Value Socialisation and Pedagogy, Part 2: The Theoretical Basis of Teaching Values in the Classroom

Part 1 dealt with issues arising in the field of values education, looking at the literature of academic debate over three decades. In my estimation, a fundamental problem of the whole field is that it has taken insufficient account of the philosophical discourse of values and lacks a concept of values as transmissible entities or a model of institutional transmission. I have elsewhere written on these topics (September 2015, August 2016). The present essay outlines this institutional model in a specifically pedagogical context of the school classroom. All schools and all teachers attempt to instil values in their students, and the success of these attempts are measurable in terms of the interrelated variables of expected behaviours and expected outcomes. However, much of this is implicit rather than explicit, but by exposing the nature of successful transmission mechanisms, even when implicit, there is the hope to give values education on a more robust theoretical and evidential basis. This model has drawn for its inspiration on several theorists, but particularly on the cultural transmission theory of Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Bernstein’s (1975) theory of educational transmission. However, the conclusions reached are based on a cross-case analysis of values education carried out in three UK secondary schools with different demographic profiles and differing forms of governance (Trubshaw 2014).

Methodological Considerations

Before presenting the model, a consideration of the methodological procedures for data collection and analysis are in order, summarised from the document referred to above. The model emerged from an iterative cross-case analysis of three cases employing a mixed methods – primarily qualitative – approach to gain a snapshot view of institutional processes in constructing, realising and maintaining the institutional ethos, investigating embedded values in school documents, pedagogy and student lived-experience.

Observations, several interviews, a survey and student focus group and an examination of public and internal documents were carried out at each school and the data subject to a range of analyses, such as content analysis, conceptual coding, semiotic analysis and statistical analysis, as appropriate. A profile of institutional transmission was built up through a series of matrices tracing the fortunes of prominent value groups across the management/administrative, teacher/classroom and student/recipient levels of each school, which formed the backbone of each case study.

The resultant model, outlined below, was subject to several tests. First, each element was checked against the raw data, to determine whether there was supporting evidence for the particular concept, and to test the extent and variability of the concept (and to rule out the possibility that it was an artefact of theorising or theoretical influence). Then the whole model was applied as an analytical tool to randomly chosen passages of interviews, to look for ‘conceptual clustering’ around values in the text. Finally, the model was applied to the description/transcription of a classroom observation. The first and second strongly validated the model. The last was more problematic as transmission is an institution-wide phenomenon, not limited to the classroom. Moreover, it is a transformative phenomenon, taking place over time, and so unlikely to be captured in its entirety in a single class. Nevertheless, there were elements on display and I remain confident the model will be further validated when longitudinal studies are carried out.

Finally, two concepts referred to in this essay, invocation and evocation, are terms denoting processes deduced from philosophical analysis of the nature of values to hypothesise the mechanics of value transmission, and are therefore not part of the empirical model derived from collected data, but rather what Blumer (1954) refers to as ‘sensitising concepts’ in the research design. Invocation refers to the ritualistic (incantatory) utterance of value terms by an authority figure to a receptive audience, while evocation refers to the declaration of the existence of a community bound by a value or set of values (moral community).

PRESENTATION OF THE MODEL

Overview and Outline of Model for Institutional Value Transmission

Based on the analyses of data obtained at the three schools covered in the case studies, an overview of the model for institutional value transmission in four stages can be outlined, shown in the table below. The categories/concepts in bold are constitutive aspects of the stages in the left-hand column; non-bolded ones are typically examples of the categories/concepts or ‘scaffold’ terms that have been important at various stages in the construction of the model.

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The following section will provide a definition of all the main categories and concepts in the model, the principal stages in the first column and those bolded in the second column of the table.

Categories of Permeation

Permeation is the state of conceptual saturation of the life-world of an institution, specifically by value concepts. This arises through the normal routes of institutional communication in schools: policies, meetings, notices, discourses, colleague dialogue, books and films, classroom pedagogy and more informal exchanges, peer conversations, and so on. As well as the specifically linguistic, it can also include extra-linguistic communication, such as pictures, symbolic acts and behavioural modelling.

Value

A value is any term, or a description of a state of affairs, that has the connotation of a good in a particular frame of reference, and can influence how individuals feel and behave in certain circumstances. Here, it includes specifically social, moral, spiritual, individual and achievement values. Using a variation of content analysis, values are designated by abstract nouns being assigned to sections of text that match the noun in meaning, either through being identical, transformed (e.g. syntactically) or synonymous.

Disvalue

Disvalues, as they are interpreted in this research, are negative states that reinforce a good or invoke a positive reaction, so are found in clusters either with or without values.

Strategy

A strategy is an action, intention to act or action plan with a pedagogical aim, specifically (though not exclusively) to facilitate the teaching of a particular value or set of values.

Semiotic marker

A semiotic marker is a word or phrase that designates an object or event, either real or imaginary, which has some pedagogical significance, particularly, though not exclusively, in the teaching of values.

Intentional state

The term is taken from the phenomenological literature, from the ‘intentionality of consciousness’, used first by Brentano (1973) and then by Husserl (1970), meaning that consciousness is not a pure abstraction but is always consciousness of something, that something being either indiscriminately the perception of an object in the external world, the awareness of an emotional state, a belief, etc. In this essay ‘intentional state’ is used to denote particularly expressions of experiences in the context of a value or set of values.

Categories of Authority

Authority is understood to consist of power and control. Power is hierarchical and distributive and this distributive aspect is reproduced throughout all levels of the institution. Control, by contrast, is individual and charismatic, and limited only to a particular arena. Power and control are not themselves represented at the analytic level, but power by ‘power distribution’ and control by ‘periodicity’, ‘boundary’ and ‘symbolisation’.

Power distribution

Includes any references to the power structure, the giving (empowering) or the removal (disempowering) of power: within the class, within the school, or from outside the school.

The following three categories denote techniques for exerting control within the school environment, that arise from individual or collective autonomy, initiative and creativity, outside of the hierarchy of power. They include physical manipulation of the environment, but more specifically the manipulation of language. At the administrative level this latter is more likely to be written; at the pedagogical level it is more often spoken.

Periodicity

Periodicity refers to the action of patterning language with respect to time. That could include placing things in a chronological order, or even creating a time reference for a single event. It also includes introducing cycles into language through various rhetorical devices, such as rhyme, rhythm, repetition, group of three, etc, and also grammatical regularities such as parallel clauses, linking and reference, and phonological aspects such as intonation and stress. In all cases examples should be immanent in the text rather than a secondary reference.

Boundary

Boundary refers to the action of using language to pattern space, of dividing space – in the widest sense, including physical and all forms of imaginary space – up and thereby bounding sections of it. Examples would be dividing the class into groups, prohibiting or promoting certain actions (dividing moral space, creating regions of ‘allowed’ and ‘not allowed’). The language tends to be imperative, but the bounding transcends the language and is ‘felt’ in the realm of meaning.

Symbolisation

Symbolisation can include the use of visual images, but refers specifically to the manipulation of language to create images in the mind of the reader or listener. Includes, metaphor, metonymy and simile, onomatopoeia and alliteration, etc., which are immanent in the language, but also various transcendent narrative and anecdotal devices. The use of visual images, particularly used pedagogically, would probably be classed under ‘semiotic marker’.

Categories of Resistance

The natural reaction to change, particularly when that change is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to impact negatively on the relative freedom, power, status, wellbeing or economic circumstances of an individual or of an individual to act on behalf of an institution. In the context of this research the definition is more narrowly focused on the struggle between the relatively empowered and disempowered over the question of the good.

Moral autonomy

The desire of each person to be able to decide the good for themselves, irrespective of whether that good might be fundamentally selfish, self-denying or public-minded. It is the encroachment of power into the area of moral autonomy that is the basis of resistance.

Intensity

Every reaction to the usurpation of moral autonomy is a form of resistance, but its manifestation can vary widely, particularly its intensity. The intensity of resistance can be categorised in a range of behaviours, from the least to the most intense: questioning, criticism, distraction, defiance and rebellion.

Target

The target of resistance is that authority which is perceived as encroaching on moral autonomy. The identification of this source with the real situation depends entirely on the correctness of this perception. This can be problematic, as power is invariably diffused and authority notoriously subject to mythologizing by those subject to it.

Negotiation

We all negotiate a compromise between various goods, for example between freedom and security or leisure time and income. Sometimes this is subtler and more fundamental. The acceptance of a value requires the sacrifice of a degree of moral autonomy. Often this proceeds through an internal dialogue; sometimes the bargaining is in the open but the nature of the process is not acknowledged, as when a teacher convinces a pupil to work hard for an exam. The institutional transmission of values in a school requires a specific negotiation that may be made partially explicit, but ultimately takes place within each individual: the acceptance of a place in the moral community, which the school has to offer, in return for – at least a measure of – the pupils’ moral autonomy. That is clearly not an offer that every person feels obliged to take up. The youths in Willis’ (1977) classic study of working class pupils were clearly not willing to sacrifice their moral autonomy to accommodate academic study, despite this condemning them to a life of industrial labour. Children who truant are rebelling against the authority of the school and placing themselves outside the moral community. These are the more extreme cases, but as a measure of negotiation takes place within all individuals, there must be something that both makes the moral community an attractive proposition and assists in the mitigation of moral autonomy.

Categories of Transformation

In the notion of ‘transformation’ a link is made between the institutional and the individual. Although transformations take place within the individual, they are never spontaneous and isolated, but always related to the particular context of the individual and, in the case of transmission, the processes taking place within that institutional context.

Transformative experience

As the experience of a shared feeling constitutes the interiority of value, the acquisition of a value should logically be accompanied by a type of ‘experience’ – i.e. a transformative experience – the occurrence of which allows and enables the experiencing of that shared feeling. Though these two meanings of experience used here are distinct, as continuity of consciousness and irruptive event, they are connected at a very fundamental level, as awareness of emotional response.

Trigger

The change from a state of non-acquisition of a value, particularly in the case of active resistance though not limited to this, to a state of acquisition requires an event in the individual’s personal or social environment that triggers the change. This can be something dramatic or something quite mundane, but it leads to a shift in perception. In the schools I investigated, in particular talking to students, I found evidence that such transformative experiences were invariably connected with a good personal relationship with an authority figure, sometimes with an insight into the human warmth and humour of those who must ordinarily present an authoritative role, a trigger event that I termed ‘the slipping of the mask’.

Turning inward/reflectivity

The exteriority of a value is its linguistic conceptualisation. Therefore, the acceptance of a value, particularly as this is explicitly recognised, should engender a more reflective attitude towards life. Though values are relative and underpin very different life-worlds or ‘forms of life’ (Pring, 1986), all values qua values require something of an inward turn.

Replication

Values are intrinsically shared. Moreover, they are inherently transmissive, meaning they require being transmitted. On acquiring a value, at the expense of a degree of moral autonomy, there is a need not only to reinforce the decision through invocation of the value but also to extend the moral community of the value. This underlies the sociality, actually the tribalism, of human nature, which is evident from phenomena as disparate as religion, being a fan (of a sport or a genre of music) and hobbyism.

EVALUATION OF THE MODEL

Comparison with models of values education and models of value transmission

Because the model I have presented takes a holistic and integrative view of values transmission, it bears similarities to other holistic views in the literature. For example, Downey and Kelly (1978) and Plunkett (1990, pp.128-9) put forward similar ideas of values education being approached from one of four possible avenues: through a specialised curriculum, through a broadening of the existing curriculum, through pastoral care or through the school community. Hawkes (2010) has effectively taken all those approaches and combined them in pedagogy of values education. Hawkes, even more explicitly recommends the creation of a vocabulary of value terms to structure pedagogy, an approach essentially undertaken on a national level in Australia which has a list of desired values (Toomey, 2010), around which participating schools can design their curricular and pedagogic approaches. Seeing values education less from a curricular and more from a psychological perspective, Darom (2000) discerns four distinct aspects of education, the cognitive, affective, values and behaviour, which he believes should be integrated for education to have ‘a chance of truly touching young people’ (ibid, p.20). The model of values transmission touches on all those points but explores their theoretical connections, not only as interconnected parts of institutional structure but as aspects of a coherent mechanism.

