Faculty Profiles

Mark Jonas

Mark E. Jonas, Ph.D.

Professor of Education and Professor of Philosophy (by courtesy)

On Faculty since 2013

View CV


A Platonic Theory of Moral Education: Cultivating Virtue in Contemporary Democratic Classrooms (Routledge, Forthcoming 2020)
Mark E. Jonas & Yoshiaki M. Nakazawa

In his field-defining theory of moral development, Lawrence Kohlberg (1981) relied on a “Socratic” conception of moral education. Kohlberg claimed that the philosophical foundation of his theory could be found in the ideas of Socrates, which included—among other things—Socrates’ theory of knowledge, his theory of recollection, his rejection of habituation, and his theory of dialogue. Kohlberg’s theory enjoyed tremendous popularity for two decades, but eventually educators and theorists began to doubt its effectiveness and question its underlying philosophical and psychological presuppositions. By the late 1980s and 1990s it was no longer the dominant approach to moral education, and today its influence is marginal. It is not just Kohlberg’s ideas that seem to have gone by the wayside, though; Plato’s broader theory of moral education is also virtually non-existent in the field of philosophy of education. The goal of this book is to bring Plato back into the conversation regarding the moral development of students. It is our contention that Plato’s ideas are relevant for contemporary moral educators who want to cultivate virtues in their students. We argue that Plato is especially relevant to educators in secular, pluralistic societies who want to encourage moral growth but simultaneously want to avoid pushing their own moral views on students because he offers a method of moral education that could be used in a range of classrooms across a range of grades.

Nietzsche's Philosophy of Education: Rethinking Ethics, Equality and the Good Life in a Democratic Age (Routledge, 2019)
Mark E. Jonas & Douglas W. Yacek, 2019

Nietzsche's Philosophy of Education makes the case that Nietzsche's philosophy has significant import for the theory and contemporary practice of education, arguing that some of Nietzsche's most important ideas have been misunderstood by previous interpreters. In providing novel reinterpretations of Nietzsche's ethical theory, political philosophy and philosophical anthropology and outlining concrete ways in which these ideas can enrich teaching and learning in modern democratic schools, the book sets itself apart from previous works on Nietzsche. This is one of the first extended engagements with Nietzsche's philosophy that attempts to determine his true legacy for democratic education.
In its engagement with both the vast secondary literature on Nietzsche's philosophy and the educational implications of his philosophical vision, this book makes a unique contribution to both the philosophy of education and Nietzsche scholarship. In addition, its development of four concrete pedagogical approaches from Nietzsche's educational ideas makes the book a potentially helpful guide to meeting the practical challenges of contemporary teaching. This book will be of great interest to Nietzsche scholars, researchers in the philosophy of education and students studying educational foundations.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

The Role of Practice and Habituation in Socrates' Theory of Ethical Development
British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26(6), 2018
Mark E. Jonas

The thesis of this paper is that Socrates believes that the best way to cultivate virtue in his interlocutors is not to lead them to the knowledge of virtue through dialogue, but to encourage them to participate in the practice of virtue, which will conform their souls to it. Put succinctly, the thesis of this paper is that the standard interpretation of Socrates as an intellectualist who believes that people develop a knowledge of virtue by way of dialogue and argument alone is incorrect, and that like Plato and Aristotle, Socrates affirms a habituation principle that is necessary for the cultivation of virtue.

