a comprehension of the unshakable principles of thinking and of the correct forms of syllogism. In contrast to these, the point of praxis is how to become virtuous and how to do the right.

For another reason, it is not possible for practical knowledge to proceed like mathematics or metaphysics, where necessarily valid conclusions can be derived through logical deduction. Human action, in practice, lacks the necessary constancy and continuity for such a process; and because of its basically situational nature, that is, because of the variable influences and peculiarities of the situations of human practice, it lacks that which applies universally. With particular precision, Derbolav explains this fundamental insight drawn from Aristotle’s ethics:

Therefore, regarding its generalizability, practical knowledge carries in itself an element of unforeseen conditions (of the contingent) which today we would perhaps call its historical-social relativity. This means that human practice cannot be reasonably standardized, even with the help of the so-called applied sciences, in a manner which is both independent of time and immediately concrete.26

Nicolai Hartman also refers to this issue with particular clarity:

...of course ethical values are relative—but not as it has been said—to the individual who makes the value, they are relative to the actual structure of human life, to the kinds of situations which predominate it. For this forms the context of values, its peri ti.27

Finally, we should note Aristotle’s reasons why there can be no certainty in the realm of human action and practical knowledge. The actual and decisive reason for this lies in the fact that human action is free. In the ninth book of Metaphysics where Aristotle distinguishes between potential (potency) and actuality, he points out that the potential of the rational part of the human soul can be fundamentally actualized in any number of ways. Whereas with non-rational potencies, only one effect (actualized potential) is caused by each, those potencies bound to the conceptual, i.e., the rational potencies, could bring about one effect or even its opposite. But because it would be impossible for this to happen out of necessity, something must be at work which steers the potential in a particular direction: decision and choice.28

For our purposes, the implications of this argument are deeply important. They suggest that it will never be possible in ethics, politics, or, of course, in education to be able scientifically to determine beforehand what should be done and correspondingly what must be avoided in a particular situation or a specific instance. Along with this, it is also implied that there can be no ethical, political or educational law—in other words, no practical law—which could handle and make it possible once and for all to pre-decide every single case. Every law is made to apply generally, but, on the other hand, it is not possible to find such a general rule that is always correct for every individual case. Therefore, though the law must take the particular cases so to speak en bloc (epi to pleon), in the process, the law maker should be well aware of this source of legislative errors. In spite of this, however, as Aristotle assures us, this procedure is proper, “for the error is not in the law nor in the legislator, but in the nature of the thing, since the matter of practical affairs is of this kind.”29

At this point, we can conclude the first step of our reflections and ask ourselves what our thoughts have produced so far. We have questioned the credibility of the common, unsystematic contrast of theory and practice with its tendency to portray in a distorted black or white. Instead, we have asked about the original meaning of these concepts. The distinction between theory and practice was then shown to be based on the differences between various life styles.

Since the beginnings of Western philosophy, the lively theme of various life styles has provided us a threefold structure: a determination of the aims toward which human activities at any given time are directed; the judgment of which of these aims deserves priority; and finally the sketch of a concrete existence in which this highest value is exemplified. We then contrasted the three categories of the theoretical, the practical, and the apolaustical life; and inasmuch as the apolaustical life style was reserved for the uncultured mob, we turned to a closer examination of the first two life styles. The theoretical life, embodied by the disinterested gaze of the philosopher and the practical life, embodied by the responsible action of the politician, were seen to be clearly distinguished from each other on the basis of what respectively the object of theory and the object of practice was. The same was applied with regard to the poietical life, embodied by the technical production of the craftsman, which was seen in distinction to the concept of “praxis.” The object of theory, i.e., theoretical science, was shown to be the eternal, unalterable, everlasting, and unchangeable; that is (as could be said with reference to Aristotle’s determination of the “first science”) the first principles and causes. The object of theory could therefore be only that which necessarily is what it is, and that a certain and durable knowledge was possible only in this realm. The object of praxis was seen to be the free and responsible (human) action set in motion through human choice and decision. It was also shown that because of the changing influences and peculiarities in the situations of human action, there could be no one law which would settle every single instance nor could there be a determination of the good, just, excellent, etc., which is fixed once and for all. The object of poiesis was shown to be the productive manufacture of things and works and the technical skills of the artistic craftsman. It consists of an activity, which was characterized as productive making and which stood in striking opposition to practical doing.

