I came to William James about 10 years after I came to a libertarian understanding of politics and the world. Thus, I know that the work of James did not lead me to libertarianism and doubt that libertarianism affected my subsequent appreciation of the works of William James. But since I’ve been a libertarian in political outlook for about the last 20 years, and I consistently fin William James to be one of the most edifying philosophers, I sometimes wonder if the two are congruent with each other.
On its face, it seems like there wouldn’t be. Libertarianism is a political ideology that puts human liberty at its core, and the type of libertarianism I subscribe to believes that political/social arrangements achieve liberty best when there is minimal government and the rest is left to voluntary arrangements (by markets or other means). William James was a philosopher/psychologist with a wide range of concerns, none overtly political; he spawned a (variation on) a pragmatic theory of truth, crafted a theory of experience called radical empiricism, and wrote on other topics. But never, from what I can tell, politics.
But there are at least two ways I can see the works of William James being congruent and fitting quite nicely with a libertarian worldview. First, as wide-ranging as James’s work was, his philosophic projects always placed individuality at its core. (more…)
In education, there is much talk about the value of the caring teacher. In particular, theorist Nel Noddings has been quite influential with her vision of the pedagogic importance of “authentic caring” (in contrast to “aesthetic caring”). Taking a cue from Dewey, and more directly, “humanistic” psychologist Carl Rogers, Noddings suggested that in “authentic caring,” teachers would embrace students as individuals in a nurturing, mutually respectful, and…well…caring relationship. In contrast, the teacher that only practices “aesthetic caring,” cares primarily about students performance on academic tasks and, according to Noddings, risks not appreciating students as individuals replete with contexts, desires, and lives that need to be individually nurtured.
I doubt that many could deny the power of a caring teacher and do not suspect that many teachers do not strive to see their students as individuals. But one of the major flaws I see with Noddings view of authentic teaching (besides the fact that for many teachers, seeing all students as individuals to be individually nurtured is impossible on numerical grounds alone) is that too much focus on “authentic caring” negates another important aspect of a teacher’s role: adversarialism. In other words, nurturing students and authentically caring about them may be good to a point, but another key role of teaching – a somewhat antithetical role – is the adversarialism between teacher and student.
Adversarialism – seems like a dirty and nasty word, yes? When we think of adversaries, we think of enemies. It is only the most sadistic of teachers who wants to be enemies with their students. But the word “adversarial” (“adverse” being its root) simply means “to be at odds with.” To say that a teacher and student are adversaries is not to say they are enemies, but simply to say that there will be times where the two have different goals. (Enemies are always adversaries, but adversaries need not be enemies.) Sometimes, the student does not want to learn x, but the teacher’s job demands that she push the student to do so. The student does not always want to take home homework (seldom does, in all likelihood) but the teacher knows that supplemental practice will be good for the student. When student and teacher have conflicting goals, they are adversaries. (more…)