The Use and Abuses of Emulation as Pedagogical Practice
Educational Theory 67(3), 2017
Mark E. Jonas & Drew W. Chambers

From the late eighteenth through the end of the nineteenth century, educational philosophers and practitioners debated the benefits and shortcomings of the use of emulation in schools. During this period, “emulation” referred to a pedagogy that leveraged comparisons between students as a tool to motivate them to higher achievement. Many educationists praised emulation as a necessary and effective motivator. Other educationists condemned it for its tendency to foster invidious competition between students and to devalue learning. Ultimately, by the late nineteenth century emulation as a specific pedagogical practice had disappeared in American educational culture. In this article, Mark Jonas and Drew Chambers ask whether the disappearance of emulation is something to be celebrated or lamented. To answer this question they examine the historical concept of educational emulation and analyze the bases on which proponents and opponents argued. Parties on both sides of the debate framed their arguments in close relation to the way emulation was being used at that time, which prioritized actual competitions and prizes. In that context, the opponents made a better case, which presumably contributed to emulation's disappearance in schools afterwards. However, as earlier proponents of emulation argued, emulation need not be restricted to competitions and prizes. Instead, these proponents offered a philosophically and psychologically rich defense of emulation, but these were not carried through to an appropriate degree. The authors conclude that, construed appropriately, emulation not only had tremendous educational potential then, but still does today. With intentional effort on the part of teachers, emulation can greatly enrich students' lives and act as a powerful learning motivator.

Advancing Equality and Individual Excellence: The Case of Nietzsche's Schopenhauer as Educator
History of Philosophy Quarterly 33(2), 2016
Mark E. Jonas

The received view among Anglo-American interpreters of Nietzsche’s early works is to regard it as elitist in the highest degree. According to the received view, Nietzsche believes that the health and value of a culture should be measured by the lives of individual great men found within that culture, and that the masses should therefore spend their lives working for the production of great men, even if it means sacrificing their own interests, livelihood and happiness. If one takes a closer look at Nietzsche’s early philosophy, especially Schopenhauer as Educator, this view cannot be maintained. A close examination of relevant passages in that text reveals a much more nuanced political and ethical agenda—namely, one that promotes the wellbeing of the few and the many.

Three Misunderstandings of Plato's Theory of Moral Education
Educational Theory 66(3) 2016
Mark E. Jonas

In this essay, Mark Jonas argues that there are three broadly held misconceptions of Plato’s philosophy that work against his relevance for contemporary moral education. The first is that he is an intellectualist who is concerned only with the cognitive aspect of moral development and does not sufficiently emphasize the affective and conative aspects; the second is that he is an elitist who believes that only philosopher-kings can attain true knowledge of virtue and it is they who should govern society; the third is that he affirms the realm of the Forms as a literal metaphysical reality and believes that for individuals to attain virtue they must access this realm through contemplation. The goal of this essay is to correct these misconceptions. The rehabilitation of Plato’s reputation may enable future researchers in moral education to discover in his philosophy new avenues for exploring how best to cultivate virtues in students.

Rousseau on Sex-Roles, Education and Happiness
Studies in Philosophy and Education 35(2), 2016
Mark E. Jonas

Over the last decade, philosophers of education have begun taking a renewed interest in Rousseau’s educational thought. This is a welcome development as his ideas are rich with educational insights. His philosophy is not without its flaws, however. One significant flaw is his educational project for females, which is sexist in the highest degree. Rousseau argues that females should be taught to ‘‘please men...and make [men’s] lives agreeable and sweet.’’ The question becomes how could Rousseau make such strident claims, especially in light of his far more insightful ideas concerning the education of males. This paper attempts to make sense of Rousseau’s ideas on the education of females. While I maintain that Rousseau’s project for Sophie ought to be rejected, I argue that we should try to understand how this otherwise insightful thinker could make such surprising claims. Is it a bizarre inconsistency in his philosophical reasoning or an expression of his unabashed misogyny, as so many have claimed? I argue that it is neither. Rather, it is a product of his conception of human happiness and his belief in the irreducible role human sexual relations has in achieving and prolonging that happiness. For Rousseau, sex, love and happiness are inextricably connected, and he believes that men and women will be happiest when they inhabit certain sex roles—not because sex roles are valuable in themselves, but because only through them can either men or women hope to be happy.