That mechanism, which I have presented here, I would argue, builds upon, incorporates and goes beyond the mechanism put forward by Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Schoenpflug (2001a), a two-stage process of awareness and acceptance. Looking at transmission from an institutional perspective, it has had to take into account issues of authority and control which are constitutive of the deontology of institutions, aspects not made explicit in their theories even if assumed, which make formal education possible and, as I have described, have a central role to play at the stage of awareness. Between awareness and acceptance there is also a hiatus, which they have not clearly addressed, that of resistance and transformation. This theory has provided a theoretical framework that bridges that gap. In some sense the theory of transmission explained here could also be said to extend Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman’s viral transmission model by incorporating the idea of the dual conceptual and symbolic functions of values, allowing them to switch from ‘diffusion’ mode to ‘infection’ mode.

The centrality of the human relationship to transmission

If there is any consensus over the frequently disputed area of values and values education it is the centrality of the human relationship and the quality of that relationship in the transmission of values. As Schönpflug reminds us (2001b, p.132), the contents of transmission are ‘particularly sensitive to the channel’ of transmission, which I interpret to mean that for the recipient of any form of information, and particularly with the case of values, which also need to be activated in the recipient, who the transmitter is, in terms of the perception of the transmitter by the recipient, is vitally important. From a negative perspective, in cases from the schools studied where teachers were not held in high regard, this had a negative impact on academic performance; and in all these cases the cause of the complaint was not their competence as teachers, which in all but a small minority would be taken as given, but their lack of warmth, remoteness or unpredictability. Research invariably backs this observation up. There is a broad area of agreement with various psychological and philosophical views that the quality of relationships is central to the idea of transmission. For Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) the relationship between the teacher (transmitter) and the taught (recipient) is a key condition of transmission. Although the focus of studies on values transmission has been on the parent child relationship, shifted into an institutional context, all of that which has been predicated of relationships in intergenerational transmission is equally true of the teacher-pupil relationship. For Schönpflug it is (2001a) that is ‘an empathetic style’; for Euler et al. (2001) it is ‘emotional closeness between the generations’; for Barni et al. (2011) it is the ‘relationship’ among the parents and the ‘consistency’ of the value message that is received, as well as the ‘closeness’ of the relationship. These all fit into a pattern of successful parenting, which most now agree is authoritative (Steinberg, et al., 1989), rather than authoritarian or permissive. This also seems a fitting description of the relationship that ought to exist between teachers and their pupils in the context of education in general, but specifically in the context of transmitting values. An ‘authoritative style’ seems a fitting description of the combination of authority and humanity of key figures that I discovered in the data from the schools , which I concluded was fundamental to a contextual transformative experience en route to the acceptance of institutional values.

An evaluation and interpretation of the model

Through this research, the aetiology of value transmission has been traced, from the nature of values having a dual role as concept-like and symbol-like, through the institutional permeation of value concepts throughout the institution, to their invocation through the medium of pedagogical control of the value concepts and their re-symbolisation for the student audience. In doing so this theoretical perspective has developed an understanding of the school as an institutional structure for value transmission, incorporating and offering a reinterpretation of its power hierarchies, and its administrative and pedagogical functions. Moreover, it has demonstrated that the definitionally problematic notion of ethos has a tangible meaning in the context of value transmission. The abstract notion of value has been shown not only to be real but implicated into and – importantly – co-defined with its institutional context, incorporating aspects of space, time, authority, strategy and dramatic play. In short values, value transmission and institutions are co-existent and inter-related conceptually (Rokeach, 1975).

It has also considered what many theorists of values education and values transmission have not, that of the role of resistance to values inculcation and its incorporation into a more inclusive theoretical model of transmission that embraces both inculcation and acquisition perspectives, through the negotiation of moral autonomy for belonging under acceptable conditions. Parsons (1959) did recognise the phenomenon of resistance to schooling, but saw that as a structural reaction to raising levels of achievement. Values education is much more than a one-dimensional race towards academic or vocational achievement, although research on longer term programmes of values education (Lovat, 2010; Toomey, 2010; Hawkes, 2010) suggest that it can impact considerably on those outcomes; it is about humanising the curriculum (Aspin and Chapman, 2000) and creating the opportunity for education to touch the lives of young people (Darom, 2000) based on ‘the kind of persons that [as a society we wish them] to grow up into’ (Pring, 1986, p.181). For this to happen, values education, as all good education, requires a transformative experience in the life of the recipient, one which can mitigate or even prevent resistance to transmission.

The emerging picture of transmission of values within an institution is both simple and complex. It can be understood at the level of an individual journey through the institution, a negotiation with and reconciliation to the demands placed by institutional belonging. But it can also be understood at the institutional level, as the workings of a complex system of interlocking hierarchies, in the cases considered here the relationship between the teacher in the classroom, the administration, management and ethos of the school, and the influence of outside forces, notably religions, local communities or constituency, and local and national governments. A school is an intricate web of control, dependence and autonomy (Morris, 1964) at every level and a consideration of the transmission of values highlights this very clearly. But at its core it is about a series of spaces and encounters in which significant relationships between authority figures and pupils flourish or wither.

Value socialisation and pedagogy

The model of values transmission should prove useful for teachers, managers and administrators within schools concerned with the pedagogy of values. Derived to solve a purely theoretical problem, that of the process of institutional value transmission, nevertheless its conclusions converge significantly with the empirically-based views and strategies of educators who take a more proactive approach to values education and add a theoretical underpinning to their programmes and curricula. As detailed in the previous section, though, it remains a highly conceptual and abstract model, so I will attempt to draw out its relevance to pedagogical practice.

The model of institutional values transmission addresses a number of issues that have been discussed in the academic literature on values education and also issues that are recognised by teachers generally, such as the role of ethos and school culture, implicit and explicit forms of values education, pupil resistance to authority, issues of student empowerment, the school as a community  as well as part of the community, school discipline, rules and regulations, friendship groups, gangs and bullying, ethnic or class tensions, and the risk of increasing alienation through raised standards, although its primary contribution is in promoting values as fundamental to all educational development and a balanced view of values education as being a process of both inculcation and acquisition.

IVT.pedagogical

The process of value transmission in a school can be considered as a pupil’s ‘journey’ through the institution towards the acquisition of its values. According to this model, simply stated, the necessary stages on this journey are the transition from self-empowerment (i.e. self-directed freedom and desire) to disempowerment under the authority of the institution, where they are inducted in the values, culture and structures of the institution, to empowerment (or re-empowerment) under the authority of the institution, where they have the opportunity to rationalise the choice of these values as their own.

However, these stages involve a complex choreography of institutional strategy and individual response in which the desired outcome is, or at least is experienced as, an individual choice. A pupil enters a school in which an established ethos reigns, which is promulgated by the governing body of the school, embodied in the person of the headteacher, and carried into the classroom by the teaching staff. Pupils may initially follow this as a matter of course, but at a certain point in their development, usually around puberty, when they become more morally autonomous, they may start to manifest resistant behaviours. Resistance is typically seen as problematic, but from an axiological perspective, because values must be freely assented to, resistance to the prevailing ethos – except in the more extreme cases – should be seen as a healthy and necessary development, as a testing of the moral community of the institution as a prelude to acceptance of and belonging in that community. But that resistance also has another function, which is to alert those in authority that the moral community must be sufficiently attractive that it is likely to elicit a transformative shift from resistance to acceptance and catalyse the negotiation with moral autonomy which this transformation requires.

One conclusion of this research, based on an understanding of the nature of values, is that values can only be acquired, and only acquired in any meaningful sense by an experience of the moral demand that they place upon us (‘moral’ being understood in a broad sense of ‘requiring commitment to a set of behaviours’), but that they are rarely, if ever, acquired in the absence of an intention to teach them.

None of the schools I studied had a specific values education policy or programme, although all of them considered values to be an important concern of the school and the education of values in general to be a part of what they did. The schools were different in the degree to which they were able to identify specific values which they considered important, though my research indicated that all of them had policy statements in which values were prominent, though perhaps subsidiary to the overall purpose of the texts. Again, I observed examples of PSHE classes in all the schools, and of good practice in each, but, except in one case, the   education of values was not an explicit aim of the class. The implicit education of values has an important function, in reinforcing a particular message or desired behaviour, but evidence from the research on values education indicates that an institutional discourse of values in which specific and explicit values are a pedagogical focus is more effective in terms of behavioural outcomes – and academic performance as a result. This is perhaps unsurprising, as conceptual clarity with effective practice is invariably a potent combination.

Another conclusion of this research, based on an understanding of the nature of values, is that the acquisition of a value is never merely a private experience, but through acquiescence to a shared meaning and a shared commitment to its moral demand, is bound up with belonging in a moral community (one that shares that commitment) and a shared experience. This means that schools in order to transmit values not only have to acquaint students with the meaning of value terms, make clear the expectations in terms of attitudes and behaviours, and ensure that their staff are setting an appropriate example, but also create the communal structures that both reflect and elicit that sense of belonging.

Schools face two challenges to accomplishing this. The first of these is what I have come to call ‘spontaneous sociality’. By that I mean simply the natural tendency of humans to form social groupings, not necessarily those deemed by authority to be in the interests of the common good. My research indicated that where the student body is highly heterogeneous in terms of cultural background student perception of the school as a ‘community’ is lower than where it is more homogeneous, despite this being an important focus of the official policy, and that the primary commitment of pupils is to the community of their cultural background, class, ethnicity or friendship group. While all pupils enjoy the opportunity to socialise that schools provide, they do so largely with people of the same background. This is not necessarily a problem as such – although it can lead to factionalism and be the precursor of bullying – but it tends to weaken that sense of belonging to the school community that schools clearly wish to foster, and hence commitment to its institutional values, and replace it with a sort of co-presence. This may have implications for the definition of what we mean by ‘inclusion’.

The second challenge is resistance to institutional authority, as discussed above. ‘Resistance’ is a broad category that ranges from boredom and disengagement, though criticism and disobedience to outright rebellion and non-attendance, including truanting. Although resistance creates problems for teachers and schools, it should not, except in its most extreme forms, be taken to be something essentially negative, but as an expression of moral autonomy and, as such, a precondition for the acquisition of values. Also, resistance is by no means limited to pupils. In my research, I came across instances of resistance to institutional authority from Heads, teachers and pupils, though the targets were variable and commensurate with the forms of authority with which they were dealing.

Implications and recommendations

Implications for values education

Data from the literature (Hawkes, 2010) and from the field both indicate that expectations of appropriate and good behaviour, and the organisation of the structures within the school to promote that, and to minimise poor behaviour, while a worthy end in themselves in promoting young people who aspire to play a positive role in society, are also fundamental to creating the atmosphere, ethos and culture in which academic attainment can be optimised. A school culture in which there are strict boundaries and clear sanctions for transgression, but one in which the inward pull of community is strong, a strong institutional pride and identity is fostered, but also one in which a balance between authority and humanity is maintained, is clearly fundamental to this effort. At the same time, the concept of invocation, which has largely been vindicated through this research, implies that the explicit voicing, explication and modelling of values is more important than is generally practiced within schools, and this view is strongly backed by evidence from programmes of explicit values education (Lovat, 2010). Evidence from the field in all the schools studied shows, though, that even implicit or ‘intrinsic’ approaches bear fruit in the permeation of fundamental and strongly-held values, whether those are moral, individual attainment or socio-political, into the student body.

The model of institutional values transmission described above has several implications for pedagogical practice and organisation in schools.

