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Free Content Bildung - The Freedom of the Educated

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This article explores the history of the German concept of education: Bildung, which was characteristic for the most productive era in German thinking and philosophy - between 1790 and 1830. The creation of the term can be traced back to the writings of thirteenth-century mystics. The original religious connotation remained important, and was partly handed down in Pietistic writings, but the word was put into other contexts, for example ethics, aesthetics and cognition. In the eighteenth century the concept was filled with the philosophical trends of Baroque and German Idealism. The names of Herder, Humboldt, Goethe and Schiller represent the Bildungsidee in its heyday. Selbstbildung (self-education) was an essential element of the Bildungsidee that in principle belongs to the area of adult education. The concept had a lasting influence. In the 1960s and 1970s the Bildungsidee was subject to a critical debate in Germany. The idea of Selbstbildung, formulated by Humboldt, seemed at the same time attractive, because of its aspects of emancipation, and unacceptable, because of its √©litist implications. Important arguments of the debate will be introduced and followed by the question: is it anachronistic to discuss the Bildungsidee today, instead of merely concentrating on the concept of ‘learning’ as the main paradigm of adult education?

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Hannover, Germany

Publication date: September 1, 2003

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Adult and Continuing Education (JACE) is essential for keeping in touch with the field of post-compulsory education. Published twice a year, it provides a forum for rigorous theoretical and practical work in the broad fields of lifelong learning and adult, community and continuing education. The journal is peer-reviewed and focuses on international and national issues and is aimed at researchers, professionals and practitioners in all sectors. It publishes both research articles and reflections on policy and practice, and offers opportunities for all concerned with post-compulsory education to make contributions to debate.

    This title is now published by SAGE Publishing. The new website for this journal is Please be sure to update your bookmarks to the new website.

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