Second centrepiece lecture on philosophy of education(jude sutton): ARISTOTLE, KANT AND THE PROJECT OF THE HUMANITIES
Jude Sutton appeared almost on time for the lesson and the lesson began with the words:
“Education is a noun but the key to the whole problem as to what education is, lies in the primary verb form ”educe” which, according to the “Cambridge” English Dictionary means to bring out, to lead, develop from latent or potential existence, a process of inference of principle from the matter which it explains.
This ladies and gentlemen is a very different idea to that we have discussed earlier, namely, the world being the totality of facts. In the idea or form of education the Aristotelian notion is of a world being a totality of facts, forms and explanations or justifications, where these explanations and justifications in many areas of discourse have a fact- determining role.”
The Science major raised his hand and asked.” I don’t quite understand. Surely a fact is a fact independently of what anyone thinks about it”
“I agree, a wolf can kill 3 sheep in 7 days independently of whether there is anyone to see these events or talk about them, but that is only part of the story of what makes a statement to that effect true. The wolf is a form and has become a linguistic entity as soon as he became a bearer of the name “wolf”… but this is all too theoretical to be of immediate relevance for us. If for no other reason than the fact that the concept of Education is not close to the physical events occurring in the world and not close to the thoughts that furnish one’s mind but is rather an umbrella term for a group of action-related processes whose telos or function will only become clear when we have sketched the logical geography of the associated concepts in this terrain.
Let me give you an example of the way in which principles determine reality in the practical sphere of ethics. No one, I hope will question the importance of ethics for Education. In theoretical contexts if I claim that “water boils at 100 degrees centigrade” and someone discovers that it does not at great heights above sea level, then my statement is not a principle, and must be rejected on the grounds of lacking support in reality.
But take the ethical principle “Murder is wrong” and imagine you are standing in a bus queue and two people begin quarrelling bitterly with each other. One pulls out a gun and shoots the other. We have witnessed what is called a murder and we are bearers of the attitude towards this event expressed in the words “Murder is wrong” Now note that the argument for murder being wrong is not to be found in reality as is the case with the wolf eating 3 sheep in 7 days. That is, the argument is not to be found in the fact that the murder occurred in front of my eyes whilst I was standing in a bus queue.
It is to be found in what philosophers call principles in the ought system of concepts, one of which is “Murder is wrong”. This principle is fact-determining. The principle itself also has the function of justifying the attitude we take to the event and all explanation and justification ends there. So, at least in the world of how things ought to be, in the world of value, this is the end of the process of justification. Once we have reached the rock bottom of the justification process we can but appeal to our fundamental attitudes and to what we do and this is why the Greek philosophers and Kant placed their bets on practical philosophy in their search for solutions to metaphysical problems
But I digress, yet only ever so slightly, for the answer to the question “ What is education?” resides in how we characterize what we do and the attitudes underlying what we do”
The drama student raised her hand and asked
“But does that not make what we do, relative, and not in accordance with, the universality principle. After all the murderer thinks what he did is right. That is his attitude toward what he has done”
“True, but since this is not how he ought to think, this is not an argument against the principle. How we ought to think, of course, is as much of a logical matter as is how we do in fact think, and this may be why the world is not just the totality of facts. The younger Wittgenstein was wrong and he has admitted as much and written a work entitled “Philosophical Investigations” in which we shall find the beginnings of the answers to some of the questions that will be thrown up in this course. Education is the name for a family of activities conducted in accordance with criteria for a value system which ought to be universally true, but are not, because we are not ethically mature beings. Yet ethics is there bubbling under the surface of everyday relations and legal systems. It is there ready to erupt when the time is right. It erupts daily in these systems but it has not resulted in what I would like to call the ethical attitude because we , unlike Socrates, do not understand what we do not know. We do not fully understand ourselves. The claim of the later Wittgenstein and Gilbert Ryle is that we will only reach full understanding when, after analysis of all the relevant concepts and possible judgments we will stand in a strategic part of the educational terrain and see everything stretched out before us.
The Greeks felt that education was the universal key to unlock all doors: the doors of moral virtue, good government, the soul, and the world. Kant felt that the educational project was necessary for the perfection of mans human nature, a project that might take one hundred thousand years. According to him, man can only become truly what he is destined to be when the project is nearing completion..
The major problem about education in particular and values in general is that , as Wittgenstein wrote, values are not to be found in the world, they lie at the origins of it and also in the attitudes men bring to bear upon the world via their actions and judgments. When it comes to certain kinds of events, it has been argued, men seem to create the world they live in.
“But”, the questioner persisted, “Surely attitudes differ. You like strawberries and I like raspberries. What citizen A does in Polis P is different to what a citizen B does in Polis Q”
“True, on both counts. There are different kinds of actions and different kinds of judgments. Liking Strawberries and Raspberries are a matter of judgments of taste. And citizen P may drive a certain kind of car to work and citizen Q a different kind of car. These latter two examples are examples of what philosophers call instrumentalities: actions whose essence is to be instrumental to achieving a goal, such as going to work. The goal in itself may also be an instrumentality and be part of achieving another goal further on in time, such as saving to buy a house. But at some time in the acting process we come upon value, the origin and terminus of the process of practical reasoning: the categorical reason for doing what we do--and these reasons reveal our attitude toward the world in general. Such attitudes usually relate to what Plato and Aristotle called “The Form of the Good”. To return to our example from the realm of ethics, “Murder is wrong”. This is, according to Kant, a moral law which can be universalized(that is, everyone ought to believe it and act in accordance with it) and has to do with a fundamental attitude towards people and the kind of society it is necessary to build if we are to complete “The Human Project”
“But people clearly do not universally believe in it or act in accordance with it. The prisons are filled with murderers”, the mature English major asserted.
“And the point is to understand why they are there, sitting in their prisons, thinking about their deeds. In murdering someone, the agent gives up their humanity, according to Kant, and this suffices as an argument for him to give murderers the death penalty. But actually putting murderers in prison might be sufficiently Kantian, even for Kant, because in prison we lose what he regards as part of the essence of humanity, namely ones freedom. Kantian philosophy permeates the legal system: Murderers are found guilty of murder in legal processes because we all have powerful minds, part of the structure of which is to choose between right and wrong, or even more basically: the man in the bus queue in front of me could have chosen not to pull out his gun and shoot his antagonist. We all possess this ability to distance ourselves from our own acts. In modern brain research parlance: the frontal lobes inhibit instinctive action and bring reasoning to bear upon what we may, deep in our animal souls, wish to do. However it is important to question the principle of justice our system of law is in fact operating with. Leo Tolstoy thought it was a primitive quid pro quo system based on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and his Kingdom of the utopian future contains no legal system. Christian Morality takes care of everything. In this we hear the strains of an old Socratic song from the early books of Republic.
We digress, yet ever so slightly, since education is fundamentally concerned with the project of Humanity, and if the preceding argument is correct, Education is fundamentally in its nature, a process obeying the laws of the categorical imperative, to use Kants language. And with that I think we can rest our case for today.” Since we have pointed out the similarities between the language we use for education and ethical language we shall during the next lecture take up the issue of ethics and language.”
Michael R D James