  1. Schools should develop an integrated and specific set of values which reflect the character of the school, reinforce the community of the school, further their commitment to creating educated persons in the broadest possible sense, and develop their place in and service of the local and wider communities of which they are a part.
  2. These values should be taught explicitly and integrated into all aspects of the school culture, particularly attitudinal and behavioural expectations. They should also be taught implicitly, by the example set by the management and staff of the school. The model does not specify that these values should be integrated into the curriculum as such, but that knowledge/skills and values should be ‘twin pillars’ of the institution, though some subjects may be naturally appropriate vehicles for the broader educational contextualisation and discussion of values.
  3. The specific values, or their origin, are less important than that these are assented to by the entire staff and reinforced on a continual basis. The expectation is that there would be a convergence on a core of common and widely shared values, though variation at the institutional level is probably socially beneficial.
  4. Although the excesses of resistance to authority, as described above, should be controlled, critical evaluation of authority and institutional values should be accepted as a natural phenomenon of cognitive development and the assertion of moral autonomy, and pupils should be encouraged to exercise their moral imagination in different scenarios, at an age-appropriate level. The inner nature of values as shared experience entails that any form of coercion is counter-productive; explanation and dialogue are the required methods to achieve acquiescence to the institutional values and their behavioural requirements.
  5. Schools should be structured in such a way as to maximise opportunities for belonging under the auspices of the school that ‘cut across’ and thus mitigate spontaneous sociality based on class, ethnicity or friendship group and primary commitments to those values (which weaken the communal integrity of the school). Evidence seems to suggest that a culture of belonging to such sub- and micro- school communities (diffused belonging) actually reinforces a sense of belonging within the greater school community. Two of the schools I studied employed a house system to good effect, but there are numerous ways to achieve this diffusion: clubs, boards, groups, teams, and projects, both internal and external.
  6. The acquisition of institutional values requires some element of personal transformation that occurs within the specific institutional context. Although in the research the manifestation of that transformation was found to be different, such as a growing academic interest, a spiritual crisis and its resolution or the assumption of greater communal responsibility, the institutional trigger was invariably the relationship between a member of staff and a pupil. Pupils look to their teachers and senior staff as role models and appreciate those who are open, friendly and helpful and who make themselves present and available, while maintaining their authority and setting clear boundaries, and clearly these are qualities that need to be sought, emphasised, nurtured and developed. Indeed, a striking finding was that it is the dissonance between the ‘mask of authority’ and the underlying humanity that plays a key role in triggering transformation.

Implications for schooling in general

Schools already provide, and are required to provide, a measure of education in values for their pupils, whether it is explicit or, more usually, implicit. As discussed above, I believe, and the evidence tends to support this viewpoint, that the more explicit the education the more pronounced are the outcomes. There is one thing to add: fundamental to values and to values education is the development of reflectivity, a higher-order and late-developmental cognitive skill, which as a technology-driven and highly pressurised culture we do not provide sufficient context for young people to develop. While I make no specific recommendations in this regard, I believe that we do our young people a disservice if we model our schools on too narrow a view of success as the success of the marketplace, and bias learning and means of knowledge acquisition too strongly towards the technocratic at the expense of the traditional, creative and reflective.

Recommendations for educational policy

  1. There should be national standards for developing and overseeing values education programmes. At the moment Ofsted oversee the provision of moral and spiritual education in English and Welsh schools, but there is no requirement for schools specifically to have a values education policy.
  2. While national oversight is important, an approach that allows schools freedom in determining their own policies of values education would be preferable, following the example of Australia, which has a nationally determined policy, but allows schools to determine their own values strategy (Lovat, 2010).
  3. The pedagogy of values should be integral to all teacher-training programmes, and an element of school and teacher evaluation.

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Lovat, T. (2010). The new values education: A pedagogical imperative for student wellbeing. In Lovat, T. et al. (Eds.), International research handbook on values education and student wellbeing. London: Springer, pp. 3-18.

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Value Socialisation and Pedagogy, Part 1: Issues and Trends in Values Education

Introduction

Values – both allegiance to values and disagreement about values – have been and continue to be fundamental to society, culture and thought (Moor, 2004; Andrew, 1995; Werkmeister, 1970) yet, paradoxically, remain largely submerged in our individual and collective unconscious. It can, however, be reasonably asserted that conscious interest has quickened in recent years in response to a perceived ‘crisis of values’ within developed economies and modern cultures (Bindé, 2004). This quickening is felt most keenly in the political and educational establishments, where responsibility – both for the problem and the solution – is considered to lie most heavily (Giroux, 2011). A crisis in values is, in fact, not a peculiarity of our age; one only has to read almost any of the writings of antiquity to understand that laments about the waywardness of youth and the moral decline of social institutions are as old as recorded history. What is perhaps unique is the extent to which we have come to believe that schools are the key to arresting this downward spiral (MacIntyre, 1987, p.16).

In the UK the current wave of interest in values and in values education can almost be pinpointed to a specific moment in time, and began, as these things often do, with a dramatic and tragic incident, in this case the murder of a head teacher outside the gates of his school (Davies, 2005; Taylor, 2000). Of course, there were antecedent incidents and there have been subsequent, regrettably frequent, incidents at schools that have all but erased the memory of this earlier outrage. A few years prior to this there had been an upheaval in education, with the passing of the Education Reform Act (UK, 1988), itself a reaction to perceived weaknesses in the quality of schooling. But this was perhaps the moment when vague feelings of disquiet about the state of the nation’s youth and of the inadequacy of our social institutions to deal with these problems spilled over into a determination to do something, which boosted the profile of the nascent values education movement and that led to calls for moral or values education in schools and a flurry of activity on the policy front (SCAA, 1996). These early government-led initiatives were never systematically implemented or given statutory force (Hawkes, 2010), but stimulated the present oversight of spiritual and moral education provision in UK schools in Ofsted inspections (ibid), and resulted in some localised and networked  approaches to teaching values (VbE, 2014; Lepkowska, 2012/08/06).

Against this background, I wish to make two points of a philosophical nature. The first is that, for all the positive resonance of the term ‘values’, the nature of values is contentious, both as to whether such things actually exist and, if they do, what form they take. The second flows from this; it is that values education, in the absence of an understanding of the nature of that which is supposedly being transmitted, must lack an adequate theoretical foundation. Like ‘education’ itself, the transmission of values is highly contextual and sensitive to the nature of the package; it is far more than mere logistics. To illustrate this point, a common definition of values that is used within the values education establishment is that of Halstead (1996, p.5):

[Values are] principles, fundamental convictions, ideals, standards or life stances which act as general guides to behaviour or as reference points in decision making or the evaluation of beliefs or actions.

This, or something like this, may, indeed, be what most people would have in mind if they were called on to give a definition of values. But from a theoretical point of view its very inclusiveness is a weakness, as it offers no cohesive view of values that could be used in understanding the process that takes place when a value is acquired within an educational setting. This much is clear when looking at various definitions of values education. This is Taylor’s (1998, p.1) view:

[Values Education] is a relatively new umbrella term for a range of common curriculum experiences: spiritual, moral, social and cultural education; personal and social education; religious education; multicultural/antiracist education; cross-curricular themes, especially citizenship; environment and health; pastoral care; school ethos; extra-curricular activities; wider community links; collective worship/assembly; the life of the school as a learning community.

A definition of values education comprised entirely of exemplification helps in understanding the context within schools where it is taking place, but is also not of much help in understanding what takes place when values are acquired or what ought to take place in order that this activity can be deemed successful. Hawkes (2010, pp.233-234), in a similar descriptive vein, but adding a more practical edge, defines values education as:

a convenient term for a wide range of implicit and explicit activities devised to develop a values-base to the life…which are principles that guide behaviour. It explicitly develops an ethical vocabulary based on value words… It encourages reflective learning through silent reflection…It looks for ways that values can be expressed through positive behaviour in the school and community.

Hawkes attempts through this definition to build a more cohesive sense of what values education is beyond the activities which make it up. It moves beyond being merely a collective noun for thematically related activities to something with a distinctive and positive praxis. Even here, though, it is unclear whether there is a coherent conceptual idea underpinning the project.

In part 2 of this essay I will discuss a theoretical model of values transmission derived from philosophical considerations of value and research into good practice in schools exhibiting a range of governance models, proposing a theoretical basis for values education as a coherent enterprise. In this first part, though, I intend to set the scene by considering the main trends and issues in values education over the past thirty years, values in the curriculum, values and character education, values and tradition, and values and wellbeing, concluding with an overview of the emerging themes within values education, including many of the unresolved issues with which any model attempting to provide a coherent theoretical underpinning will have to engage.

Values in the Curriculum

Whether and to what extent values should form an explicit and distinct part of the school curriculum is something that has formed an integral part of the discourse on values education. In examining the philosophical, political and sociological dimensions of implementing values education into the school curriculum, Richard Pring (1986, p.181) declares that it is inescapable that ‘the educational activities promoted by any society are intimately connected to what that society believes to be a valuable form of life…[T]he particular values embodied in what is designated educational will be about the kind of persons that the society wishes its young people to grow up into.’ However, he believes that these values will not yield to ‘philosophical analysis’. Instead he argues that values are local and historically conditioned, and cites in favour of this view the controversies and arguments over values even within our own society and its educational system. To educate someone ‘entail[s] the introduction to a valued form of life but …what [that is] is essentially a matter for moral debate’ (ibid, p.182).

In an interview that I conducted with him on 11th September 2009, Pring reiterated much the same view, which is that the development of a person’s values is contingent upon the nature of the community or communities in which they are raised, and this issue cuts to the question of the nature of community that schools should embody in order to transmit the appropriate values to the next generation. Pring seems to believe that the resolution of this implicit relativism, which particularly troubles moral philosophers such as MacIntyre (1981), lies somewhere between reasoned debate, an appeal to the intrinsic worth of human life and the requirement of social continuity: ‘You’ve got to create the kind of communities in which the values which are humanly important to provide social cohesion…are somehow embodied and these young people are introduced to them’. I hold essentially the same position as Pring on this, although I suspect that the conflict of values plays a more significant role than he allows and perhaps reasoned debate less than we would like (citation from interview used with approval of interviewee).

Awareness of the dangers of educating young people in a critical tradition that can result in the radical transformation of culture has meant that politics has always exercised some form of control over what schools teach and this has manifest itself in recent times in the call for schools to be involved in the education of values (Pring, 1986, p.182-183). Recognising this, Pring turns his attention to the substantive values that he believes can and should be transmitted ‘through the content of the curriculum but also through the methods of teaching and through the general ethos of the school’:

  • The respect for rule-governed behaviour, and for the authorities.
  • The respect for persons, whether oneself or others.
  • Respect for the truth.
  • Trusting and unselfish relationships.
  • A sense of justice and fairness.

He argues, though, that:

it would be wrong to translate the general concern for personal and social development, and for developing in particular a set of defensible values, into the content of specific subjects…For that could be but a distraction from the more important questions that a school should be asking about the impact of the curriculum as a whole upon the values of individual pupils (ibid, p.189).

Pring then draws on the evidence of a survey of twelve schools, which correlated outcomes in terms of exam results, behaviour and attendance with the general school ethos. By ‘ethos’ what is meant are ‘the various stable procedures through which business is conducted towards individuals and their work, towards the community as a whole, and towards those outside the school’ (ibid, p.190).

Aspin and Chapman (2000, p.122) consider the role of values education to be that of humanising the curriculum, in directing it towards ‘educating for excellence in the life of virtue’. They see this as including moral, political and personal values.

[V]alues exist [and] are found in and embodied across the whole curriculum. Values are not definable as though they were an autonomous element in the curriculum, as being in some way a separate subject, with its own body of theory, cognitive content, typical activities, disciplinary procedures or criteria for success. Values permeate everything that we do in the curriculum – including the naming, defining and inter-relating of all its parts. And that is because of the point made above, that description and evaluation are inextricably entwined activities (ibid, p.136).

