Subject, Education, Truth
Ludmila A. Mikeshina
Hegel treats education as the alienation of natural Being and individual rising to universality, thus he correspondingly understands the person as "self" and as the subject of education. Subjectivity is here the definiteness of the universal. Aimed to freedom, it is able to unfold itself in culture and history, to develop itself on the basis of "the spirit and heart principle" to the extent of subjectivity, to the extent of judicial, moral, religious and scientific activity. It exhibits itself in active entity, internal activity and processuality as "inter-subjective" activity that develops in culture and history. The self-educating subjectivity becomes the highest universality, concrete Being of the universal, an individualisation of its content. In culture and society there develop two processes that meet each other. The first one, according to Hegel, is coming of a person to the universal experience and knowledge, because a person is never born the one s/he has to be. The second is subjectivization of the universal experience and knowledge into unique and singular forms of the self and self-consciousness. Looking at education from these two points of view allows one to reveal hermeneutic meanings of education.
The subject of education is the person who incessantly interprets, decodes profound meanings that stand behind obvious, superficial ones. This activity of thinking in education is no less important than accumulation of knowledge. The internal spiritual world of the subject is the world of ideas and images buried, as Hegel somewhere said, in the night of self. They cannot be excluded from the sense-giving and sense-conceiving activity of the subject in education. One thus needs to transform her/his self to gain an access to the truth and meanings in the interpreting activity. There are some valuable traditions in the history of philosophy treating the problem of this transformation. They have to be mentioned and continued today.
It is well known that this idea is brilliantly expressed by Plato in his parable about the cave. M. Heidegger gives it a new interpretation. The cognitive motion from shadows on the walls to things enlightened by the fire, to real things out there in the sun and back into the cave to take those who think shadows are essential out this motion illustrates some problems of subject, truth and education. It implies that the perceiving person should essentially go through some stages from what s/he usually believes to be reality, from the everyday circle which s/he takes for the measure and space of comprehension and judgement. It is a change of place and what is considered in it as open, uncovered. It is re-learning and taming of a new sphere. Plato calls it paideia and Heidegger translates it as Bildung in its original sense as guidance to the person's essential improvement. It proves to be the link of the truth and education. According to Heidegger, the essence of truth and the type of its change just make education (Bildung) for the first time possible in its main outlines.
Hence a person who wants to comprehend the truth is to be prepared, that is educated. Education is both forming and following the patterns, Heidegger reminds. Education is now a free access to the uncovered or aletheia, the truth. This freedom becomes a condition of possibility to get the truth and an essential component of a subject of cognition and a subject of education categories. The truth, or the sphere of the uncovered, of an access to essence, depends on the range of freedom and position of the conceiving person. Every grade of freedom, that is every grade of education corresponds to its own sphere of the uncovered, its own kind of truth (from shadows on the cave walls to the world in the sun). Heidegger also regards the truth as the struggle of human being with the whole Being. The entire person is needed to uncover the truth that is rooted in the Dasein. Education and the truth become essentially one.
Here one meets a problem. What is the status of the truth in Being as aletheia, the uncovered and how does education relate to this status? Heidegger founds an answer as "unspeakable in what was said" in Plato. The uncovered reveals itself as the main feature of Being, it is the primary essence of the truth. The Platonic uncovered-ness, however, seems to entail perception, thinking and statement, and here Heidegger sees contradiction and ambiguity. Since Plato introduces a notion of idea, aletheia "is caught by idea," and the truth becomes a feature of cognition only. The essence of the truth changes, it turns into adequacy, correctness of perception and statement. It later essentially influences the understanding of subject of both cognition and education.
Thinking about the same problem, but turning to other texts by Plato, M. Foucault in his lectures at College de France pays his attention mainly to the long standing principle of self-care and to its special case of "know yourself". Foucault considers them to be fundamental for understanding the truth and education. "Self-care" becomes the principle of any rational activity. The thought itself that it is necessary to have a certain "technology" to deal with one's own self to comprehend the truth was known to Greeks long before Plato. One can extract the general theory of self-care from Plato's Alkiviades. Plato's and Neoplatonic tradition agrees that self-care finds its completion in self-cognition that, being the highest and independent representation of Self, grants an access to the truth, and cognition of the truth reveals the divine principle in oneself. "Self-care" presupposes switching one's attention from the external world and others to oneself to watch one's thought. It is a certain kind of one's activity to "clean" and transform oneself and a combination of practical skills fixed by Western culture and moral philosophy. It is a "technique" for meditating, remembering one's past, studying one's consciousness, controlling its representations. "Self-care" is equal to the care for one's soul, it should help to learn how to care for others and to rule them. Developing ideas of ancient Greeks on the culture of Self, Foucault watches for their later changes and underlines that the Western philosophy preferred self-knowledge to self-care. It was surely connected with the dominant tradition in the European culture to treat the subject of cognition and, correspondingly, the subject of education as "the consciousness in general" cleared of all "distorting," illusory ideas and presuppositions of the real empirical subject. The French philosopher is undoubtedly right, when he states that Cartesianism, just like Socrates before, moves the stress from "self-care" to self-knowledge.