Plato's Anti-Kohlbergian Program for Moral Education
Journal of Philosophy of Education 50(2), 2016
Mark E. Jonas

Following Lawrence Kohlberg it has been commonplace to regard Plato’s moral theory as ‘intellectualist’, where Plato supposedly believes that becoming virtuous requires nothing other than ‘philosophical knowledge or intuition of the ideal form of the good’. This is a radical misunderstanding of Plato’s educational programme, however. While Plato claims that knowledge is extremely important in the initial stages of the moral development of young adults, he also claims that knowledge must be followed by a rigorous process of imitation and habituation. Like Aristotle, Plato believes that it is not possible to become virtuous if one does not practice the virtues under the guidance of virtuous role models. This paper seeks to illuminate this little recognised aspect of Plato’s educational programme. When properly understood, Plato’s theory offers educators important insights into how best to encourage the moral development of young adults.

Education for Epiphany: The Case of Plato's Lysis
Educational Theory 62(1), 2015
Mark E. Jonas

While a great deal has been written on Plato’s Lysis in philosophy and philology journals over the last thirty years, nothing has been published on Lysis in the major Anglo-American philosophy of education journals during that time. Nevertheless, it deserves attention from educators. I argue that Lysis can serve as a model to educators who want to move their students beyond mere aporia, but also do not want to dictate answers to students. Although the dialogue ends in Socrates’s affirmation of aporia, his affirmation is actually meant to persuade his interlocutors to reflect on an epiphany they had previously experienced. In what follows, I offer a close reading of relevant passages of the Lysis, demonstrating the way Socrates leads his interlocutors to an epiphany without forcing his answers upon them.

Fichte, Freedom and Dogmatism
Journal of Idealistic Studies 43(3), 2014
Mark E. Jonas

In the first introduction of The Science of Knowledge, Fichte claims that there are two legitimate philosophical systems: dogmatism and idealism. He then asserts that only idealism allows individuals to retain their concept of personal freedom, whereas dogmatism requires that individuals give up that concept. I argue that on his own grounds Fichte is incorrect on this point. After a close examination of his theory, I attempt to demonstrate the possibility of a non-idealistic libertarian using Fichte’s explanation of self-positing as the foundation for her libertarianism. I hope to show that Fichte’s defense for the necessarily free act of self-positing is legitimate not only for his idealist system, but also for at least one non-idealistic system as well. The act of self-positing is indeed the only legitimate foundation for freedom, but that does not entail that freedom can only be found in idealism.

Overcoming Ressentiment: Nietzsche’s Education for an Aesthetic Aristocracy
History of Political Thought 34(4), 2013
Mark E. Jonas

I argue that recent interpretations of Nietzsche’s political theory that make him out to be a Machiavellian elitist are misguided. While Nietzsche’s philosophy advocates a return to an order of rank among individuals, it does not entail the domination of the few over the many. Rather, it is meant to benefit all individuals, whatever their rank. To this end, I examine several Machiavellian interpretations and demonstrate the inadequacy of their exegetical evidence. I then turn to Nietzsche’s educational theory and show the ways it supports and expands his political vision for the flourishing of the few and the many.

Appetite, Reason, and Education in Socrates’ ‘City of Pigs’
Phronesis: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy 57(4), 2012
Mark E. Jonas, Yoshiaki M. Nakazawa and James Braun

In Book II of the Republic (370c-372d), Socrates briefly depicts a city where each inhabitant contributes to the welfare of all by performing the role for which he or she is naturally suited. Socrates calls this city the ‘true city’ and the ‘healthy one’. Nearly all commentators have argued that Socrates’ praise of the city cannot be taken at face value, claiming that it does not represent Socrates’ preferred community. The point of this paper is to argue otherwise. The claim is that Socrates genuinely believes the city is a healthy and desirable city, and that he believes that the First City (the so-called ‘city of pigs’) is in fact superior to the Kallipolis.