What seems clear from these readings is that values are not to be considered as something apart from the information and activities that constitute the normal life of the school. That is not to say that values is an area that can safely be ignored; it is, rather, an area that requires particular attention, but one that should be integrated into the processes and procedures of the school. Such considerations have also informed the debate on the implementation of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) education. Within the context of the provisions of the National Curriculum and the 1988 ERA, it is obvious that provision should be made within schools for the implementation of SMSC policy. The philosophical raison d’être has been variously expressed, as in this rather flowery statement: ‘Just as such biological development requires appropriate conditions – to do with such things as climate and soil in the case of plants – so, the (Ofsted) report claims, the personal development of pupils demands a favourable ‘climate and soil’…provided and promoted by the school’ (White 1994, p. 370, cited in Dillon and Maguire, 1997).

There are probably two areas from which strong support and push for the implementation of this policy derives. The first is among the general public, and particularly the parents of school pupils, perceiving an apparent decline in ‘moral standards, particularly among young people’ (SCAA, 1996, p.8). This perception has, over the past two decades, filtered through to government policy and local initiatives. The other comes from the opposite end of the process, in the Ofsted inspections to which schools are periodically subjected and which has kept the pressure on schools for the incremental implementation of SMSC policy. Left to themselves, most schools would probably have quietly dropped this provision of the National Curriculum due to the burden of the existing administrative and teaching loads. As it is, according to Dillon and Maguire (1997, p.184), ‘Many schools are choosing to write a policy statement on SMSC. When developing the policy, three key issues are paramount. These are the need to consult, the provision of a rationale to support the proposed framework and a strategy to put the policy into practice’.

There are naturally difficulties to a successful implementation of any policy on this scale. Pring details five areas of difficulty in relation to Personal and Social development, which would be equally valid in the case of SMSC: conceptual, political, ethical, empirical and organisational (Pring, 1984, pp.4-7). Some of the tensions involved in setting out on a policy like SMSC were recognised by the government in the 1970s:

The educational system is charged [firstly] with equipping young people to take their place as citizens and workers…Secondly there is responsibility for educating the ‘autonomous citizen’, a person able to resist exploitation, to innovate and…[defend] liberty. These two functions do not always sit easily together (DES, 1977, quoted in Pring, 1984).

Several strategies have been proposed for the implementation of spiritual and moral education. Downey and Kelly (1978) propose four possible strategies for the implementation of moral education in schools: a specific, timetabled, subject ‘Moral Education’; through broadening the scope of the existing curriculum to include a moral dimension; through pastoral care supplementary to the existing curriculum; and through the school community. In considering the teaching of spiritual values Plunkett (1990) outlines a similar range of strategies and draws up the advantages and disadvantages of each. Discussing the use of the curriculum for teaching spirituality, for example, he states:

…a pupil will often learn thinking skills, aesthetic standards, religious values, healthcare, interpersonal qualities, and so forth, not from a specific subject but from the pervasive of multiple and often uncoordinated inputs into the total programme…The curriculum has become an instrument of economic and social policy when it should be just as much a spiritual celebration of humanity’s inner and outer beauty (Plunkett, 1990, pp.128-9)

As Dillon and Maguire have pointed out, most schools pursuing the implementation of SMSC have done so through the writing of a policy statement (1997, op. cit.). The hope is that this is in some way incorporated into the ‘ethos’ of the school, a factor of agreed significance by all interested parties (SCAA, 1996, p.11). Citizenship education and PSE(PSHE) is also seen by many as playing potentially significant roles in the implementation of this policy (SCAA, 1996, pp.14-16), though some of the recommendations have already been implemented with as yet inconclusive results.

One issue that has been discussed in relation to values is the ‘hidden curriculum’. Carr and Landon (1999) discuss the various senses in which values are thought to be hidden in the hidden curriculum, such as being a part of unofficial knowledge, being implicit, spontaneously emerging or being deliberately concealed (ibid). In order to understand their role in the hidden curriculum they develop a concept of values as ‘principled dispositions or preferences conducive to the promotion of defensible goals or individual and social flourishing’ (ibid, p.24). It is this practical nature of values that makes their concealment possible; they are hidden in practices which do not require that they be made explicit verbally (except, ironically, when those same practices are brought into question), which also makes their deliberate concealment possible by those who do not want the practices of the institution to be too closely scrutinised (ibid). They disparage both conservative and liberal views on the values of the hidden curriculum based on a ‘weak consensus’ and call for a more robust commitment to inquiring into the ‘objective truth’ of judgements made on the basis of these values (ibid, pp.26-27).

 Values and Character Education

Richard Peters (1981) examines the apparent paradox that exists between following rules and traditions in order to arrive at a rational moral position. He draws finally on Aristotle’s dictum (Nicomachean Ethics, book II, chapter 3-4) that ‘the virtues we get by first exercising them…we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts’. In the context of educating children in morality, Peters claims that ‘it is only if habits are developed in a certain kind of way that the paradox of moral education can be avoided in practice’ (ibid, 1981, p.60). What this way is, is beyond the scope of philosophy, but empirical evidence from psychology suggests that the existence of a loving and trusting relationship between parents and children is an important factor (ibid, p.54).

For some, the role that it was hoped that values education would play within the life of schools has largely been filled by citizenship education. There have been a number of critiques of citizenship education, but Kristjan Kristjansson (2002) advances a critique from the perspective of a style of character education known as ‘non-expansive character education’, one which he maintains the proponents of that style have not themselves thought through or taken advantage of. Kristiansson’s first charge (ibid, p.209) is that the concept of democracy implied in citizenship education is a particularly Western and liberal one.

McLaughlin and Halstead (1999) introduced a distinction into values education between ‘non-expansive character education’ and ‘expansive character education’. Kristjansson (2002) refined those definitions, showing that while both employ methodological substantivism – basically a mixture of teaching methods – non-expansive character education takes an approach that he terms moral cosmopolitanism, the teaching of ‘transcultural values and ‘moral basics’’, whereas expansive character education takes an approach which he calls moral perspectivism, the teaching of a highly selective range of values (ibid, pp.209-10). Citizenship education, according to Kristjansson, ‘constitutes a quintessential programme of expansive character education’. The values with which Citizenship is concerned are those of ‘democracy’, but not only with the transmission of facts about these values but the inculcation of these values through ‘an extensive programme of character moulding’ (ibid).

Kristjansson then raises his major objection to Citizenship education which is that it ‘politicises values education beyond good reason, by assuming that political literacy and specific (democratic) social skills, rather than the transcultural ‘moral basics’, are the primary values to be transmitted’ (ibid, p.212). There is a danger implicit in the programme of citizenship in that ‘the emphasis on this new foundation subject runs the risk of overshadowing and sidelining the necessary core of all values teaching, including justice teaching, namely, the inter-human psychological capabilities and moral virtues that lay the basis for social and political skills. To put it bluntly, the danger is that the cart will be put before the horse’ (ibid, p.212).

Kristjansson (2002, pp.214-216) moves on to detail three specific areas of disagreement between citizenship education and non-expansive character education. First, citizenship privileges the ‘right’ over the ‘good’, employing a more deontologically based concept of justice, in which moral goodness is subservient to social institutions and particularly the notion of ‘rights’. Non-expansive character education, on the other hand, asserts that justice and other values are fundamentally ‘personal virtues’ before they come to have social and institutional significance for the individual. Secondly, non-expansive character education is pluralist to a wider range of political settlements than the narrower democratic, rights-based view of citizenship, but is less accepting of a plurality of lifestyles. The value of tolerance is not given primacy to the extent that it is in citizenship, but non-expansive character education can countenance the idea of personal and communal justice existing even under conditions of unjust government, the corollary being that social justice can exist only where just individuals hold sway. The third disagreement is over the relationship between morality and politics. Kristjansson (ibid) perceives the danger of citizenship education is that primacy is given to the political over the moral, the latter becoming in some way derivative. He believes this would overturn almost the entire philosophical tradition stemming from Plato and Aristotle who considered the morality of the individual logically anterior to the social virtues.

Darom considers another distinction, or tension, that arises in implementing the education of values in school. He begins (Darom, 2000, p.16) by contrasting the often conflicting views of humanistic education and values education. He states that humanistic education ‘focuses on the individual whose growth and development, needs and aspirations are considered paramount in all educational processes’. By contrast, values education ‘emphasises involvement with others – individuals, communities, society – commitment and social action’ (ibid). Darom sees his task as integrating these two perspective s within a common humanistic values education.

Darom (2000) looks at the interdependence of four aspects of education, the cognitive, affective, values and behaviour. ‘Education can thus be considered a system having four sub-systems, every one of which plays an equally decisive part in the system as a whole. If any one of them is neglected, the whole educational process is incomplete…By striving for the fullest possible integration of these four domains…education has a chance of truly touching young people, of sowing seeds of intellectual and moral honesty and personal commitment’ (ibid, p.20). In particular, an individual’s value system has three components: personal, interpersonal and social values. ‘These three are an indivisible whole; a structure whose stability – whose very existence – depends on their more or less successful blending’ (ibid).

There seems a relative consensus that values education should take a holistic approach to educating the whole person, addressing the various dimensions of human life such as the social, spiritual, economic and political spheres, the academic, physical and cultural skills, and the individual, interpersonal and collective levels. On that basis Darom’s distinction between humanistic education and values education seems superficially redundant; however, it alludes to an issue already discussed, in the previous section, that of the dichotomous purpose of education: whether it is preparation for a critical evaluation of, or for participation within, the existing social and economic order. This essay does not seek to answer that question, except inasmuch as it bears upon the related issue of the balance between the desire of agencies within society to inculcate their values and the desire of individuals to freely acquiesce in the values that seem in their own – hopefully enlightened – interest.

Tradition and Values

In the first of the Richards Peters lectures in 1985, Alasdair MacIntyre sounded a pessimistic note about the future of education. ‘Teachers are the forlorn hope of the culture of Western modernity’ (MacIntyre, 1987, p.16), he declared, meaning that they are both at the forefront of the effort to maintain that culture and that their efforts are destined to fail. MacIntyre believes that the task which we have set for teachers is impossible to accomplish ‘because the two major purposes which teachers are required to serve are, under the conditions of Western modernity, mutually incompatible’ (ibid). These purposes are, first, to educate a young person to take up a role in social and economic life, a role pre-determined by that society; and, secondly, to educate the young how to think and to gain intellectual autonomy. However,

[T]hese two purposes can be combined only if the kind of social roles and occupation for which a given educational system is training the young are such that their exercise requires, or is at least compatible with, the possession of a general culture, mastery of which will enable each young person to think for him or herself (ibid, p.16).

The coexistence of these two requirements can only occur, MacIntyre is arguing, only where there exists what he terms an ‘educated public’. There have been times in history when such an educated public has existed, for example in France, England and America, and the case he cites is the Scotland of the eighteenth century enlightenment. But ‘as a matter of contingent fact specifically modern post-enlightenment societies and cultures now exclude the conditions which make this coexistence possible’ (ibid, p.17). MacIntyre locates the conditions for the existence of an educated public in the contingent existence of a consensus on procedures and institutions for the conduct of rational debate, marked by an ‘agreement to participate in a particular ongoing debate, [where] allegiance to the purposes of the debate would have to be as important to the participants as their allegiance to their own point of view’ (ibid, p.33). It is the existence of these particular conditions that MacIntyre considers to have vanished with the advent of modernity. One of the causes of that dissolution is the sweeping of intellectual discourse from the broader society into the realm of ‘professionalized and specialized academic discipline[s]’ (ibid):

[T]he possibility of thinking for oneself, other than as a professional specialist, only opens up in the context of a certain type of community and that … kind of community is no longer available, indeed has not been generally available to post-Enlightenment culture for quite some time (ibid, p.34).

