What truths would a wise person pursue?
The book Beyond Alienation by Ernest Becker attempts to clarify the nature of the human problem and to provide a solution for this problem. If humanity is to resolve this problem it must find a way to instruct itself wisely in the matter of social morality.
Humanity must develop a synthesis of knowledge that can serve as a reasoned basis for constructing a moral rationality. We need to develop a means whereby secular moral science becomes the central consideration for learning.
If I had the ability I would draw a cartoon character with an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like upper torso supported on two thin, spindly, and varicose veined legs. This cartoon character would represent humanity as I visualize the human species.
The strong upper torso represents our strong aptitude for technological achievement and the supporting legs represent our weak and wobbly moral rationality that is failing to provide the foundation needed by humanity.
Philosophy and theology does deal with morality but in a fundamentally different manner. The moral philosophy Becker speaks of recognizes that knowledge is never absolute and therefore must not remain static but must be dynamic reflecting the constant discovery initiated by science. Knowledge is that which helps to promote human welfare in the here and now.
Pragmatism is a self-consistent philosophy that honors the idea that what humans value is that which is relative to what is satisfying. This did not mean just the satisfaction of human appetite but there is recognition that humans are rational creatures; meaning that a value is judged so only when it is chosen in a critical mode of careful examination. “And it is the community of men, in free and open inquiry and exchange, who formulate the ideal values.”
Dewey’s pragmatism was dedicated to the task of reconstruction. Education was considered to be “the supreme human interest” wherein all philosophical problems come to a head. Dewey’s pragmatism failed because it was a call to action without a standard for action. Education must be progressive and must have a strong critical content.
The big question then is what can philosophy and science tell education to do? “What truths is man to pursue for the sake of man? What should we learn about man and society, knowledge that would show us, by clear and compelling logic, how to act and how to choose in our person and social life?”
Becker thinks that we must transform the university from its present vocational education institution into one leading the transformation of society. It is in this solution that I differ with Becker. I do not think that higher education will ever change its role of preparing students to become productive workers and avid consumers—at least until after the revolution.
I think that in the United States there is a great intellectual asset that goes unused. Most adults engage in little or no critical intellectual efforts directed at self-actualizing self-learning after their schooling is finished. If a small percentage of our adults would focus some small part of their intellectual energies toward self-actualizing self-learning during the period between the end of their formal education and mid-life they could be prepared to focus serious time and intellectual focus upon creating an intellectual elite that could make up a critical intellectual element dedicated toward the regeneration of our society.