13 SES 07 B, Inclusive, Environmental Education and Ethics
Given the growing interest (across disciplinary boundaries) in Spinoza’s work in recent years, there is surprisingly little written on the subject of Spinoza and education. There are a handful of journal articles, such as Aloni’s “Spinoza as educator” (2008), Derry’s “The unity of intellect and will” (2006), Puolimatka’s “Spinoza’s theory of teaching and indoctrination” (2001) and Dahlbeck’s “Educating for immortality” (2014), and a few notable anthology chapters, such as Genevieve Lloyd’s “Spinoza and the education of the imagination” (1998), but overall the literature on Spinoza and education is quite limited. This paper seeks to add to this work, focusing on initiating a discussion on some of the normative consequences of formulating a philosophy of education based on Spinoza’s ethics of self-preservation. In doing so, it connects with a recent trend in Spinoza scholarship focusing on the ethical core of his philosophy, such as LeBuffe’s From Bondage to Freedom (2010), Kisner’s Spinoza on Human Freedom (2011) and Kisner and Youpa’s Essays on Spinoza’s Ethical Theory (2014).
A major contributing factor to Spinoza’s increasing popularity can be attributed to his radical break with Cartesian dualism. In recent years, there has been a growing discomfort with Cartesian dualism in educational theory. Gert Biesta (1999), for instance, has argued that the common-sensical understanding of human subjectivity – being founded on Cartesian dualism – represents subjectivity in education in an unsatisfactory way, and that because of this its metaphysical basis needs to be reevaluated. As Spinoza has formulated a radical and metaphysically solid alternative to Cartesian dualism, it would seem that Spinoza could offer the kind of metaphysical grounding that Biesta calls for when he investigates the possibilities of forming a new conception of subjectivity in education.
Spinoza was one of the most influential and radical philosophers of the Enlightenment era. His curious metaphysics function as bedrock for his naturalistic psychological account which in turn is the basis of his moral theory. This paper takes Spinoza’s moral theory as its point of departure when investigating the normative consequences of a philosophy of education based on Spinoza’s philosophy.
However, turning to Spinoza in order to see if his philosophy could answer Biesta’s call for a new conception of subjectivity also means that we have to reevaluate other foundational notions in education. My own contention is that when (which is fairly rare) Spinoza is appealed to in educational theory, one of the most challenging aspects of his philosophy is usually either glossed over or not being considered at all. This aspect would be Spinoza’s anti-humanism and the implications that this has for his moral theory. One might speculate as to why this is so, but I think a reasonable guess is that once Spinoza’s anti-humanism is taken into account the very notion of modern education, as a humanistic project, becomes troubled at its very foundation.
Hence, a central purpose of this paper is to show that any serious attempt at formulating a Spinozistic ethics of education needs to take Spinoza’s anti-humanism into account, and that in actually doing so we will see that it is possible to formulate a coherent philosophy of education founded on Spinoza’s ethics of self-preservation. This, however, requires a reconceptualization of some of the key concepts that we associate with the philosophy and ethics of education: concepts such as human freedom, knowledge, understanding and happiness.
Aloni, N. (2008) Spinoza as Educator: from Eudaimonistic Ethics to an Empowering and Liberating Pedagogy, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 40.4, pp. 531-544. Biesta, G. J. J. (1999). Where Are You? Where Am I? Education, Identity and the Question of Location, in: C. A. Säfström (Ed.) Identity: Questioning the Logic of Identity within Educational Theory (Studentlitteratur, Lund), pp. 21–45. Dahlbeck, J. (2014) Educating for Immortality: Spinoza and the Pedagogy of Gradual Existence, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Early View. Doi: 10.1111/1467-9752.12107 Derry, J. (2006) The Unity of Intellect and Will: Vygotsky and Spinoza, Educational Review, 56.2, pp. 113-120. Kisner, M. J. (2011) Spinoza on Human Freedom: Reason, Autonomy and the Good Life (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press). Kisner, M. J. & Youpa, A. (Eds.) (2014) Essays on Spinoza’s Ethical Theory (Oxford, Oxford University Press). LeBuffe, M. (2010) From Bondage to Freedom: Spinoza on Human Excellence (Oxford, Oxford University Press). Lloyd, G. (1998) Spinoza and the Education of the Imagination, in A. O. Rorty (Ed.) Philosophers on Education: New Historical Perspectives (London, Routledge), pp. 156-171. Melamed, Y. Y. (2011) Spinoza’s anti-humanism: An outline, in C. Fraenkel, D. Perinetti & J. E. H. Smith (Eds.) The Rationalists: Between Tradition and Innovation (Dordrecht, Springer Netherlands), pp. 147-166. Puolimatka, T. (2001) Spinoza’s Theory of Teaching and Indoctrination, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 33.3/4, pp. 397-410. Spinoza, B. (1994) Ethics, in E. Curley (Ed.) A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 85-265. Spinoza, B. (2007) Theological-Political Treatise (Ed. J. Israel) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Youpa, A. (2003) Spinozistic Self-Preservation, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XLI, pp. 477-490.
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