The metaphysics of education can be understood from the various perspectives of epistemology -- a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of knowledge. This includes the way knowledge is acquired, as well as the thoroughness and limitations of knowledge. The study of epistemology can be applied to the metaphysics of educational instruction.


Externalism postulates that factors external to the human mind are conditions on which to base knowledge. For example, an externalist would argue an appeal to factual information about the external world is necessary to justify what is considered internal knowledge. In the case of educational metaphysics, an externalist approach to instruction emphasizes factual, information-based learning. Externalist sentiments are common in fields of study such as mathematics and science, in which numerical objectivity and empirical experimentation are used to develop the student's knowledge of the subject.


Internalism is the view in which knowledge is seen to be created within the internal, psychological state of the student. An example of the internalist approach to knowledge is seen in the method of René Descartes. Descartes based his theory of knowledge on the belief that, in the context of human perception, the external world is created through the senses. Applied to the metaphysics of education, this theory emphasizes the internal perspective of the student as opposed to a strict teaching of external, objective information.

Epistemological Branches

Within epistemology are numerous schools of thought that appeal to both the internalist and externalist approaches to knowledge. Empiricism is the theory that knowledge is acquired through sensory experience. In contrast, idealism argues that knowledge is formed internally by innate properties of the human mind. Rationalism is a third epistemological school of thought that combines properties from both the empiricist and idealist schools and adds the concept of abstraction as a third property of knowledge. Finally, constructivism argues that knowledge is constructed through social and traditional tendencies, and thus is relative.


An externalist approach to education focuses on presenting students with information. The instructor emphasizes reading material, lectures, and multisensory explanations such as infographics and experimental analysis. In contrast, an internalist approach to education focuses on a more subjective development of knowledge. A internalist instructor emphasizes class discussion, group collaboration, and student autonomy in learning. The externalist approach therefore is based on the external presentation of learning material, while the internalist approach is based on the internal comprehension of the student. Of course, techniques from both methods can be used to optimize educational effectiveness.