One of the great problems of philosophy, is the relationship between the realm of knowledge and the realm of values. Knowledge is what is; values are what ought to be. I would say that all traditional philosophies up to and including Marxism have tried to derive the ‘ought’ from the ‘is.’ My point of view is that this is impossible, this is a farce.
Here is a list of things I believe to be both important and true:
- Intelligence, as measured by IQ tests predicts educational outcomes, health (both physical and mental, safety, happiness, creativity, conscientiousness and longevity.
- The kind of abstract and hypothetical reasoning measured by IQ tests is associated with improved moral reasoning.
- Not everyone is equally intelligent, but all children, no matter their starting points, can become more intelligent.
- The more knowledge we possess, the greater our capacity to reason; the less we know, the more constrained our thinking will be.
- Teaching children a curriculum made up of the most powerful, culturally rich concepts and information provides the raw material to both enrich their own lives and improve society.
- Explicit instruction is the most effective method of teaching such a curriculum.
Now, obviously you might disagree with any or all of these statements, but they are all – to differing degrees – empirical. I accept that some of these statements are far easier to test than others (although curiously, the ones that generate the most controversy are also those that are the best supported) but they can be subjected to scrutiny, tested and, if wrong, demonstrated to be such. If any are found to be false, I will immediately review my beliefs and, I hope, change my opinions.
At no point did I sit down and decide I would like any of these things to be true and then look for evidence to confirm my biases. In fact, for the most part I believed the exact opposite a few short years ago. All are based on reading, thinking about and discussing education research and scientific literature. I have been persuaded by the available evidence that this is how the world is.
Now to how I think the world ought to be. Here are some things I would like to see based on what I believe to be true:
- No group of people should oppress any other group for any reason.
- Trivial and superficial physical differences should have no bearing on how anyone is treated.
- All children should have the same opportunity to access an education that allows them to fully participate in society.
- No one should be able to deny anyone else any of these things because of their ideological beliefs.
- We should strenuously resist attempts to substitute the ability of science to answer empirical questions with identity politics, postmodernism and a culture of victimhood.
- When we disagree with others we should do so respectfully, seeking out points of consensus and resisting the temptation to use logical fallacies when arguing our case.*
Again, you might disagree with any or all of these statements. That is your right. No amount of evidence or research could hope to prove them right or wrong. These are my values and science has precious little to say on what we should value.
The Nobel Prize winning French biochemist, Jacques Monod thought it farcical to try to “derive the ought from the is,” but as I argued here, education is a project built on what ought to be; I think there’s much more danger in trying to derive the is from the ought. No one is immune from blurring knowledge and values, the best we can do is to try to explore our biases rather than to simply confirm them.
* I can be very poor at this and am striving to be better. I find Rapoport’s Rules to be an excellent starting place for those wishing to improve their ability to debate ideas:
1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.