He considers the one possibility of returning to such a culture is an education in which the reading of the Greek political and philosophical texts is central.

The return to an intellectual tradition is one of the ongoing dialogues in the philosophy of education. This dialogue which began in Britain really with the publication of MacIntyre’s book After Virtue (1981) has been paralleled in America with cultural critiques such as T. S. Eliot’s Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1962) and Alan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (1987). Commenting on MacIntyre’s Richard Peters lecture, Graham Haydon considers that:

It has sometimes seemed that either education, in transmitting values, will merely be an agency by which the domination of one cultural tradition over others is sustained; or that, in attempting to avoid that outcome, it will leave the way open to a scepticism about whether moral values and ethical life have any meaning at all it may be that [there is] an understanding of the ethical life that allows us to make realistic sense of a third possibility: that it is indeed part of the business of education to sustain the ethical life, but in a way that can embrace pluralism within the ethical life. If this is not a possibility, perhaps MacIntyre’s pessimism will be justified after all (Haydon, 1987, p.12).

There are those, naturally, for whom the fragmentation of tradition is seen as both a natural and a positive development. Susan Mendus traces the arguments of MacIntyre, Bloom and Eliot back to a ‘myth of the fall’ and a golden age when traditions were intact. She rejects this view, partly because it was a myth, and rejects the call for a return to the past because of ‘a belief that the past is not as good as it is said to be, and … the belief that such a return is, where not possible, intellectually disreputable’ (Mendus, 1992, p.182). She claims that the return to such a mythical golden age requires ‘an innocence that we no longer have and which we can only ‘regain’ by intellectual deception’ (ibid). Mendus locates the source of this inauthenticity in the idea that the solutions to the problems of our age and, necessarily the problems of education, lie in a transcendental realm. Her own view is that modernity is characterised by ‘reflective consciousness’ and that education should be fostering that capacity in the young, not cultivating an inordinate respect for tradition. Education ‘must, of course, appeal to the past. But it must also remember that we possess the past; the past does not possess us, and our task now is not to return to a lost world, but to seek and create a new one’ (ibid).

Responding to Mendus, Ruth Jonathan questions whether the crisis in education brought about by the fragmentation of value resulting from the relentless assault of critical rationality can really be solved by more of the same (Jonathan, 1993, p.171). While accepting that the supposed homogeneity of the pre-modern world is frequently exaggerated, she argues that one of the consequences of relentless criticism is a ‘quantitative and exponential increase in the rate of cultural fragmentation [that] has resulted in a qualitative change both in the social world and for the developing individual’ (ibid, p.173). While Jonathan does not suggest that the solution to this crisis is a return to tradition as such, she warns that the predicament that is already engulfing modernity cannot be resolved by continuing the same emphasis within liberal education (ibid, p174); otherwise, the result will be a social relativism in which the individual good is only that which the individual chooses and the social good reduced to that which allows the individual such latitude (ibid, p176).

Mendus’ stance that a return to a more innocent, traditional view of the world is ‘intellectually disreputable’ I understand but find overstated. Ricoeur (1967), for example, maintains that while fully cognisant of the facticity of the historical origins of founding myths, indeed because we are so aware, we are, nevertheless, able to enter into a state of ‘second naivety’ that is as profound as the ‘first naivety’ but richer because it is based on knowledge and conscious decision, rather than ignorance and uncritical acceptance. Moreover, Gadamer (1994, p.298) argues that it is the temporal distance between the events in mythic time to which a text refers and the present that creates the possibility for the discovery of truth, through a fusion of the horizon of the present with the horizon of the text. The culture of modernity, if it anywhere exists outside of university departments, is characterised by a lack of a socially cohesive worldview. But on the very grounds of rationalistic critique, such a worldview cannot exist, except perhaps in the reductive caricature that Jonathan outlines, where we are all thrown into a state of moral solipsism. Yet, both intellectually and intuitively we accept the existence of society, which means we uncritically accept a type of myth. Within all social institutions, including educational institutions, a plurality of myths are fostered, many of which embody the core values of the institution. Many of those are held in a state of ‘second naivety’ in which they are half-believed but fully endorsed; in many of the most enduring and adaptable institutions these myths are reinterpreted into new and shifting contexts without dissolving the integrity of their mythic core.

Values and Wellbeing

The issue of student wellbeing and its relationship to values education has emerged as a focus for educators in the early twenty first century. Much of this development has been focused in Australia where the government has been promoting a programme of values education based on a set of 9 common Australian values that define citizenship in the nation and in a global community, a programme that each state and territory education board is following, although the actual policies and methodologies are being left to each area, and even each school, to define, mixing cross-curriculum and stand-alone approaches (Lovat, 2010, pp.3-7). The intellectual paradigm that supports this programme is the ‘double helix effect’, which asserts, based on psychological and neuroscientific evidence, that the goals of ‘learning implied in quality teaching (intellectual depth, communicative competence, empathetic character, self-reflection) [are] more readily and easily achieved in the learning ambience created by values education’ (Lovat, ibid, p.7). The programme thus sets out to achieve benefits in two spheres: that of individual wellbeing and a reinvigorated sense of citizenship and, presumably, national engagement.

Although the model of values education is openly declared to be one of inculcation at the classroom level (ibid), which has its critics and detractors, the organisation is locally based and proceeds with full student involvement. In schools which are operating these programmes there are four main components: a common language of values and shared expectations about personal and interpersonal behaviour that lie at the core of the school’s values education programme; a positive dynamic in the teacher-pupil interaction; the modelling of appropriate and expected behaviour by teachers; and the incorporation into the programme of an external service project that provides an opportunity for pupils to be involved in a public good (Toomey, 2010). Through this, in addition to the ‘double helix effect’, there is also a ‘troika effect’ emerging from the relationship ‘between values education, quality teaching and service learning’ (ibid, p.20). Students are involved in the establishment of this structure at an early stage through Student Action Teams that identify a need in the local community and plan a strategy and action programme of engagement (ibid). Toomey asserts that this is pedagogically sound and evidence-based as it has been shown to provide a sense of empowerment through taking initiative, social bonding through teamwork, and a sense of self-worth through giving to others.

By contrast with the Australian experience with values education, which seems to be affirmative, progressive, incremental and joined up, balancing political will with local initiative, and based on cumulative evidence from pilot schemes and scientific evidence, the experience with values education in the UK seems to be an object lesson in how not to approach it (Haydon, 2010). As in Australia, it was a perception that values relativism was an underlying problem of social ills that prompted attempts to discover shared values that could be taught in schools. In 1996 the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) convened the National Forum on Values in Education and the Community, bringing together some 150 people from organisations representing all sectors of society. Their brief was to arrive at a consensus of values that were shared across British society. They came up with a Statement of Values that is now appended to the National Curriculum (National Forum on Values in Education and the Community, 1997). However, its recommendations, and that of subsequent policy initiatives in this area, were never given statutory force, and uptake has been left almost entirely to individual schools (Haydon, 2010; Hawkes, 2010). Instead, values education in the UK has followed the twin paths of PSHE and Citizenship Education, which Haydon (2010) argues has compartmentalised wellbeing and personal responsibility, unlike the programme of values education in Australia, which has integrated these two functions effectively.

Being based on a consensus model, the values the NFVEC’s Statement contains have a tendency to be generalised expression of values-based intent rather than very specific named values as in the case of the Australian government’s National Framework for Values Education in Australian Schools (Commonwealth of Australia, 2005). My own view is that this different approach may have resulted from different perceptions of where the problem of value relativism lay. During the twentieth century Australian schooling abandoned its original charter to teach values and became values-neutral (Lovat, 2010), effectively removing standards against which pupil behaviour could be judged. The move to values education is thus a recovery of its original intent. By contrast, British schools have largely maintained a tradition of values education through RE and more recently through PSE/PSHE, although the 1988 Education Reform Act clearly intended to enshrine this function in law (UK, 1988). The problem of value relativism, therefore, is more likely to have been located in society as a whole rather than in education in particular, and for this reason the response more diffuse and ambivalent.

Emerging Themes within the Educational Discourse

Having reviewed the literature around values education and the formal education system in the UK, a number of themes have begun to emerge, prominent among which are: the source of values; the degree of autonomy/control over the curriculum; the rationale, reason or role of values education; the medium for values education and the strategy for implementation of a values education programme; the dimensions of values education; the degree of integration, both internal and external, of programmes; and conflicts, antimonies and unresolved aspects of values education. Each of these themes will be considered, synthesising information from the literature considered.

a) Sources of institutional values

Religion and faith communities: Macmullen (2004, p. 603) argues that religious education and religious upbringing together provide the basis for an ‘ethical autonomy’ although this needs to be conducted within the context of rationality rather than dogmatic faith. While rejecting the aspect of religious observance in schools as divisive, Ward (2008) recognises the higher moral standards of faith schools as something that should be aspirational. Like Macmullen (2004) he believes that pupils should be taught about religions within a framework of rational inquiry. Halstead (2007) has a radically different perspective. Schools, he proposes, should support the religious observance and identity of the home and faith community through an inter-faith ethos built on the foundation of the British cultural values of tolerance, cross-cultural understanding and respect.

Traditions: Traditions are longstanding institutionalised behaviours, in which values – often implicit – are embedded, that are passed to succeeding generations. Clearly, religious beliefs and practices are an important source of values and traditions for many institutions, including schools, though McIntyre (1987), Eliot (1962) and Bloom (1987) all refer to an intellectual tradition in which the reading of the classics is fundamental.

Government initiatives: Government has always had a measure of interest in the moral as well as the academic education of children (Arthur, n.d.), but it was only with the Education Reform Act (1988) that it started to play a more active role in promoting values within education. Apart from Religious Education, provision of which is mandatory for all schoolchildren up to 16, most schools, including independents, have some form of Personal, Health and Social Education (PSHE), although the contents are not mandated, and Citizenship, which was (until 2014) a part of the National Curriculum.

Local communities: Pring (1986, p.182) argues that values, rather than being absolute or universal, the result of a rational analysis, are rooted in the particular view of a society and the moral decisions it makes, and in the local, historically conditioned communities that engender and introduce the rising generation into a ‘valued form of life’.

b) Degree of autonomy/control over the curriculum

There are a number of parameters through which the degree of autonomy or control over the curriculum, including the provision for values education, can be ascertained, though they tend to converge upon particular modes – what might be referred to as models – of governance. For example funding, status with regard to the National Curriculum and ability to select are parameters of control which are, in theory, independent of each other, yet tend to be highly ideological markers of the to-and-fro of policy-making. State schools, including both community schools and Voluntary Controlled and Voluntary Aided faith schools, follow the National Curriculum, have local government oversight and funding and, apart from the few remaining state grammar schools, are non-selective. Independent schools are self-governing and financing, are not required to follow the National Curriculum, although many opt to teach some parts of it, and are completely selective.

