Lebenskünstler

Human Nature, Education, Ecology – Dewey, Darwin, Midgley, Kropotkin [Part II]

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 10/26/2012

At Home in the World: Human Nature, Ecological Thought, and Education after Darwin – Eilon Schwartz

Midgley’s philosophy sees human emotions and not reason as defining the human essence…For Midgley, there is no contemplation without the emotions which shape and direct our reasoning. Those emotions, many of which are found in other social species, are central goods for humans, regardless of whether they are unique. It is an argument which we have seen by Darwin, relying on Hume, and continuing through Kropotkin and Dewey.

Emotions are what give direction to human actions. Without them, human life loses it motivation and its compass. Whereas the rationalist model sees the direction of human life through an emotion-less or emotion-served reason, Midgley contends that our emotions give structure and meaning to our actions. A life without emotions is one that lacks a meaningful structure from which to apply reason. In such a situation reason becomes lost at best, and dangerous at worst. Midgley’s definition of wickedness, and Darwin’s and Dewey’s too, is based on the absence of emotions, not their presence.

…Our emotions, therefore, are central to the educational process of clarifying and pursuing the ends of human life.

The moral life is the life that is lived in pursuit of the good life, that is, the life that a human being is meant to live. Education is about helping the individual identify the good and moral life, and offering tools to pursue it. The good life is not discovered outside of the emotional life, as the rationalist model would suggest, but rather through its cultivation. Emotions therefore, are both ends and means.

…The fact that emotional education is so consciously absent from school curriculums, for example, particularly as one advances in age, is a dangerous mistake of schooling, when looking at education through Darwin’s eyes.

Emotional education, therefore, should not be seen as being opposed to rational education, but rather as an integrated view of reason made up of emotions, and emotions shaped through reason.

The Darwinian perspective sits at the crossroads between the essentialist and constructivst position. Accepting human beings as social beings, it recognizes that meaning is mediated and emerges from the social world. However, claiming that there is a strong human nature, inherited at birth, it maintains that socialization takes place in interaction with an innate nature which is always present and active.

Kropotkin, Dewey, and Midgley all contend that our innate human natures offer a moral instinct which allows us to resist culture when it moves to forms that are dehumanizing, that is, against our nature. Strongest in our childhood, before socialization has overwhelmed it, ideally it is fostered and developed by culture but also remains as a wellspring from which to oppose culture, if necessary.

Darwin’s worldview, of course, was not an objective fact of the world, but rather an organizing metaphor, capable of changing when challenged with discrepancy from the empirical information which justifies it. Being well read, attending to the larger picture, and examining competing versions of the larger picture were all necessary steps to Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to Midgley. Science exists within a culture, not separate from it. Studying the worldview, therefore, and building one’s own, is central to being able to navigate the path to a truly human life, is the goal of education. One cannot do without a worldview; it is only a question of whether one critically attends to it or not. The humanities are central to this purpose.

Midgley is very clear about the usefulness of uselessness in the curriculum…Midgley’s curriculum, therefore, puts a tremendous emphasis on exactly those subjects that in an instrumentally driven curriculum would have little place. It is exactly because they are useless – that is, an ends and not a means – that they are most valuable. As she attacks the instrumental “use” of education, she argues that when education focuses solely on training for employment, without tending to human life and its manifold needs as ends, one will find despair, alienation, depression, and with their concomitant failure in the workplace. An ends-driven “useless” education might also be the most useful of educations, nurturing meaning and motivation.

[quoting Roland Martin] One finds repeated demands for proficiency in the three Rs, for clear, logical thinking, and for higher standards of achievement in science, mathematics, history, literature, and the like. one searches in vain for discussions of love or calls for mastery of the three Cs of care, concern, and connection.

Beck and Kosnick structure the emotionally rich class and school community into three clusters that need to be nurtured: a community of rich conversation; a community of celebration, joy and openness; and a community of tenderness, security, friendship and mutuality. Furthermore they argue that “emotional education” should not be defined as a separate subject, but rather should be woven into the very heart of a school’s culture.

…it is not the subject matter on its own which brings the message, but rather a particular attitude to life which must pervade the teaching. It is not only what we teach, but how we teach. Without love, for example, science is curiosity without values; with it, science becomes a “reverent understanding of the universe.”

Darwinism has been perceived as an anti-religious worldview. But if we define religiosity as understanding that we are part of a larger whole which gives us meaning, and the experience of transcendence in our lives, then Darwinism surely advocates a religious worldview. Science does not stand in opposition to religion, nor independent of it, but as a central tool in teaching wonder, awe, and reverence, and approaching the world with wonder is a necessary ingredient in true scientific pursuit.

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