Gratitude, Ressentiment, and Citizenship Education
Studies in Philosophy and Education 31(1), 2012
Mark E. Jonas

Patricia White (Stud Philos Educ 18:43–52, 1999) argues that the virtue gratitude is essential to a flourishing democracy because it helps foster universal and reciprocal amity between citizens. Citizens who participate in this reciprocal relationship ought to be encouraged to recognize that ‘‘much that people do does in fact help to make communal civic life less brutish, pleasanter and more flourishing.’’ This is the case even when the majority of citizens do not intentionally seek to make civic life better for others. Were citizens to recognize the appropriateness of gratitude in these situations, the bonds of our democratic communities would be strengthened. In this paper, I examine White’s argument more carefully, arguing that it fails to address adequately the difficulties that arise when we attempt to encourage the virtue of gratitude in our students. To address these difficulties, I turn to an unlikely source for democratic inspiration: Friedrich Nietzsche. In spite of his well-known anti-democratic sentiments, Nietzsche offers democratic citizens insights into the social value of gratitude. I argue that Nietzsche’s ideas resolve the educational difficulties in White’s argument and viably establish gratitude as an important democratic virtue that ought to be cultivated.

Dewey's Conception of Interest and Its Significance for Teacher Education
Educational Philosophy and Theory 43(2), 2011
Mark E. Jonas

Many teachers in teacher education programs are cursorily introduced to Dewey’s‘epochmaking’ ideas on interest and effort through discussions based on the need for child-centered pedagogies that utilize students’ interests. Unfortunately, this strategy often tacitly encourages teachers to over-rely on students’ interests. In this paper, I recommend a way of introducing Dewey’s conception of interest that avoids the common pitfall of over-reliance on students’ interests. I argue that if we focus on the changes Dewey made to the expression of his philosophy during a seventeen-year period, we can help illuminate the force of his theory while protecting against unfortunate misinterpretations.

When Teachers Must Let Education Hurt: Rousseau and Nietzsche on Compassion and the Educational Value of Suffering
Journal of Philosophy of Education 44(1), 2010
Mark E. Jonas

Avi Mintz (2008) has recently argued that Anglo-American educators have a tendency to alleviate student suffering in the classroom. According to Mintz, this tendency can be detrimental because certain kinds of suffering actually enhance student learning. While Mintz compellingly describes the effects of educator’s desires to alleviate suffering in students, he does not examine one of the roots of the desire: the feeling of compassion or pity (used as synonyms here). Compassion leads many teachers to unreflectively alleviate student struggles. While there are certainly times when compassion is necessary to help students learn, there are other times when it must be overcome. Compassion in the classroom is a two-edged sword that must be carefully employed; and yet it is often assumed that it is an unequivocal good that ought to trump all other impulses. In this article I hope to raise awareness concerning the promises and pitfalls of compassion in education by examining the theories of two historical figures who famously emphasised compassion in their philosophical writings: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Friedrich Nietzsche. Rousseau and Nietzsche argue that compassion is a powerful educational force but that it must be properly employed. For Rousseau and Nietzsche, compassion is necessary to develop self-mastery in human beings—the ultimate goal of education—but it is a compassion that must hurt in order to help. My hope is that Rousseau’s and Nietzsche’s ideas on compassion will encourage thoughtful reflection on the uses and abuses of compassion in education.

A (R)evaluation of Nietzsche's Anti-Democratic Pedagogy: The Overman, Perspectivism, and Self-overcoming
Studies in Philosophy of Education 28(2), 2009
Mark E. Jonas

In this paper, I argue that Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of self-overcoming has been largely misinterpreted in the philosophy of education journals. The misinterpretation partially stems from a misconstruction of Nietzsche’s perspectivism, and leads to a conception of self-overcoming that is inconsistent with Nietzsche’s educational ideals. To show this, I examine some of the prominent features of the so-called ‘‘debate’’ of the 1980s surrounding Nietzsche’s conception of self-overcoming. I then offer an alternative conception that is more consistent with Nietzsche’s thought, and provides a more nuanced understanding of Nietzsche’s ‘‘anti-democratic’’ pedagogy. Ultimately, I argue that while Nietzsche’s educational philosophy is not egalitarian, it can be effectively utilized in ‘‘democratic’’ classrooms, assuming his concept of self-overcoming is properly construed.