Specifically regarding values education, as this is not included in the NC and the only requirement of Ofsted is that the spiritual needs of pupils are being met, this gives schools a relatively free hand in how and to what degree they meet this requirement. Clearly, faith schools of all types are committed to giving a religious education, both doctrinal and experiential, to their pupils. There are also a small but growing number of ‘values schools’ (part of a movement for values education rather than an officially-recognised designation), whose syllabus, pedagogy and daily routines are built around a set of core values (VbE, 2014).

c) Rationale, reason or role of values education

Rationale, reason and role are not identical, but they bear a close relationship, rationale being closer to an explicit justification – often requiring documentation, such as a policy statement (Dillon and Maguire, 1997) – and role more of an implicit, understood purpose or function. The reasons given for values education are advanced more philosophically and address the moral requirements of society. For Pring (1986, p.182) that is the creation and perpetuation of the ‘form[s] of life’ that society considers ‘valuable’; for Aspin and Chapman (2000, p.122) it is to promote ‘excellence in the life of virtue’. The SCAA cites a more pragmatic and pressing reason: to address parents’ perception of apparent decline in the ‘moral standards…among young people’ (SCAA, 1996, p.8).

d) Medium and implementation of values education

The process of implementation of values education begins with an impetus and that seems to derive mostly from the public, represented particularly by those who are most directly involved, that is, the parents of children within school (SCAA, 1996). But a secondary driving force is also the inspection regime initiated in conjunction with the National Curriculum, Ofsted, which as part of its responsibilities checks for the provision of Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural education; but while it can recommend, there is no statutory requirement for schools to have a policy in place (Hawkes, 2010). Implementation of a values education policy has three steps: a period of consultation; a rationale for the policy; and an implementation strategy (Dillon and Maguire, 1997). There are three basic strategies to implement a values education programme: through the curriculum, through pastoral care and through the whole community (Downey and Kelly, 1978); moreover, there is a decision whether to have a separate timetabled subject within the school curriculum or to adapt the existing curriculum. Bigger and Brown (1999) advocate a cross-curricular implementation of values education, but many schools favour a whole school approach of embedded values. The experience from Australia shows both approaches can work (Lovat, 2010). Pring (1984), though, doubts the cross-curricular approach and favours more the transmission of a core of values through the general ethos of the school and ways of teaching. Increasingly, there is also recognition that non-curricular and non-directive aspects of school life, the so-called ‘hidden curriculum’, also play a part in the education of values (Carr and Landon, 1999).

e) Dimensions of values education

There is near universal agreement that values education is a complex phenomenon, interwoven into all strands of the educational process, which needs to address the multi-dimensionality of human life as well as that of the social institutions of schooling. Darom (2000) attempts to encapsulate this within four educational sub-systems, that of the cognitive, affective, behavioural and values, the latter which is itself comprised of personal, interpersonal and social values. This, though, is a predominantly psychological reading of the issue. A differing interpretation, although I prefer to see it as complementary, is that offered from a socio-cultural perspective, that of the ‘ends’ of education – individual wellbeing and the public good – and the ‘means’ of education – the infrastructure, materials and processes necessary to promote the values within the cultural spheres of the political, economic, moral and spiritual (Plunkett, 1990; Dillon and Maguire, 1997; Aspin and Chapman, 2000; Darom, 2000; Kristjansson, 2002; Haydon, 2010).

f) Degree of integration – internal and external – of programmes

To speak of a programme being integrated means that the various aspects such as the rationale for implementing the programme, the medium or means for delivering it, the people and agencies bringing their various skills to the programme, and means of assessing the outcomes, are part of a strategic oversight, both within an institution and in relation to the wider society. By this measure, the development of values education within state education in the UK has to be considered to be poorly integrated. There has never been a fully developed strategic view, and even when the prospects for one seemed at their highest in the late 1990s, the proposals were watered-down and eventually led to a series of recommendations and a fairly weak assessment regime (Hawkes, 2010). The approach has rather been piecemeal, perhaps reflecting a national unease about ideologically-driven or inculcatory approaches to values. Values education in the past would have been delivered through Religious Education or some form of Moral Education, but the moral content of RE at least has been somewhat attenuated through the focus upon appreciating cultural difference and the differing cultural experience (Barnes, 2011). There has been an attempt to introduce values education and character education through PSHE and Citizenship (Arthur, n.d.), but Haydon (2010) has argued that this approach has effectively compartmentalised well-being and personal responsibility. Moreover, Kristjansson (2002) criticises Citizenship for giving precedence to political values over moral ones. By contrast, ‘values schools’ and others that have implemented explicit values education policies have tended to have integrated approaches consisting of such things as core values and a values language promoted throughout the school, common behavioural expectations and reflective practice (Hawkes, 2010). In Australia, the government has taken the initiative in promoting ‘Australian values’ through various state sponsored programmes. Although the specifics of the programmes are decided at regional and even school level they have common features: they are based on psychological and neuroscientific evidence that the combination of quality teaching and values education promotes good learning and personal outcomes (Lovat, 2010); and they consist of four essential elements of a language of values and expectations, positive relations between teachers and pupils, appropriate modelling of behaviour by teachers and the incorporation of an external service project (Toomey, 2010).

g) Conflicts, paradoxes and unresolved aspects of values education

Actual programmes of values education often fall short of the complex multidimensionality outlined in section e) above, being too limited, too tentative or too partial. However, these are problems essentially of implementation. There are also unresolved theoretical issues, though some arise out of ideological differences or simply lack of empirical data.

A number of commentators have pointed out various paradoxes in the overall moral purpose of education today. MacIntyre (1987, p.16), echoing a cautionary note sounded by the DES in 1977 (cited in Pring, 1984), sees a fundamental contradiction between education as preparation for working in the economy and education for intellectual autonomy. The Australian experiment with values education programmes, though it is young, seems to be confounding such pessimistic views and showing that all aspects of pupils’ lives can be enhanced. Perhaps values education does, as Aspin and Chapman (2000, p.122) argue, ‘humanise the curriculum’, meaning that it allows all dimensions of human experience to be integrated through practices. Not everyone is convinced of this. Foster (2001), for example, maintains that the openly inculcatory practices of many programmes, such as those in Australia, undermine some fundamental democratic assumptions.

Implicit in this discourse is the fundamental pedagogical conflict over whether education, and specifically values education, should be achieved through a process of inculcation, in which weight is given to the educator of a given set of values – political, religious or traditional – or through a process of acquisition, in which weight is given to the acquirer of values, probably by some form of self-realisation. My starting assumption would be that inculcation and acquisition both play some role in the transmission of values, and in Part 2 of this essay I will propose a mechanism for transmission that incorporates both.

Both Mendus (1992) and Jonathan (1993) see the incommensurability of critical rationalism with the existence of a tradition, though they evaluate this conflict differently, the former a more strident rationalist and the latter a more concerned rationalist. Certainly to my satisfaction, though, tradition and reason seem to find a resolution within the philosophical hermeneutics of Gadamer (1994) and Ricoeur (1967), in Gadamer’s idea of the fusion of the horizon of the past with the horizon of the present, and Ricoeur’s concept of the re-mythologised ‘second naivety’. The concept of values as a philosophical proposition mediates somewhat this debate, as values lie at the core of traditions, whether embraced in toto or demythologised into moral assumptions and practices.

In this context, it is worth mentioning the clash between faith and reason, which seems to be one of the recurrent motifs within education with direct relevance to values education. There seems to be a default assumption that reason prevail, a position that I have strong sympathy with; yet, the dangers of over-rationalisation have been made clear, by Jonathan (1993) amongst others. Faith has played, and continues to play in my estimation, an important role in the cultural life of societies; it should be shaped and controlled by reason, but not consumed in a firestorm of reason. All values, including faith and reason, should be self-replenishing in stable, balanced and dynamic societies. However, our institutions should be multi-valued, not mono-valued, whether that be faith or reason or some other, although there is a good case, I believe, for institutions to be disposed to holding to particular sets of values, and these differently-valued institutions competing in the social arena.

Peters (1981) brings attention to a fundamental antinomy in moral education, which overlaps significantly with values education, between following rules and a rational morality, and locates its possible resolution in parental upbringing (ibid), something that finds empirical support in the research on intergenerational transmission of values (Schoepflug, 2001a; Euler et al., 2001; Barni et al., 2011). It boils down to, as Brighouse (2006, cited in Haydon, 2010, p.198) says, living it ‘from the inside’. As in the debate over inculcation versus acquisition it is necessary that at some level institutional requirement, whether that be legal or moral, is matched by individual assent, and that requires a specific type of management in an institutional setting such as a school.

Finally, Pring (1986) raises the thorny issue of the paradox that the social values that are considered fundamental to social life – and in that sense absolute – are, nonetheless, locally and historically conditioned. As the title of this essay suggests, and a theme that will be more fully explored in part 2, a major function of values education – perhaps the only function ultimately – is the socialisation of the individual, and that proceeds regardless of the particular set of values that is transmitted. It may be that across cultures there is a convergence on the most important values. It is certainly true that within majority cultures the existence of sub-cultures with values, principles and priorities at variance with the major culture and with each other can give rise to social tension and potentially fuel conflict. What seems obvious is that at the institutional or national level we must create opportunities for multiple belonging to be as widely accessible as possible.

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Reflections on the Nature of Truth in a Post-Relativist Age

If a man says that there is no such a thing as truth, you should take him at his word and not believe him. Roger Scruton

In classical times there were considered to be three absolute values: truth, beauty and goodness, which were considered to be rooted in the unbroken order of things, the relationship of mankind to the cosmos and the gods. In the period of modernity a spirit of relativism pervaded and these values were no longer considered to be absolute. Hume and the sceptical tradition epitomised by Moore’s Principia Ethica have considered the good to be merely the preference of the individual, and aesthetic relativism beauty to be ‘in the eye of the beholder’. However, recent scientific work on altruism and perception suggest that there are objective correlates of subjective feelings of value, in these cases actions and structural disposition. In the case of truth, the feeling of ‘trueness’ should be matched to an objective correlate, which in common with the philosophical tradition I take to be actual existence.

It could be said that our relationship to truth has changed over time. In a simpler age there were the truths of religion and there were the truths of the voices of authority, often those who transmitted the sacred words or who represented divinity on earth, such as kings and emperors. With the Reformation and the Enlightenment those truths began to lose their grip on the imagination of greater numbers and be displaced by the secular truths of science and the provincial voices of a community of experts in various fields such as law, politics and economics. It may be that in our time, under the twin influences of postmodern philosophy, with its radical de-centring of subjectivity and deconstruction of all forms of authority, and the technology of the information society, exemplified by the Internet, we are entering a post-relativist age, one not characterised by the tolerance and compromise fostered by recognising the limitations of knowledge in a relativistic milieu, but one in which, paradoxically, extravagant claims to truth are made in a nihilistic one.

It might be surprising that the notion of truth is still taken seriously, many believing it to have been displaced by a thoroughgoing relativism with regards to omniscient claims. But one of the long-recognised problems of relativism is that it logically undercuts its own suppositions: it cannot be a true statement that there is no such thing as truth. Perhaps the purveyors of relativism have something more specific in mind, the non-existence of ‘Truth’ as an absolute, allied to moral absolutism, and though they might not be entirely out of the woods, this is a known category: that of the assertions of theology, sovereignty and metaphysics. We have become inured to the debunking of authority in these fields. What might be less well known is that science has also lost its privileged place as a purveyor of truth; scientific theories are now generally considered to be useful creations rather than discoveries of the iron laws of nature. It is only in logic and in mathematics that the notion of truth remains largely intact, although even here outriggers of postmodernism, such as feminist theory and ‘queer’ theory have been transvaluating rational thought’s central tenets into the will to dominate and deploying the gambit of victimisation.

It is, though, in the field of politics that the most obvious manifestations of post-relativism are found: the assumption of, and attribution of, bad faith to whatever and whoever takes a different perspective, regardless of the evidence; the concoction of ‘alternative facts’ and the accusation of ‘fake news’ in a zero-sum game in which the rules of civilised discourse and the arduous responsibility of arriving at something like the truth in a complex social world have been laid aside; and the grandstanding assumption of indubitable infallibility based for the most part not on knowledge and experience but on tenuous sources within cyberspace. Today, many people seem content to outsource their thinking and behaviour to the social media corporations. In a more scripturally literate past this was known as building your house on sand.

