Friday, January 13, 2006

Teaching Ethics - And The Dialectic

It is interesting that for all the naive accusations leveled against Objectivism as being dogmatic, absolutist, and "black-and-white", the official Ayn Rand Institute's position on teaching ethics in the classroom is that of broad alternatives. As referenced by this blog in "The Vice of Applied Ethics", the ARI promotes an approach of self-determined choice in the particular ethical principles that can be adopted by students after they have been educated on the broad range of ethical theories, their merits and their pitfalls. There is a certain tendency among many college students to go through a usual phase of philosophical thinking that start out with being "Absolutist" in their freshman-sophomore years, then after being introduced to the diverse theoretical arguments in various disciplines, they invariably tend to move towards a sense of "Relativism" in their view of the world, and finally, if all goes well, very few students who actually engage their minds in critical analysis of the information they learn through the years in college, come out with the ability to think in terms of "Dialectic Synthesis". Dialectic synthesis is a very powerful method of thinking because it can often lead the thinker to discover hidden nuances and diverse perspectives; it trains the thinker to think in terms of integration and synthesis, not in terms of isolated, disembodied units of knowledge. Some of the most well-known dialectic philosophers are Hegel and Marx. Infact, some scholars have referred to Marxism is the dialectic. Recent scholarly studies on Rand's philosophy has discovered a tremendous application of the dialectic in Objectivist philosophy. For example, Rand's obstinate refusal to grant any dichotomies in thought and reality, fact and value, moral and practical, mind and body reveals her commitment to the dialectic approach. Chris Sciabarra's The Russian Radical, in my opinion, presents a very convincing thesis to that effect. Tag:

6 Comments:

Blogger Diana said...

Ergo, you read too much into my remarks: ARI doesn't advocate a policy of "self-determined choice in the particular ethical principles that can be adopted by students after they have been educated on the broad range of ethical theories, their merits and their pitfalls." That was merely the approach advocated by some ARI-affiliated scholars at an ARI teaching workshop. It's not some official policy of the Institute, as far as I know. However, even that's certainly contrary to many people's beliefs about the supposedly dogmatic ARI scholars.

Also, just to be clear, I completely reject with the whole "dialectical" interpretation of Objectivism. (On that point, I can be quite sure that ARI-affiliated scholars agree with me.)

Diana.

1/13/2006 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Yes, I'm aware of the fact that the ARI rejects the dialectical interpretation of Objectivism. But that doesn't matter to me because I believe that a convincing case has certainly been put forth by Sciabarra to that effect.

And neither was I implying ARI's official policy that designated that "broad" approach. The fact that ARI-affliated scholars adopt that approach in teaching ethics reveals that ARI is not averse to such methods and is not, as it has been charged to be, dogmatic, one-sided, or biased.

1/13/2006 12:17:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Oh, wait-a-minute! I see how that impression of official policy could have been extrapolated from my post. Hmmm, wrong choice of wording there... I say "official Ayn Rand Institute's position"
... I should clarify. The qualification of "official" is supposed to refer to ARI as being the "official" Objectivist institution... in that, I was trying to differentiate that from Kelley's TOC. Hence, I used the word "official" before ARI.

Should I re-word it? Hmm.

1/13/2006 12:22:00 PM  
Blogger innommable said...

So funny the way you describe college students experiences as going "through a usual phase of philosophical thinking that start out with being "Absolutist" in their freshman-sophomore years, then after being introduced to the diverse theoretical arguments in various disciplines, they invariably tend to move towards a sense of "Relativism" in their view of the world,"

I was not absolutist at first, but then I was, and then I wasn't again, and now... well, a person can only be absolutist when they're philosophy is built upon solid, well reasoned premises, and some of mine are still being constructed.

1/13/2006 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Innomable, that pattern is generally observable among college students... typically, when they enter college as freshmen - they either have absolutely no moral principles, or they hold certain "moral" principles based on an intrinsic, dogmatic adherence to religious beliefs, parental teachings, or culture, etc.
Then as they progressively gain new information and find themselves in the midst of academic "arguments" for/against almost every position - they tend to accept the learning process as displaying a relativism in the world.
Finally, and hopefully, few students begin to learn later on, how to synthesize seemingly opposing arguments, discover hidden commonalities, reveal hidden premises, etc. and gain a better understanding of the world.

1/13/2006 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Ergo Sum said...

Originally, as Hegel used it, dialectic meant the union of contradictions... so Hegel was going for diametrically opposed ideas and fusing them into some sort of synthesized understanding.

Dialectic, I think as Rand used, and as I have come to understand it now, is not essentially the "fusing" of opposed ideas... but more fundamentally, the *revealing* of false dichotomies.. the re-evaluation of premises accepted as "opposed". And I think, in that respect, Rand has been very powerful, and admirable.

1/13/2006 03:33:00 PM  

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