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Bildung


Bildung (German: [ˈbɪldʊŋ], ) refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation (as related to the German for: creation, image, shape), wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation. This maturation is described as a harmonization of the individual’s mind and heart and in a unification of selfhood and identity within the broader society, as evidenced with the literary tradition of Bildungsroman.

In this sense, the process of harmonization of mind, heart, selfhood and identity is achieved through personal transformation, which presents a challenge to the individual’s accepted beliefs. In Hegel’s writings, the challenge of personal growth often involves an agonizing alienation from one’s “natural consciousness” that leads to a reunification and development of the self. Similarly, although social unity requires well-formed institutions, it also requires a diversity of individuals with the freedom (in the positive sense of the term) to develop a wide-variety of talents and abilities and this requires personal agency. However, rather than an end state, both individual and social unification is a process that is driven by unrelenting negations.

In this sense, education involves the shaping of the human being with regard to his/her own humanity as well as his/her innate intellectual skills. So, the term refers a process of becoming that can be related to a process of becoming within Existentialism.

The term Bildung also corresponds to the Humboldtian model of higher education from the work of Prussian philosopher and educational administrator Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835). Thus, in this context, the concept of education becomes a lifelong process of human development, rather than mere training in gaining certain external knowledge or skills. Such training in skills is known by the German words Erziehung, and Ausbildung. Bildung in contrast is seen as a process wherein an individual's spiritual and cultural sensibilities as well as life, personal and social skills are in process of continual expansion and growth. Bildung is seen as a way to become more free due to higher self-reflection. Von Humboldt himself wrote the following about Bildung in his essay "Theory of Human Education [Bildung]"



  • Bruford, W.H. (1975). The German Tradition of Self-Cultivation: Bildung from Humboldt to Thomas Mann, London: Cambridge University Press.
  • Waters, Tony (2015). "Teach Like You Do in America--Personal Reflections about Teaching in Tanzania and Germany," Palgrave Communications (2015) http://www.palgrave-journals.com/articles/palcomms201526
  • Wood, Allen W. (1998). "Hegel on Education," Amélie O. Rorty (ed.) Philosophy as Education. London: Routledge, 1998.
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