While not the source of the problem, it does not help that current theories of truth within philosophy are based on very narrow criteria. The two prevailing models of truth are the correspondence theory of truth, in which statements made about reality correspond to the facts as they are known and the coherence theory of truth, in which statements have logical coherence with other validated propositions. The correspondence theory of truth goes back to Aristotle but has had modern exponents in Russell and Austin. Russell, for example, stated that for a statement to be true every linguistic element in the statement, such as the relationship between a subject and object must correspond to a factual reality. While commonsensical for many mundane, concrete descriptions, this would seem inadequate for any state of affairs in which interpretation is called for; for example, how would one determine that even the simple judgement that a particular road was a long road was objectively true?

A sister theory of correspondence theory is Tarski’s semantic theory of truth, which states that a proposition of the form /“snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white/, the two occurrences of the phrase belonging to the primary language and metalanguage respectively. This establishes the condition of whether a ‘true’ or ‘false’ truth value can be attributed to a statement cast as a tautology, but not whether the referent of the statement is true or not. A parallel example would be the statement /“kryptonite is green” is true if and only if kryptonite is green/. The conditions for attributing a truth value are the same, but the referents have a different ontological status. Since kryptonite does not exist outside of the imaginary world of the Superman comics, kryptonite is neither green nor any other colour. So although this would satisfy Tarski’s conditions for attributing a false truth value to the statement, it seems to me that that would not be evaluated on a par with a statement such as “sulphur is blue” in which an attributive error, rather than a category error, had been committed.

Both these versions of correspondence, to my mind, suffer the same limitations. The first is that they limit themselves to so-called real (i.e. physical) objects, whereas many of the things that language speaks of are non-physical, abstract or imaginary. The problem is their positivistic notion of existence, the reduction of reality to basic fundamentals over which they claim there is no dispute. However, there is no existence which is not problematic. Take, for instance, the proposition that the earth is round and orbits the sun. It was once consider heretical to make public such a belief.  Today the denial of either of these accepted facts is considered a mark of eccentricity or perversity. But how has the proposition “the earth is round and orbits the sun” been established as true*, since very few have had the opportunity to experience this directly? It is on the basis of an established intellectual tradition that the word has percolated down even to the least intellectual through school textbooks and popular culture. Every piece of so-called evidence could have an alternative explanation. We take it in good faith that the experts who assert that it is so have the means to evaluate the evidence and the theory that binds the evidence into a coherent explanation as fundamentally sound. For all that, the emergence of the internet has spawned and hosts a multiplicity of flat-earth conspiracy theorist websites and other alternate ways of seeing reality, from committed ufologists to millenialist movements and crackpot therapeutics, that have eroded faith in reason and empirical evidence among much of the public.

“The world is all that is the case”, according to Wittgenstein at the opening of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, according to which whatever is true must be an existing object or an existing state of affairs, such that stating Y of X must be true if X exists and Y is a quality that pertains to X. However, in order to address the divergence between ordinary language and the range of objects or events found in the phenomenal world of human experience, it is necessary to part company with positivism and its insistence on ‘atomic facts’ and take a phenomenological position that whatsoever we speak of has a proper mode of existence. In other words it is necessary to expand the range of fundamental ontology, over which truth values can be asserted, to include at least social ontology and the ontology of the psyche. It seems to me that there are six categories of knowledge to which the label ‘truth’ can be attached, though I am not dogmatically committed to this: the truth that nature, great art and great acts reveal to us; the truths contained in sacred texts and institutions; authority, the mystique surrounding it and its pronouncements; matters of fact encountered in the everyday; theories, such as those of science, the humanities and philosophy; and tautologies, as in mathematics and logic. The only thing that binds these together is the requirement that their ‘truth’ be conceived as related to a mode of existence. That is to say, that nothing can be said to be true unless it is held to exist in some manner.

This brings me to the second limitation of these theories: that they do not establish the conditions upon which correspondence between a statement and the actual state of affairs described can be said to hold or not to hold, other than to affirm or deny that they do. In fact, the conditions of truth for an object or state of affairs can be said to be met when they are defined in a dialectic of conceptualisation and evaluation, that is, their mode of existence is both conceptualised and incorporating – even implicitly – a method by which the assertion of existence can be judged. For example, if a unicorn were to be defined as a horned horse, then any statement that contained a reference to unicorns, such as “I encountered a unicorn in the forest” would be easily refuted as no such creatures exist; however, if it were defined as a mythical horned horse, then the same statement would be taken allegorically or dramatically. Less obviously, we do this with everyday objects. How would one know that a particular object was a cup unless we had imbibed a concept of a cup that was continually validated in our everyday experience? Contrast this, then, with the bafflement or indifference with which we encounter unfamiliar objects for which we have no conception or understanding of their use.

The conflict between religion and science is largely about conflicting ideas of truth and the misapprehension from both sides of the nature of the truths that they are promoting. A less restrictive ontology could broaden our conception of what we consider part of the real. A case could even be made for the existence of God as an object of faith that can only be apprehended through a life of faith. However, both religion (at least of the more fundamentalist varieties) and science (allied to atheistic fundamentalism) believe that religion is advocating truths that are evidentially demonstrable, as an alternative or equivalent to science, for example about the origin of the universe or the origin of life. But this was not the view of truth that was promulgated by classical religion, such as the theologies of Augustine or Averroes (Ibn Rushd), nor indeed by the more open-minded modern commentators. The palaeontologist and evolutionary theorist Steven Jay Gould has spoken of the ‘nonoverlapping magisteria’ of science and religion, in which both address the same realities from different perspectives. Simply put, we could say that science addresses the facts of reality through theory and data and religion addresses the meaning of reality through stories and metaphor. Even though atheists experience the awe-inspiring nature of cosmic reality, they are hampered in expressing this in the reductive language of science and frequently take refuge in the spiritual language of parable and metaphor.

Of course, definitions are not always attached to statements, nor should they necessarily be, as this would be an imposition on the beauty and simplicity of language. Most statements are understood in context anyway. This favours a coherence theory of truth in which statements are anchored in others which are verifiable, though I have argued that we need a broader range of the conditions in which verification takes place. I think one of the great dangers of the post-relativist age of information overload and reductive horizons is that we are losing the ability to contextualise the utterances of those with whom we may not share the same outlook in a broader framework of accommodation, and instead are tempted to defend our small islands of privileged truth in bouts of hyperbolic rage.

*Or approximately true, as the earth is flattened at the poles, and it is more accurate to say the earth and sun revolve around a common axis.

The shadow of value: money theory and the roots of economic anomie

In the West, our ambiguity towards money is expressed deeply in religion, politics and art. We have been beholden to the institutions that provide it as a necessity of life, but desired liberation from the corrupting influence of our dependence on our authentic nature. Through money we have both experienced the possibility of living pleasurably, and recognised its power to lead us astray. That ambiguity, and a measure of hypocrisy, is not merely historic, but pervades our society today: while we expect a decent standard of living, there is anger at gross inequalities of wealth, particularly in developing countries, although we may be ambivalent about their economic advancement; closer to home, our desire for personal wealth is often coupled with disdain for the foibles and vulgarity of the rich. This Janus-like relationship with money seems implicit in the nature of money itself. It may not be resolved, but this ambiguity might be explained and mitigated to some degree by understanding the roots of our economic anomie in the philosophical intertwining of the existential and monetary notions of value.

As with much thinking on any issue, the ancient Greeks thought about the problematic nature of money first, or at least mythologised it in this case, in the story of king Midas. The existence of money as a metal coinage was a relatively new invention, but already both its properties of great convenience and the temptation to excessive accumulation were appreciated. Midas desired that everything he touched be turned to gold and the gods granted him his wish, literally. Realising that he could no longer eat or touch those he loved, Midas begged to have the gift removed. This timeless fable teaches us that there are things that cannot be bought with money or gold, and suggests that the modern belief that everything can be monetised hollows out the very things we find valuable.

It is a feature of the word ‘value’ that it has two distinct meanings, that of moral worth and that of monetary worth, a distinction rooted in a common etymology which runs through most European languages, indicating that at some point they have been considered to be closely related issues. In fact, in two worldviews they have been and still are: Thomistic theology derived from Aquinas, with its notion of the ‘just price’ and the Marxist ‘labour theory of value’. Both theories have been superseded by market economics, in which prices are determined by supply and demand in the marketplace, yet continue to inform areas such as business ethics, the honouring of contracts and the critique of exploitation or capitalist excess.

My intention in this article is to explore the relationship between monetary value and existential value, which underlie, respectively, the prices we assign to goods and services and the values that shape our lives and institutions, and in this way attempt to understand the role of money in institutions and how this might inform economic life and our relationship to money. Clearly, to do this systematically would be a massive undertaking and here I am only developing some of the philosophical framework to underpin this project. In particular, I want to take issue with theories of intrinsic value, particularly Locke’s view of natural value and the labour theory of value, and to present a hypothesis that the moral dimension of monetary value exists at an institutional level rather than at a commodity or service level.

Money and monetary value

For an everyday reality that pervades our lives and our society, money is actually something of an enigma, at one level tangible and obvious, but on closer investigation something whose nature is surprisingly elusive. Clearly money cannot be identified with the notes and coins we carry around with us, firstly for the superficial reason that the currency we identify most readily with is not transnational and can only with some difficulty and cost (and even here the equivalence is not always transparent) be converted into another. Then, although we are not quite there yet, it is possible for us to conceive of a cashless society, in which all financial transaction will take place electronically, through the transfer of information in binary code. However, even more than these reasons, if we stop to consider it, the source of the agency that money confers to enter into economic transactions appears to be wholly mysterious.

The emergence of the digital economy and electronic money has popularised the notion that there has been an evolution in our economic transactions, beginning with barter, passing through the money economy, and now moving into the era of credit largely carried out invisibly. This view is based on what we could call the commonsense view of money, first advocated by philosophers such as Locke and Adam Smith, who drew on Aristotle’s and Homer’s observations in the ancient world two millennia previously, and it is the view still propounded in the majority of textbooks on economics (Graeber, 2011). However, it is demonstrably wrong. There is no evidence that any culture that relied on a barter economy ever existed (Humphrey, 1985). The alternative view, previously at the margins but gathering momentum in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, is that human economic activity has always in its foundations been about credit and debit.

Much of this reassessment is based on the century-old writings of Mitchell Innes (1913) and William Furness (1910). Innes pointed out that the earliest recorded notion of debt, found in the Code of Hammurabi, predates the earliest coinage by 2000 years, and that the repayment of a debt was considered to be a sacred duty. The foundations of economy have always been about the agreements between creditors and debtors, in which the origins and function of money is no more than a marker of that relationship and agreement.  Furness recorded the highly unusual money system on the Indonesian island of Yap, which consisted of stone wheels of various sizes known as fei. He noted that even when transactions were concluded the fei were rarely moved; change of ownership was merely acknowledged. In the most remarkable case a fei which had sunk to the bottom of the sea while being transported was still recognised as valid currency. In other words the currency functioned as markers of credits founded on trust. This view eventually won the approbation of economists as diverse as John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, though is still largely ignored in macroeconomic theory (Martin, 2013).

The reason for this misunderstanding lies in the seventeenth century in the period when the Bank of England was being set up. Prior to the establishment of the bank, the ultimate source of the authority for the English currency was the British sovereign. Coins were stamped with the monarch’s image and minted in silver, theoretically to the value as stated per denomination. In fact, it was long recognised that the face value of coin and the price of silver frequently diverged, silver being more valuable that the actual coinage. This led to huge amounts of money being melted down and sold as bullion and the stock of coinage being vastly depleted as a result. The Bank of England, which had in the meantime emerged as a mercantile counterbalance to the monetary authority of the sovereign, saw the obvious solution to lie in debasing the metal in the coinage, alloying the silver, and thus lowering the actual value of the coins to or below their face value, thereby removing the motive for destroying them. Unfortunately, this pragmatic solution was overruled by Parliament on the advice of John Locke, the pre-eminent philosopher of his age and a hugely influential figure. Locke, a fierce republican, wanted the Bank to break entirely with the notion that the value of the currency was based on authority, such as the authority of the king, and instead base it on the intrinsic value of nature, such as that of silver. Locke’s suggestion was followed and the nation’s supply of silver coins was replenished, with both predictable and unforeseen disastrous consequences.

