Issue n° 36


Moral chronicle : We do not ask what use are human sciences, Marie Cuillerai (Paris VIII University)

The revolt among academics against the challenge to the link between teaching and research prompts questions about the meaning of knowledge, its production and its ends. M. Cuillerai draws on the experience of the Collège de Sociologie to re-phrase the question: what can be known and by whom. It is no longer merely a question of measuring the effects of research by the yardstick of its utility. According to Georges Bataille, the power of thought discloses itself and finds expression in its investment, in an unlimited manner, beyond any consideration of means and ends.

Notion : Expert, Alain Vergnioux (Caen University)

The term ‘expert’ was first used in the nineteenth century to characterise a person skilful in a particular area. It was used to describe a specialist who had been accepted as such by a legitimating decision normally made by peers. This allowed her or him to be consulted and to offer opinions. The article shows how expertise found itself reserved to elites to the disadvantage of ordinary workers whose abilities remained invisible. It shows also how expertise has itself changed to become an instrument for fashioning norms or methods of control. This took place first in the sphere of management before spreading into public administration and into the conduct of the State’s business.

Report: Norm and normativity in Education

Presentation, Alain Vergnioux

Normality, normalisation, normativity : Towards a Critical and Creative Pedagogy, Laurence Cornu (Angers University)

The model of a rational, republican and universal education was originally the norm. More widely, the idea of a norm relates to gestures, beliefs or values peculiar to a society. But from being social and collective, the norm becomes a relative construct while acquiring a new legitimacy in statistical form and in a science of behaviour. These conception were dismissed by Merleau-Ponty and Canguilhem who offered in their place the notions of sense, of form, of transformation and of adaptation, thus of diversity. Alternatively the notion of ‘normativity’ was also offered as a movement by which a subject creates her own particular forms of life. According to Foucault the stubborn reference to normality corresponds to new forms of power. Normalisation in teaching resides at institutional levels in micro methods of inter-personal monitoring that find expression in terms of programmes, frames of reference, of control and of professionnalisation.

Between nature and contingency: from normality to normativity, Brigitte Frelat-Kahn (Amiens University)

Canguilhem frees the idea of norm from its metapysical and moral dimensions to make of it a dynamic concept, integrating notions of equilibrium, of conflict, of adaptation and invention. Subsequently in democratic societies, it acquires considerable importance at the interface between unity and pluralism, conformity and freedom. This cannot avoid generating contradictions. From the perspective of the right, the more one is free, the more one needs laws and rules. In the domain of production and exchange, international norms, under the pretence of equity, increase inequality; applied to education these norms herald the triumph of instrumental reason: promoting efficiency and competitiveness. Normativity in education finds its completion in generalised devices of evaluation. Paradoxically, the more the right seeks to objectify social relations, the more normativisation affirms the subjectivity of agents and reinforces their responsibility.

Norm and idiom: Notes on Wittgenstein, training and the infant, Plinio W. Prado Jr. (Paris VIII University)

These ideas are based on a primary distinction: it is one thing to acquire knowledge or a skill, it is another to learn one’s mother tongue. In this respect, Wittgenstein considers that learning does not derive from explanation but constitutes rather a form of ‘training’. We become part of a culture by the practice of ‘language games’ and through them, we come to participate in ‘forms of life’, the norms and values, of a culture. This idea was taken up by K. Appel and J. Habermas in seeing in the language the basis of communicative rationality. The question to be addressed is whether there remains something of an affective character in the relationship between language games and the construction of a subject. What the author proposes for consideration is the ‘aspectual’ dimension of the embeddedness of the body in language.

Normativity et science in the field of education : between epistemological logic and the logic of institutions., Maurice Sachot (Marc Bloch University, Strasbourg)

If all reality is governed by normativity, how can we evaluate scientifically the manner in normativity is exercised in the area under consideration? The author distinguishes between two kinds of normativity, one epistemic and the other institutional. First the study analyses the notion of norm, recalls its double tradition. geometric and juridical, and its scientific and social uses. Next it reviews its genesis and changes in its historical and theoretical manifestations: the Church, Reason, the Republic, offering abundant norms, basically for school, reason and science. This reductionism is not without negative consequences for education, so that, according to M. Sachot ‘there is no longer truth, there are only norms’.

Potential: scope and logic of a concept, Michel Le Du (Marc Bloch University, Strasbourg)

At a time when each individual is invited to realise her ‘potential’, the author proposes a critical analysis of this notion, comparing and contrasting it with notions of competence, capacity, disposition or power. Drawing on the work of I. Sheffler, he raises three myths in respect of ‘potential’: its stability versus it variability, the harmony between the different potentials of the same individual versus their opposition and incompatibility, the intrinsic value of each one versus the possibility that certain may be dangerous. Thus, in the field of education, there is an misguided belief that each individual possesses an infinite potential for development and knowledge that the teacher just has to awaken, or the person just has to acknowledge and use. In addition if the development of a capacity is based on norms or rules, those that allow us to define the manner of developing such or such a capacity are of a different character and derive from a practical theory.

Studies : Telemachus, or the symbolic detour, Philippe Arnaud (Lycée Gabriel Fauré)

Fénelon’s treatment of Telemachus proves evidence of the character’s connection with paideia. Philippe Arnaud’s intention is to explore in Homer’s text the nature of this paideia. Reading the Odyssey, it becomes makes it clear that the matter is far from simple. It appears indeed that at the beginning of the text that Telemachus has remained close to Penelope like a big child. Next the questions that are raised by the interminable absence of the hero, king of Ithacus, and in particular, the question of his likely succession are noted. These issues threaten the country with a coup d’ėtat. What place does Telemachus hold in this struggle for power among the suitors? It will be seen that this place is going to change radically following a conversion when, under the guidance of the goddess, Athena, disguised as a Mentor, who has been won over to his cause, he will undertake a sea voyage towards the Pylos of King Nestor and towards the Sparta of the re-united Menelaus-Helen.

Studies : Moral education: Socrates and Levinas, Marie Agostini (Aix-Marseille I University)

What is moral education? This question has been treated in philosophy since the beginnings of philosophy in Greece. Indeed, in thinkers such as Socrates and Levinas there is to be found the idea that determining the content of an ethical concept such as ‘virtue’ seems to reduce moral education to mere conditioning – a process that would contradict the idea of an ethical education. The question of a moral education comes back to asking what kind of moral education supports ethical freedom. Do we wish to form morally free individuals capable of self-choice or people who reflect the ethical choices that we would have made in their place? The philosophical insights of Socrates and Levinas, in their similarities as in their differences, offer many resources to foster reflection on alterity and the conditions favourable to a moral education that is responsive to the demands of an ethical approach.