It was said that the various life styles distinguished themselves from one another fundamentally by the aims they set for human activity and by the judgment they pronounce with regard to the priority of these various activities. In the second step of our thoughts, then, we now turn to the question which of the three human activities deserves preeminence: that of the contemplative gaze, that of responsible doing or that of productive making.



1. The basic framework of this anecdotal story is presented in The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (London, 1884) 8: 174. It is reported in a less embellished form by Alfred Stern, Philosophie des Lachens und Weinens (Munich, 1980) 30.

2. Compare Stanford Lyman and Marvin Scott, The Dream of Social Reality (New York, 1975).

3. In his stimulating book, The Theater in Life (London, 1927), Nicolas Evreinoff has pointed this out. The American comedian, Bob Hope, had once ironically said, “What else could I have become besides a comedian? I didn’t have enough acting talent for politics.”

4. Erasmus of Rotterdam, The Praise of Folly, trans. Hoyt Hopewell Hudson (New York: Modern Library, 1941) 37.

5. Compare my paper, “Nachträgllche Rechtfertigung einer noch zu schreibenden Geschichte der Pädagogik,” ViertelJahrschrift für Wissenschaftliche Pädaogoik 58 (1982): 397-410.

6. In many places today, “practical relevance” has become an almost magical phrase, whose lavish urge stands in a notable imbalance to its conceptual clarity. Nevertheless, the demand for “practical relevance” today—whatever it may mean—seems to have assumed the place of the postulate raised during the political era of the student movement for “social relevance.”

7. Johann Friedrich Herbart, “Zwei Vorlesungen über Pädagogik” (1802), Samtliche Werke in Chronologischer Reihenfolge, eds. K. Kehrbach and O. Flügel, 19 vols. (Langensalza, 1887) 1: 284.

8. Robert Joly, Le Theme Philosophique de Genres de Vie dans l’Antiquite Classique (Brussels: Academie Royal de Belgique, 1956).

9. See also Nicholas Lobkowicz, Theory and Practice. History of a Concept from Aristotle to Marx (Notre Dame/London, 1967) 43, which goes into greater detail.

10. Cited in Felix H. Cleve, The Giants of Presocratic Greek Philosophy (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1965) 70. Compare also fragment 104 in Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker: “Denn was ist ihr Geist oder Verstand? Volkssängern glauben sie und zum Lehrer haben sie den Haufen, dens das wissen sie nicht: ‘die Vielen sind schlecht, wenige nur gut.’”

11. For Plato, this priority applied completely; for Aristotle, it moderately applied; in Neoplatonism, it was taken in an extreme manner (contemplation was a catharsis to a type of spiritual purification for the novitiate); finally, in Hellenic syncretism the idea of a “mixed life” became typical and almost characteristic.

12. Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago, 1958) 7-21.

13. Compare among others, Pierre Jaccard, Psycho-sociologie du travail (Paris, 1966); and most detailed in G. Glotz, Le travail dans la Grece ancienne (Paris, 1920).

14. Plato, “Timaeus” 47 a-e.

15. See Hannelore Rausch, Theoria. Von ihrer sakralen zur philosophischen Bedeutung (Munich, 1982) 68.

16. Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book A, 981a 25-30.

17. Aristotle, Book A, 981b 25-981c 5.

18. Aristotle, Book A, 982a 25.

19. Aristotle, Book A, 982b 24-26.

20. Aristotle, Book E, 1026a 13-19.

21. Aristotle, Nicomacean Ethics, Book VI, 1140a 2; compare also 1140b 3; also Politics 1254a 6; Magna Moralia 1197a 3ff., Analytica posteriora 71b 21f.

22. No one would pay a contractor for a house which will never be ready to be occupied.

23. Winfried Böhm, “Problemas de la educación e infancia,” El problema de las etapas en educación (Córdoba, 1981).

24. Aristotle, Nicomacean Ethics, 1103b 26ff.

25. Josef Derbolav, Abriss europäischer Ethik (Würzburg, 1983) 26.

26. Nicolai Hartmann, Die Wertdimension der Nikomachischen Ethik (Berlin, 1944).

27. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1047b 35-1048a 24.

28. We will return to this problem when we come to speak of the “new rhetoric.”

29. Aristotle, Nicomacean Ethics, 1137b 17-19.