In Ancient Greece, the basic intent of education was to develop the critical faculties of mind. This meant that the focus was on geometry, philosophy, and logic along with basic knowledge of other disciplines.
In Plato’s theory of education, children until the age of six receive pre-primary education. This involves gymnastics for sound body, music for exercise of the mind, and moral stories to build character. Plato proposes extensive knowledge of geometry, philosophy, logic and dialectics.
In ancient India as well, education at the ashrams involved a great deal of spiritual learning along with other disciplines.
It was a time when educating one in philosophy used to be as important as geometry and logic, if not more. But this tradition has been lost somewhere along the way, in the east as well as the west. During the dark and the middle ages, arguably due to the spread of religion, both science and philosophy took a back seat. With renaissance and enlightenment, both humanism and rationalism were revived, yet somehow rationalism was reduced to a science instead of science and philosophy.
Science and Philosophy: The new great divide?
In lay terms, the difference between science and philosophy can be understood as follows: while science talks about true and false, facts and myths, philosophy talks about right and wrong, just and unjust. The popular notion today is that science is of much more importance to humankind than moral science or philosophy. But, this represents a biased view. Giving privilege to a discipline over another is an exercise in the comparison of different ways of thinking.
It’s not sensible to view them as binaries, either. They are two sides of the same coin. They complement each other. If science is essential to move ahead, philosophy is essential to ensure that we are moving ahead in the right direction. For every decision that we need to make, there is often a moral dilemma which might get overlooked if the entire focus is only laid upon science. As Herbert Marcuse argued in his book, One Dimensional Man, the patterned and consequentialist thinking promoted in the world we live today limits our perspective which makes it difficult to see the underlying moral dilemmas.
Innovation does not necessarily mean progress. It is only when innovation goes along with ethics that we can make progress. The Blue Whale Challenge, which made headlines in 2016-17 is one of the many examples of innovation without ethics. It is not just pointless but also harmful and if not controlled, leads to death and destruction. Mahatma Gandhi had described “Science without Humanity” and “Knowledge without Character” among the Seven Deadly Sins.
Science and Technology can do wondrous things, but one of the things it cannot do is tell us how to use it. For that, we need philosophy and ethics.
Science and Philosophy: The Impediments to Synergy?
It is said that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. And herein lies the challenge. The crisis lies precisely in the fact that it takes one person to make a scientific invention, but it takes everyone to ensure that its use remains just. So, we are presented with the following alternates: First, to either limit the use of scientific inventions to a select few, but that goes against our democratic principles. Second, to first focus on moral education through philosophy and ethics to ensure that inventions are not used to promote vested interests.
Instead, the economic system of the world chose the third way. It was against any restrictions on the demand side since its primary objective was to increase its market in order to get more profits. In the blind pursuit of profit, ensuring the ethical use of science wasn’t a priority. Corruption and unethical behaviour in businesses and industry are not just tolerated, but even encouraged, as long as revenue targets are met.
Ernst and Young’s Asia-Pacific Fraud survey found that nearly 41% of the Indian respondents would be prepared to act unethically to enhance their own career and over 13% are prepared to provide false information for the same. 57% said that senior management officials would ignore the unethical behaviour of employees to attain revenue targets.
The impediments to a possible synergy between science and philosophy are two-fold. First, an economic system which works only on the principle of profit, side-lining ethics. Second, an education system which doesn’t incorporate moral education. Moreover, the two reinforce each other. An economic system which treats the individual as a consumer tends to promote a competitive education system, where the objective of education becomes securing a high-paying, white-collar job.
As a result, the vast majority, even those coming from premier educational institutes remain apathetic and demoralised. Indifferent to the moral consequences of their actions and to the primary beneficiary of their work, they continue working for the social greed of a few corporations, thereby indirectly increasing the already prevalent inequality. Similarly, many continue working for corporations causing severe damage to the environment as well.
The Impending Crisis: Why it matters?
We’re misguided if we assume that science and technology is the solution to everything. It is not a substitute for human thought and action. Climate change is a case in point for an impending crisis that is looming over the heads of all of humanity. Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and no technology exists so far to solve it. Even if it did, it might not be the solution we need.
Noam Chomsky in his book Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe observes, “There are two problems for our species survival: Nuclear War and Environmental Catastrophe, and we’re hurtling towards them. Knowingly.” Both of these problems are a result of the unethical usage of science and technology by the governments across the world.
In a Global Philosopher series of debate by BBC News, Professor Michael Sandel raises the underlying, profound and philosophical question towards the end of the discussion:
“Suppose we discover a technological fix to climate change that enabled us to continue our current patterns of consumption without damaging effects to the environment, would this be an unqualified good or would that be a mixed blessing averting the threat of climate change but removing the impetus to reform our consumerist ways and rethink our relationship with nature?”
Here we are presented with a moral question. Many would argue that there is nothing wrong in continuing our consumerist way of life if it doesn’t harm the environment. But there is another side to it, which we can see only if we are in touch with our moral values.
As Immanuel Kant’s moral Categorical Imperative suggests, there are certain moral imperatives, or rational, and necessary principles, that we must always follow despite any inclinations we may have to the contrary. Pope Francis has remarked that decisive mitigation of climate change is a moral and political imperative for each one of us. The only solution we have in front of us is inculcating moral responsibilities towards environment in our education system, for the children of today and tomorrow.
The challenges of hate crimes, xenophobia which many western nations are struggling with today, the rising intolerance and polarisation, the menace of fake news which is becoming more and more common in the current social fabric of India is also an indirect result of declining social, cultural and moral values. Cultural and moral education, cross cultural dialogue at early schooling are necessary to overcome the social divides of racism, casteism, sexism and other forms of indiscrimination.
Initiatives such as The Irrelevant Project, which aims at reducing prejudices by designing illustrative books for children with the objective of making colour, caste and gender identities irrelevant are extremely important in twenty-first century.
“The highest result of education is tolerance”Helen Keller
Conclusion: The need for moral education
Aristotle had held that educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. The institution of Dalai Lama too, has time and again iterated that moral values need to be taught along with math and science. Moral science curriculum, that is being followed in some schools today needs to be made more intriguing and thought provoking. Instead of merely talking about what values mean, we need to get our students to ponder upon how they can be upheld in the present world with real life examples.
The case for compulsory moral education in schools, as made above, is the need of the hour to inculcate moral values in the denizens of our planet. The ability to understand the different moral implications of our decisions is equally important, if not more, than the knowledge which allows us to make those decisions.
Anurag Vaishnav is a writing analyst at Qrius.