Volume IV Number 1

Ottawa, Canada

Spring 1992

Message from the President

Francis Peddle


The lament for the condition of public education continues in the press and in more seasoned academic discussions. The back to basics movement ranges from the systematic cultural critiques of Alan Bloom and others to the straightforward hope by parents that their children be taught to read and write. Liberal democratic education, rooted in the ethics of society and cultural historicity, is social servicing, nursed by a vast industry of situational consultants who refer primarily to a pedagogy originally anchored in the sociology of knowledge. The principal thesis of Karl Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia, that there are modes of thought which cannot be adequately understood as long as their social origins are obscured, was transformed into the considerably less rigorous notion that there are no modes of thought severable from their social origins.

The condition of public education obviously reflects the condition of our culture and ultimately of our philosophy. And it cannot be known that our culture has a coherent history and theoretical underpinning if history is the only arbiter of how we think about history and culture. The transhistorical abstractions of the older metaphysics were inevitably displaced by historiologies – empirical, sociological, economic, hypothetico-deductive – and cultural self-portraits that cultivated a contingent instability and tedious revisionism. Such historiologies are equally abstract and unsupportive of any form of cultural unity, or more speculatively a unity in diversity. As Edward Gibbon once said of the ambassadors of a Renaissance Greek emperor: “persuasion is the resource of the feeble; and the feeble can seldom persuade”. The modern cultural historiologies do not even have an emperor.

Philosophy is neither historical nor transhistorical, contingent nor provident. Education is initially imitative, that is, sourced in an externality that the student does not yet know as a totality of subjective and objective referents. As an achieved mediacy, education overcomes itself and attains a nonimitative mediacy that is fundamentally the standpoint of philosophy and thus both historical and transhistorical. Educational institutions conceived as social service agencies absolutize the externalities of educational development and as such are inherently counter-philosophical. Our current educational environment is incapable of making such a critique of the educational milieu because it is devoid of a sufficiently rigorous speculative philosophy. The abstract socio-historical methodologies which drive the educational bureaucracies in the end prohibit more than promulgate educational and cultural development.

Most people are aware of this unhappy state of affairs. This is why many are calling for radical solutions, which are consistently opposed by entrenched interest groups in the public schools and universities. Radical reform is nothing but fundamental reform. Radix in Latin means “fundamental”, but such reform is itself abstract and unstable if not properly contextualized within a broader speculative and philosophical portrait of human nature and human organizations.

The current lament for public education will continue as long as speculative thought enlivens only at the margins. As people recoil from the mediocrity of the government schools, more resources will filter out to the marginalized centres of speculative rationality. This has become apparent in recent years, with the growth of sentiment for the voucher system in the United States and widespread disenchantment in Canada with high per capita educational costs and disproportionally low scholastic results. The 1990s could prove to be the decade when a command system of education becomes transformed into one more guided by a general speculative reason.

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This issue contains the second instalment of Dr. James Lowry’s Psyche and Cosmos. Causation theory pervades by necessity the realm of education and educational theory. Speculation about origins and causes are one of the earliest enthusiasms of a developing mind. There is little outlet, however, for these speculations, as one advances through the present educational system. The deadweight of sociological reasoning blurs reflections on the relation between the individual and the universe, making them appear irrelevant and puerile. Dr. Lowry shows that if these initial speculations on cosmology and the individual are taken up into a more rigorous system of thought, then educational theory and practice will no longer be vulnerable to continual detours and unimportant excursions. The rigor of systematic speculative thought is nurtured by our more immediate and youthful speculations about infinity, the origin of the universe, and the stark isolation of the individual. The third and final instalment of Psyche and Cosmos will appear in the next issue of ELEUTHERIA. provinces.