The significance of this remark, I think, shows itself completely in Descartes' texts. "Self" as an empirical individual plays an important role in his study and development of the cognitive principles. Descartes is quite sure that there is nothing more fruitful than self-cognition, that he is right in judging everybody by comparing to himself. Opinions and prejudices acquired in our childhood interfere, however, to a great extent with our thinking. They exhaust our mind, especially if it deals with "intellectual things". Here Descartes apparently needs some "self-care," and his need may be illustrated in the following way.
His intention to get rid of everything doubtful, of all received by senses, to free the reason of bad habits, to renounce all possible prejudices is the search for "self-care" and ways to pass from opinion to knowledge. Thus it is necessary to clear the mind also of all the material, of extension, movement, place, treating them as mind fictions. A new abstraction of "Self" as "the thinking thing" is created as distinct from "the extended thing". But Descartes never doubts the existence of the integral thinking human being. He seeks to overcome the mind's imperfection, misconceptions and prejudices while working out the rules for mind and method. He cares both for himself and for others to raise the common reason up to the level of the scientific one. It seems that it is just this Descartes' tradition together with his rationalistic principles that should lie in the foundation of the European rationalism and the Enlightenment. Nonetheless, I suppose, a kind of aberration takes place: his criticism of perception, "radical doubt" and rational principles become lately more coarse and absolute. There emerges an utopic notion of the pure ratio that secures the objective truth of knowledge. In other words, the elimination of the human being from metaphysics of cognition becomes a condition of truth-authenticity. Adherent rationalists appear to be more Cartesian than Descartes himself.
Hence, Descartes solves the most difficult problems on his way to substantiate cogito ergo sum, tries with the help of methodical doubt "to know himself" and just cares very actively of himself, but mainly in the intellectual sphere where he "purifies" and improves his mind. Education based on enlightened ideas is only a process of this "purification," and its ideal is humaneness in the abstract form of the same rational being in every person. At the Cartesian moment of the history, at the beginning of the modern history of truth, Foucault remarks, cognition becomes the only way to perceive the truth while there is no need now to change one's being for it. The truth does not serve for the subject's salvation, the subject influences the truth, but not vice versa. The truth now represents the autonomous development of cognition. "Self-care", that has its own great history for many centuries, is put now in a bad light and means egotism and extreme individualism.
This situation bothers many philosophers, especially of hermeneutical and anthropological tradition. M. Scheler, for example, considers this understanding of subject-truth relation, the truth being just a characteristic of knowledge, to be a great fallacy of both the 18th and the 19th centuries (and the 20th century, too, I should add). Thinking about the philosophical nature of education, he speaks sharply against the one-sided, abstract-rational idea of humanity. He adds that "the spirit" is "individualised in itself", and together with education for mind there are education for heart, education for will and education for character.
Foucault's thoughts are in the same flow, when he rightly insists that the self-care principle is absolutely up-to-date, because the truth cannot exist without addressing itself to the subject and the subject is fulfilled in cognition. This principle is linked with spiritualness, which Foucault treats as search, experience, activity of the subject. Spiritualness is purification, asceticism, repudiation, self-regarding, transformation of being all these are the price that the subject has to pay to gain access to the truth. Foucault expresses in connection with this some essential ideas important for teaching and education conceptions. He says that common pedagogics is insufficient. "Self-care" should show itself during the whole human life, in every detail, odds and ends of the person's activity. Pedagogy does not guarantee this. Moreover, the Other should be found as a mediator and tutor who helps a person to be formed and transformed. A tutor is needed to get one out of ignorance, of "scattering in time" and of flabby flowing life. Ignorance has no will to care for its Self. It is also meaningful that the truth and its obligations are on the tutor's side. Foucault puts the philosopher on the mediator's place and revised the philosopher's role in the old traditions of European culture. A philosopher should integrate her/himself into the common life transforming her/himself into "an adviser in life matters". Foucault may be right, because he thinks that philosophy is a set of principles and skills, and one uses them to be able to properly care for oneself and others. It is quite obvious that Foucault brings closer functions of philosophy and pedagogy, especially in forming the spiritualness as "self-care" and in self-realisation of the subject. Here his thoughts have something in common with ideas of a Russian scholar, teacher and philosopher S. I. Hessen, who writes that philosophy, like all branches of the pure knowledge, has also its practice, its "technique" and that to apply philosophical knowledge to life means nothing but to teach. His fundamental book Principles of Pedagogics has also the subtitle An Introduction into Applied Philosophy. The book was published in 1923 in emigration and reissued in 1995 in Russia. It is the unique and fruitful synthesis of pedagogy and philosophy.