Finding Truth in 'Lies': Nietzsche's Perspectivism and its Relation to Education
Journal of Philosophy of Education 42(2), 2008
Mark E. Jonas & Yoshiaki M. Nakazawa

In his 2001 article ‘Teaching to Lie and Obey: Nietzsche on Education’, Stefan Ramaekers defends Nietzsche’s concept of perspectivism against the charge that it is relativistic. He argues that perspectivism is not relativistic because it denies the dichotomy between the ‘true’ world and the ‘seeming’ world, a dichotomy central to claims to relativism. While Ramaekers’ article is correct in denying relativistic interpretations of perspectivism it does not go far enough in this direction. In fact, the way Ramaekers makes his case may actually encourage the charge of relativism, especially when it comes to his appropriation of perspectivism for education. This article proposes to pick up where Ramaekers left off. It will argue that Nietzsche’s denial of the opposition between the ‘true’ world and the ‘seeming’ world opens up the possibility for the reestablishment of truth, albeit in a modified form. After examining Nietzsche’s modified ‘realist’ epistemology, the paper will explore the implications of it for his philosophy of education. It will be argued that Nietzsche’s educational philosophy is founded on his concept of perspectivism in so far as he demands that students be rigorously inculcated into a pedagogical framework that teaches students to discriminate between ‘true’ and ‘false’ perspectives. This framework is essential for the development of an intellectually robust and life-affirming culture.

Book Chapters

Making Citizens Virtuous: Plato on the Role of Political Leadership
Virtues in the Public Sphere, (ed) James Arthur, Routledge (2019)
Mark E. Jonas

Nietzsche on Inequality, Education, and Human Flourishing
International Handbook of Philosophy of Education (Part 1), (ed) Paul Smeyers, Springer (2018)
Mark E. Jonas

Plato on Dialogue as a Method for Cultivating the virtues
The Theory and Practice of Virtue Education, (eds) Tom Harrison & David Walker, Routledge (2018)
Mark E. Jonas

Plato on the Necessity of Imitation and Habituation for the Cultivation of the Virtues
Varieties of Virtue Ethics, (ed) David Carr, Macmillan Publishers (2017)
Mark E. Jonas

The Social Relevance of Egoism and Perfectionism: Nietzsche's Education for the Public Good
The Relevance of Higher Education, (ed) Timothy Leahy, Simpson (2013)
Mark E. Jonas

Dr. Jonas’s goal in teaching future teachers is not to provide a single authorized method of teaching, but to encourage students to cultivate just lives and a liberating, authentic, and dynamic classroom practice. Dr. Jonas uses philosophical texts and discussions to cultivate certain attitudes and habits of mind in students, which open the possibility for right living and powerful teaching. By placing students in dialectical relationship with texts, with ideas, and with one another, students learn how to dialogue with themselves, while simultaneously learning how best to develop, evaluate, and deploy effective classroom practices. Dr. Jonas’ research functions similarly. By examining the ideas of philosophers who intended to transform their readers through their writings—like Plato, Rousseau and Nietzsche, for example—Dr. Jonas draws his readers into dialogue with these thinkers, encouraging his readers to rethink their own conceptions of justice, virtue, beauty, education, and so on.

Columbia University
Ph.D., Philosophy and Education, 2009

University of Portland
M.A., Teaching, 2002

University of Chicago
B.A., Philosophy, 1999

  • History of Philosophy of Education
  • The Philosophy of Plato
  • The Philosophy of Nietzsche
  • The Philosophy of Rousseau