Issue n° 21

Opening : Jules Verne humanist ?, Michel Fabre (University of Nantes)

Moral chronicle : Bad consciences, Sophie Ernst (INRP)

Thinking of immigrants as victims and feeling compassion and guilt towards them only leads to distance and lack of understanding. In the author’s view one should, on the contrary, recognise their courage, their situational awareness and their capacities for adaptation and compromise. On this basis, it should be possible to think in a unified way about the history of immigration and national history – and to forge a pedagogy of otherness which is both optimistic and based on trust.

Notion : Person, Jean-Marc Lamarre (IUFM Pays-de-Loire)

The notions of self-esteem, recognition and autonomy are part of our understanding of contemporary schooling and help us to think about the conditions for successful learning. Is the idea of person appropriate in describing the status of the pupil ? Can it help us to cope with the contemporary crisis in schooling or is it itself adversely affected by the crisis? J-M Lamarre examines this topic by going into the philosophical tradition from St Augustine to Hegel and Ricoeur. He shows the extent to which the ideas of identity, relationship to others and self-image – all centring on the idea of person – are to be found in current thinking about the topic. He also puts forward the – political – hypothesis that the idea of person helps us to transcend conflicts between communitarianism and individualism and between abstract republicanism and cultural attachment.

Report: Education and humanism

Presentation, Alain Vergnioux (Université de Caen)

Education and humanism?, Jan Masschelein (University of Leuven)

What ‘interpretation’ of human nature and of society is implied in the humanist definition of education? The question is discussed with reference to four different historical stages. A tight connection was made at the time of the Renascence between the ideas of a free subject, the institution of a political community, and education. In the notion of Bildung, German philosophy suggested that the aim of education is to be found in teh attainment on the part both of subjects and of civil society of self-determination and self-identity. Self- consciousness is achieved in ‘culture’, the idea of which gives rise to the thought of both tradition and a living community having the same rationale; and the idea of the university comes to have the function of mediating between individuals, the community and the state. But this account presupposes that communal identity, reason and intercommunication among subjects are self-transparent phenomena, yet the ideas of social connectedness, consensus, identity and rational communication are obscure, ambiguous and illusory. Must we then give up humanist assumptions about humanity’s relation with itself based on the notion of identity and rethink education from the opposite point of view of otherness ?

J-F Herbart : humanist pedagogy and critique of the subject, Carole Maigné (University of Caen)

For J-F Herbart pedagogy was a key topic, given its place in the task of reconceptualising the subject after the breach with Kantian and Fichtean idealism. This led him to a concept of Bildung which was incompatible with a transcendental definition of the subject or of humanity. From the mid- nineteenth century onwards Herbart’s ideas were disseminated in Germany and then – very rapidly – in France, where T.Ribot drew people’s attention to him via articles in the Revue philosophique de la France et de l’etranger. In France, too, Herbartian themes contributed to the gradual development of educational science. Herbart’s work was marked by realism and empiricism. Given his interest in education’s role in developing people’s humanity, his framework was a psychology which was scientific, experimental and based on a dynamic system of representations. Pedagogy could then be viewed scientifically as a process of logical development on three levels – governance, instruction and moral education.

Fichte and education: becoming a human being among human beings, Jean-Marc Lamarre (IUFM Pays-de-Loire)

The idea of the wholesale formation of a human being, as found in humanism, gives rise to two problems. The first is the illusion of a a possible ‘fabrication’ of a human being which leaves nothing to chance. The second is about whether the process envisaged concerns individuals or the whole of humanity. Fichte believed he could solve this problem via a theory of intersubjectivity: society, as individuals in free interaction, becomes the educative medium. But further questions arise from the lines of thought he develops in the Discourses : how to square the ‘national’ character of education with its universalistic (cosmopolitan) goal? What can a unified national education be based on apart from language – as a guarantee of the (substantial) continuity of the community through time ? So as to keep out of dangerous waters , J-M Lamarre suggests that we should think about education ‘with Fichte against Fichte’ in line with a humanism of intersubjectivity and against the humanist temptation to remake human nature.

A curricular mismatch ? Compulsory religious education in Britain, John White (University of London)

In England and Wales issues about humanist education are connected with religious education. The latter became a compulsory subject in 1944 for civic reasons – so as to strengthen people’s attachment to democracy after the war and the moral values on which democracy rests. By the 1990s, as is shown in official documentation, RE was still seen as a vehicle of moral education (but now without the former link with democracy). J. White gives a critical analysis of these recent developments. In particular, he examines whether in a now largely secular society moral education should, or indeed could, be based on religion.

A paradoxical humanism, Jean-Michel Besnier (Université de Compiègne)

During the twentieth century the idea of humanism was subjected to critical attacks which made it almost impossible to use the term. Whether the attacks came from Levi-Strauss, Adorno or Sartre, the idea of humanity as a dominating force, as well as the ideas of progress and of emancipation were subjected to denunciation or radical doubt. But if in place of these we take another kind of humanism derived from a naive mysticism or naturalism, the onslaughts have been even fiercer. In J-M Besnier’s view, the outcome is essentially paradoxical, arising, on the one hand, from trust in human reason and, on the other, from scepticism about its ability to transform the world and, even more, human beings.

A plea for a post-modern humanism, Sophie Ernst (INRP)

In his last works, T. Todorov departs from his former structuralist framework and sees a deep educational value in literature. But for this one has to redefine the idea of humanism, dispensing in turn with conservative humanism, scientific humanism and individualist humanism. If a humanist position is still possible, it is found in the ‘autonomy of the I’ , the ‘finality of the thou’ and the ‘universality of the they’. In her essay Sophie Ernst explores Todorov’s ideas, casting doubt on the validity of a humanism based on the Rights of Man, and emphasising that humanism can also – perhaps mainly – be defined as a body of work and as education.

Correspondence : German philospophy of education. The breach with unity: difference – plurality – sociality., Norbert Ricken (University of Münster)

In the German philosophical tradition, the field of philosophy of education is bounded on one side by the idea of a general theory of education (or general pedagogy of education), and on the other by the idea of Bildung as the formation of the cultural and social subject. The sixties saw the appearance of a unitary model under pressure from the various social sciences of education, but this raised philosophical difficulties. In the last fifteen years the focus has shifted to reconstructing the discipline in a rational and coherent way. Three paths have been followed, based on epistemology, anthropology and a new conception of Bildung. The contemporary scene is heterogeneous but the central question remains: how and in what conditions can one conceptualise the cultural and social foundations of education, given the two-fold, post-modern perspective of epistemological pluralism on the one hand, and ‘the death of man’ on the other ?