Category Archives: philosophy

Ought – is, normative and descriptive terms

My philosophical knowledge is inadequate to the task that I have set it – understanding my job as an educator. For instance, I’m currently reading Why ‘what works’ won’t work: Evidence-based practice and the democratic deficit in educational research by Gert Biesta (2007), and I need to understand the philosophical building blocks that he uses.

Biesta refers to something called ‘unwarranted leap’ from “is” to “ought”, which according to this video, has its genesis in Hume’s writing.  I’m amazed and somehow delighted about the way that things often come back to or emanate from Hume.  I feel that I really like Hume as a person – possibly because I first ran into him by reading Roy Porter’s ‘Flesh in the Age of Reason’, as he is one of my favourite historians. Porter makes Hume’s ideas and his character so ‘human’, so real that I can’t help liking him.

Anyway, a good introduction is this one from the BBC:

but a google search also led me to this:

(nb geeky teacher aside I found this video absolutely fascinating, not only because it uses Southpark to teach philosophy – which must be a great example of teaching only using the best that has been thought or said!!.  It is also fascinating  because of the utterly engaged and active learning that this lecturer is arousing in his students by delivering a lecture.)

It’s emotion that takes us from is to ought – a feeling that is aroused inside us by something that we describe so that we make of it a moral rule.  However, such feelings are not universal – how we respond to the is will be different from the way others respond.   As the questions in the video above make clear, this in turn can give rise to concerns of relativism.  If ‘ought’ is only ever driven by an individual emotional reaction to ‘is’ then there can be no universal ‘ought’.

Where does this leave us?  Are all rules entirely arbitrary? Do we live in a soup of competing moral universes?

Philosophy from the BBC

I have not yet finished listening to all these programmes, but so far, I’ve really enjoyed the ‘A History of Ideas‘ series, though I’m not sure that the title really lived up to the contents of the programmes, which are really contemporary dissections of ideas, informed by their histories.  Highlights included Simon Schaffer’s discussion of beauty. The common thread running through many of the programmes seemed to be ‘to what extent do we make our choices freely, or how much are they determined, perhaps by our genetics, culture, upbringing or environment?’.

Oh, and the Doctor Who -v- Philosophers is great fun.


The transcendental material requirements for the existence of the Collegè de France

“[post modernism] a state of mind deemed possible in the west, is a luxury dependent on the state of the rest.  The post-modern experience is not on globally for those seeking bread not circuses and seeking freedom of expression and not expressive freedom.  There are transcendental material requirements for the existence of the Collegè de France and for the privileged practice of ‘playing with the pieces’.

From Archer (2013) Critical Realism in the Social Sciences in Archer et al (2013) Critical Realism, Essential Readings.

Wish I’d read this years ago when struggling with AA820 on the OU.

Writing for the Self.

Every now and then I read something which helps me to understand, or to question, the world in which I find myself living.  Often it’s great to have a prejudice re-enforced, and though having the stuffing knocked out of those same prejudices is not fun, sometimes it can also be really persuasive and interesting.  One of the things that I am really enjoying about my course is the chance to experience and understand some new ideas – many of which are having this dizzying effect. Over the last few days I have been reading ‘Social Theory and Education Research’ edited by Mark Murphy (I bought it from the excellent Mr B’s Emporium) in an attempt to understand the way that other people have understood the social, and in particular the power relationships of education and educational research.  It’s not an easy read, but it is strangely gripping.  Chapter 2, a description of the development of the ideas of Michael Foucault by Julie Allan has grabbed me and will not let me go.

Firstly there are ideas about surveillance, observation and judgement in education which, had I known about them over the last couple of years, would have made me question the practice of ‘mock ofsteds’ and making judgements on learning walk visits that I have been part of in school, and the student-teacher observations I did as a PGCE mentor and tutor.   Foucault sees a system of surveillance designed to mark people as ‘types’, to carry those marks and to be normalised to homogeneity over time through the judgements that are made on them.  (Interestingly the very thoughtful and extremely practical David Didau has also been writing about the issue of observation today).

In his earlier writing (I’m told – I have to admit here I did once, as a much younger person, try to read ‘Archaeology’ but had to give up as I found it completely incomprehensible) Foucault did not offer any answers to this predicament, and indeed commented upon the impossibility of resistance to this system of surveillance.  However, later in his work he wrote about a framework of ethics which sees deliberate and disciplined ‘self care’ (though not in a hedonistic and self-centred) as a way of resisting, and which was to be achieved and maintained through activity; ‘if everything is dangerous then we always have something to do.  So my position leads not to apathy, but to a hyper- and pessimistic activism” (Quoted on page 27 of Allan).  Part of this activism is achieved through ‘transgression’, which I would really like to know more about and plan to cover in a later post.

A very important part of this self-care and the exercises that enable it is in writing.  Writing is something that I enjoy having done.  I can’t pretend that I find it easy whilst I do it, and I’m not one for making time for writing everyday.   I know lots of bloggers who do, and I admire their discipline.  Foucault would say, if I read Allan right, that such discipline is part of self-care and a way of resisting the power relations that we find ourselves living in. Foucault has it that writing is a form of meditation, in that it helps one bring to mind knowledge, and to work at understanding and creating knowledge.  This writing is not just a lonely task, but one which should be outward facing, so that one is helped by reading others’ work, but also so that we ‘summon the gaze of the other’ and, I am guessing, get that other’s help in own reflection and meditation.

Don’t worry – this isn’t the start of a ‘365’ blogging experiment.  However, I am going to make an effort to write more, because  it seems to me that Foucault is right about writing, as another post is exploring it on Crooked Timber – it makes you think.