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Friday, February 15, 2008

Realism as a Philosophy of Education

Jason A. Baguia
M. Philosophy
Philosophy of Education NT
Mr. Antonio Diluvio
University of San Carlos, College of Arts and Sciences
Graduate Studies Department of Philosophy

What is admirable about realism as a philosophy of education – and I speak here of classical realism – is that it revolted against the idealist confinement of what is ultimately real to the world of ideas. This revolutionary viewpoint alone has important educative implications, the first being that of putting man in a position of primacy in relation with instead of supremacy in condescending rule over the rest of the universe. Since what is outside man as perceived through sensation is real, since what I see is what I get, then I have the responsibility of knowing these things in order that I may use them well. I resist the utopian belittling of the material as mere, poor copies of what they truly are in an other-world without illusions, but instead care for my world knowing that it is the only one I have and realizing that it is ultimately not mine, but that of many more who would be in it long after my time is past. Whether I am there to perceive the world or not, the world exists. I would be selfish and callous if I do not revere this world that is independent of me: that is not a product of my conception, but an independent reality, for, to paraphrase Max Ehrmann, with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. If I am educated in such a way as to not reject this world as a mere specter, then I would be equipped with the knowledge of being responsible for it. I need not look forward exclusively to looking forward to a better world, but I endeavor with all of myself as well to make this world a better place.

The Christianization of classical realism courtesy of St. Thomas Aquinas is in my assessment a most venerable culmination of this educational philosophy. While Aristotle's realism placed man in relation with his world, Aquinas' realism philosophically fortified man in relation with God. In doing so he tied up the final chain of the triad that forms the subjects or objects of man’s philosophical inquiries across the ages: God, the world, and himself. God being pure reason and man being made in the image and likeness of this pure reason becomes more and more identified with the deity the better and the more he exercises reason through thinking. In our secularized setting, Christian-classical realism is considered quaint, if not prehistoric. But in truth it is only when educators are aware of a Divine Teacher who will one day judge their own teachings that they will be inspired to perform their tasks with excellence. Hence they will impart not just knowledge per se but education geared towards the common good, education guided by a God who seeks the salvation of all in a re-creation that is not only spiritual but holistic, thus converting too the temporal realm and not just the unseen. The educational philosophy prevails today in Catholic academic circles under the language of "stewardship" whereby the end of knowledge is sustainable development – the use of creation and human time, treasure and talent in a way that enhances but neither depletes nor oppresses the gifts placed under our care.

The secular-minded among us tend to warn against the danger of knowledge being made subservient to religion in sectarian institutions. In my view, the continuing dialogue between culture and faith has ensured that the academe and magisterium intertwined in say, Catholic educational institutions remain at the service of truth, so that culture does not succumb to ideology and religion does not give way to bigotry. Concretely, the Vatican has a Pontifical Academy for Sciences, while many universities across the world have study centers for faith and ecumenism. Such marriage of classical and religious realist trains of thought is a guarantee of hope amid the many problems besetting society today, not least among them the problem of keeping education well-grounded and well-used.

Francis Bacon responded to this problem by proposing the tearing down of the idols that according to him limited the scope, depth, and veracity of human knowledge. I have no problems with the seed of modern realism that Bacon planted. Indeed, limited experience, linguistic disparity, philosophical dogmatism and religious bigotry, and go-with-the-flow, bend-or-break mentality are ingredients for educational darkness. Yet educational iconoclasm should not be wholesale but restrained, for otherwise it risks chaos and at worst, nihilism. Many philosophical currents decried as dogmatic never became dogmas as such without the test of time and validation via human experience. We cannot, to cite a few examples, do away with marriage as union between a man and a woman just because it has been labeled a dogma, undo the results of an election just because it springs from a tribal majority vote, ignore the hunger in a corner of the world just because food is abundant in Europe and therefore incidents of hunger are isolated Third World maladies, or view "truth is subjectivity" as a mere philosophical fad. It is well and good to restart from particulars before making generalizations vis-à-vis gaining knowledge, and indeed, where possible, to make qualifications to generalizations, exemptions to rules. Nonetheless there undeniably are things best left unsullied. The right to life for example, or the dignities of man as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not conclusions drawn from inductive studies but expressions of a clear vision of what constituted a dignified life based on a knowledge of it before it was ravaged by war. We do not need a long and winding inductive study to know that poverty is a scourge on mankind and that neither band-aid solutions or material redress suffice to compensate for it because we know deep within that the poor need not mere philanthropy but compassionate solidarity. Thus the realist iconoclasm of Francis Bacon should be tempered by human compassion lest it aid an educational system that ends up treating mankind, the world and God with a heartless, laboratory precision that is but another name for irreverence towards reality.

The sensation and reflection espoused by John Locke as an apparent development of Bacon’s ideas are useful in very particular fields of human endeavor. However, as it reduces philosophy into a hard science it cannot stand on its own as a philosophy for holistic human education. What he classifies as abstract idealisms – real but beyond verification by reflection and sensation may be what he calls them but they are indispensable for human life to be called at least decent. Imagine if such realities as love and heroism, saintliness and dedication, service and the invisible rewards of an embrace have to be subjected to the rigors of empiricism in order to be accepted as real. Such would lose their vitality. It would be as dissecting the rose and losing the entire flower, indeed missing the forest for the trees. I couldn’t care less if it was by refraction or reflection or whatsoever cosmic and celestial phenomenon the sun grandly paints the western horizon every twilight time. What matters is that I am able to drink in this rare everyday beauty, so much the better with people held dear sharing the scenery with me.

As for my views on logical positivism and linguistic analysis which are concrete manifestations of contemporary realism, I say that these bode well for the communion of peoples and the purification of philosophies and belief systems from superstition, yet educators should be careful not to promote its discoveries as summits of knowledge, for these ought to be but instruments for achieving the greater hopes of man, instruments that are not necessarily helpful in achieving his greatest hope that is love.

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