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What Schooling in Capitalist America Teaches Us about Philosophy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2020

Linda J. Nicholson*
State University of New York, Albany


As a philosopher working in the area of education, I believe Samuel Bowles’ and Herbert Gintis’ recent book, Schooling in Capitalist America1 to be an important work. I believe it to be important first of all for the concrete ideas it raises about education in the history and present reality of American society. Secondly, it serves as an excellent example in a lesson in what philosophy, both philosophy of education, and philosophy generally, ought to become. In particular, by contrasting this work in its conclusions and methods with other works in mainstream contemporary philosophy of education, I believe we can see more clearly certain defects in contemporary philosophy of education, which apply also to other fields in philosophy. To accomplish this goal, I would like first of all to summarize the book itself.

The aim of Schooling in Capitalist America is to expose many of those self-deceptions which our society has about itself and its educational system.

Research Article
Copyright © The Authors 1978

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1 Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert Schooling in Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life (New York: Basic Books, 1976).Google Scholar

2 Ibid., p. 45.

3 Ibid., pp. 112-14.

4 Ibid., p. 120.

5 Ibid., p. 114.

6 Ibid., p. 10.

7 Ibid., p. 235.

8 The historicality of the concepts ‘virtue’ and ‘justice’ have been argued by respectively MacIntyre, Alasdair in A Short History of Ethics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967)CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Miller, David in Social Justice (Oxford University Press, 1976).Google Scholar

9 Peters, R. S. Ethics and Education (Scott, Foresman and Co., 1967)Google Scholar and Hirst, P. H. and Peters, R. S. The Logic of Education (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970).Google Scholar

10 Hirst, and Peters, The Logic of Education, pp. 6163.Google Scholar

11 Ibid., pp. 63-64.

12 Peters, Ethics and Education, p. 87.Google Scholar

13 Hirst, and Peters, The Logic of Education, p. 77.Google Scholar

14 Ibid., pp. 24-25.

15 For a further development of this argument see Alasdair MacIntyre, “The Essential Contestibility of Some Social Concepts,” Ethics (1973).

16 Hirst, and Peters, The Logic of Education, p. 131.Google Scholar

17 Ibid., p. 78.