Locke clearly believed, or at least wished to assert for political reasons, that money has an intrinsic value, and the modern capitalist economy, whatever private reservations people individually may harbour, continues to function on the basis of this belief, using gold as the most common standard rather than silver. It is necessary, though, to analyse what the ‘value’ is that is the object of such a belief. The Lockean argument from nature can be dismissed out of hand. Value is not a property of nature, but of human judgement. Even if our currency were ‘worth its weight in gold’ (which it is not, by a significant margin), this would not constitute its value any more than it were worth its weight in manure, because the value of gold or manure is not ‘intrinsic’, but arises fundamentally from their utility, a distinction Pepper (1970) refers to as ‘value proper’ and ‘utility value’, the latter which we could also refer to as social value. The different social value ascribed to gold and manure arises from their relative rarity, flexibility and aesthetic appeal. Gold is almost universally considered beautiful due to its colour and lustre, and useful due to its malleability and ductility, qualities which obviously cannot be ascribed to manure. However, gold’s social value depends to a large degree on the technological capacity of the culture in which it occurs. Primitive cultures in regions in which it was naturally relatively abundant had little use for it outside decoration, and were happy to trade it for coloured beads. Unlike manure which is a good fertiliser and building material, useful in settled agricultural communities, gold perhaps had only marginal social value. This point does not seem to me to be undermined by any subsequent retrospective reassessment by post-colonialist critics.

One of the functions of money in monetary theory is reckoned to be to store value (Nesiba, 2013), which seems a not unreasonable proposition; that is, until we start to interrogate its exact meaning, whereupon it slips rapidly from our grasp. The way in which money stores value is like the way in which the sun rises, that is, metaphorically. Since money has no intrinsic value, either as a physical or digital currency, it cannot store value either. And since, with the exception of some hobbyists or collectors who may fetishize the physicality of money, we do not value money as such, but only its instrumentality, the idea of storing value is really just shorthand for the ability to exchange it in denominated amounts for the things that we deem actually valuable, or vice-versa, to receive it in denominated amounts for goods or services. What is ultimately valuable is that which makes human life liveable, bearable and pleasant, so it is in the social agency of money that its source of value is found.

To pursue this thought further, value does not inhere in money itself, but nor can it in the goods or services which are exchangeable for money, at a price determined by the market, as the same objection which was raised against the intrinsic value of money can similarly be raised against the intrinsic value of any commodity or service, that is, value does not exist in the state of nature. The question this denial poses, then, concerns the ontological foundations of the economy in which money plays such a crucial role. Marx (1859)advanced an alternative view of value: rather than arising from nature, the intrinsic value of a commodity represented the ‘congealed labour time’ of the industrial proletarian whose sweat and toil had manufactured it. Although this view, referred to as the labour theory of value, is disparaged by mainstream economists, and although I believe it takes too narrow a view, nonetheless, I will develop an important insight which I believe Marx had, which is that value is inherently social and that it is generated in the world of work.

Marx was motivated to blame capitalism for the dreadful conditions of the industrial working class which sprang up in the newly growing cities created by the industrial revolution. He identified the profit generated in the manufacturing process as an ‘excess’ derived from the exploitation of the workers who had created the value of the commodities, that is by paying them insufficiently for their labour. A clear objection to this idea is that the price – even the marketability – of any commodity is a function of its quality and the demand for it. If a manufactured item is shoddy or faulty it cannot demand the same price in the market as one which is made to high standards, regardless of the labour invested in it, while if there is no demand for an item, it will not sell. Price is determined largely by these two factors, quality and demand, and any business in order to be profitable, has to identify a market where a certain demand exists and strive for quality that meets the market’s expectations.

Money, then, neither has value nor stores it. As we discussed, according to Pepper there are two types of value, value proper and utility value. Money has utility, clearly, though it is a very specific type of tool, one whose usefulness is in being exchanged for things that are in turn useful or pleasurable to us, and therefore to that extent valuable. It has neither value nor utility intrinsic to itself, only as a medium of exchange. Money, though, is unique in that it is denominated and acts as a scaled measure of wealth. Unlike value, which is a function of judgement, wealth is a function of a social process; moreover, it is a social process in which existential and social values play a critical role. As already mentioned, economic activity can only take place on the basis of trust, and money itself exists as a place marker for relationships of credit based on trust. For much of history this was the common understanding of how money worked. It is only in the past few hundred years that this seems to have been forgotten.

Institutional wealth hypothesis

Rather than value, a nebulous term at best, I suggest it is wealth which both money measures and that links money to the value-driven activities of institutions.  By ‘institution’ I mean any human grouping that has some sense of a common purpose, some shared values, a degree of organisational structure however informal, perhaps some rules, and a boundary demarking inside from outside. This would include businesses and all manner of organisations and even individual family units. It would not, for example, include neighbourhoods as geographic entities, but would include neighbourhood associations. Wealth is generated by and accumulates around such institutions and their activities. We tend to think of wealth in opposition to poverty, but what I have in mind is relative wealth, wealth that can be an indicator of the relative performance of institutions. Rather than engage in a diatribe against the perception of poverty created in our society by gross inequalities of income, I suggest that wealth be thought of as a neutral term that can employed evaluatively across all cultures and historic periods and that poverty be restricted to its more ethical connotations, by which I mean a culture-dependent term of disparagement for lack of aspiration.

The hypothesis, one that does not seem implausible, is that wealth is generated in successful institutions. To emphasise, by wealth I am not talking about vast wealth, but wealth as a relative quality; some institutions, such as banks, are required to process huge quantities of money (leaving aside for the moment structural anomalies in the banking sector that governments are attempting to address), but others, such as voluntary or community-based organisations, might run on a shoestring but be fully functional in achieving their nominal purpose. All institutions need money to function and this has to be considered integral to the institutional ontology not as an add-on. It is also a necessity in a comprehensive theory of value to be able to offer explanations of economic value and explore any underlying unity between economic value and social value/values.

The great monetary settlement of the seventeenth century never fully resolved the issue of the nature of money, and Locke’s intervention saddled us with an erroneous concept, which has had consequences to this day. According to Martin (2013) the final authority for a currency is the people in democratic society, who invest their authority in the government of the day to make sensible decisions regarding the economy for the benefit of the people as a whole. Money is like language, in some sense, in that it pervades our culture and is ultimately controlled by no one (ibid); it is above all a social phenomenon, and always has been, although this has been forgotten by governments, the banking industry and by most economists, with rare exceptions like Keynes. Nevertheless, the current financial crisis has led to government intervention, some reforms in banking and some reassessment of economic theory in line with Keynesian thinking.

Wealth goes hand in hand with success in any venture, and that success is built by gradually building relations of trust around that venture. Building a successful venture requires a range of skills and the ability to work hard, for example, but the focus here is not on this range of skills but on the fundamental ontological requirements of institutional success, which requires the creation of multidimensional trust, both within an organisation and outside in relation to other relevant organisations and constituencies. As I have argued in a previous essay on values and institutional structure, relationships within any organisation are strengthened and organisational conflicts between different constituencies are ameliorated when shared values are sought and promoted alongside core values and organisational goals; in fact, the discovery of shared values in the context of the organisation is one of the fundamental responsibilities and ‘people skills’ that a leader of any organisation needs to manifest, as it demonstrates attention to the particular and the individual rather than just to the general and the abstract.

Trust is not something that can be established at once, and not necessarily easily, and it is something that can be rapidly destroyed. However, as Fukuyama (1995) has argued, trust is the fundamental value of social capital, one which enabled the growing prosperity of Europe through the early modern period. If this is true I suspect it is because, unlike other values which are (or run the risk of being) etiolated when they are monetised, it has the property of self-replenishment. The building of trust, therefore, should be a fundamental goal of every organisation. First, everyone feels happier when they are in an environment in which they feel trusted. When people feel happy they willingly contribute to the good of the whole and invest themselves, their efforts and time for the success of the whole. There is a common interest that whatever goods or services they provide should be to a high standard of quality, and when they are to a high quality the recipient of those goods or services will naturally be satisfied. Those who fund the activities of the organisation, whether consumers, shareholders, banks, or donors should be treated as extended constituencies of the organisation, common values discovered and a basis for trust and satisfaction established. This is the basis for success and wealth in any organisation. The same reasoning can also be applied to an individual and a basic social institution such as a family.

Potential objections to the hypothesis

An objection to this hypothesis would be that many organisations seem to function, even function well, while not adhering to this strategy. I would say that this is due to the dampening effect of society; changes rarely happen suddenly, but usually there is a cumulative effect before something becomes apparent. The economic crisis was building up and was predicted by some many years in advance, as indeed the recovery is many years in manifesting itself. When any institution fails, whether it be large or small, there are always underlying reasons, and those reasons invariably come down to human problems: the arrogance of a leader, the disaffection and even sabotage of those mistreated, greed and eventually dishonesty undermining trust. Even failure to adapt to a changing environment can be laid at the feet of systemic failure to seek common values, because that is a failure to draw upon the variety of skills, to discover and to exploit those skills, that any group of people bring with them. Edward Freeman (2010), in his writings on stakeholder theory, asserts that any business that is not seeking to keep all its stakeholders – such as investors, shareholders, banks, employees and customers – happy is a failing business. I have used the term ‘constituency’ rather than stakeholder, but the logic is much the same, although I have attempted to give a more theoretical underpinning to what stakeholder happiness actually comprises.

A second objection would be that wealth simply means the accumulation of money or its equivalent in assets. This is a commonly held view and it arises out of the mistaken understanding of the nature of money and economic value. This view justifies the moral view (not that I am saying that everyone who shares this understanding of money shares this view) that gaining money is a justifiable end in itself, and it does not matter the means by which one acquires it. Clearly, such a view underlies criminal acquisition, whether that be corporate crime, gang-related crime or street robbery. I have advocated the view that the acquisition of wealth should be understood as a reward for, or a consequence of, institutional strengthening. Theft short-circuits that process; it does not represent the justly deserved reward for valued activity, which reinforces the values of social institutions, but leaves the basis of social chaos in its wake: mistrust, fear and loss. Moreover, the empowering function of money cannot be fully realised; its power to purchase is always accompanied by fear of exposure, fear of punishment, mistrust of others and the knowledge that one is not truly worthy in that one has not been rewarded. As a society we are left to take effective measures to counter the increasing prevalence of this sort of activity and its social fallout, whereas we should be establishing as a norm the correct understanding of money and of wealth, that people can police themselves more effectively.

Money is a token that represents the wealth which is generated in successful institutions. In some respects it has similarities to Austin’s (1962) idea of the performative speech act, in that an exchange of paper, metal or electronic tokens effects a change in ownership and the conferring of rights. Money is effectively a symbol, which exercises symbolic power throughout society, for all social institutions. Externally it has the nature of a tool that quantifies wealth, which can switch between a physical format (currency and perhaps its bullion equivalent in extremis) and a digital format (as an entry in a ledger or perhaps now even as a digital currency, such as bitcoin). In this sense it is proper to speak of it having utility or use-value rather than value proper, in the same way that all things that can be defined as tools have utility, and only have value proper if they enter the sphere of our personal experience in the sense of evoking a (usually) positive emotional response. But as a symbol money also represents things that we recognise as social universals such as freedom, both freedom from want and freedom to choose, competence in earning a living and supporting oneself, and also things like moral obligation, such as to pay one’s debts, to care for one’s dependents materially and to contribute to the common good through supporting enterprise, inspiration and endeavour, supporting the needy, and paying one’s taxes.

Money has been one of the most powerful tools for liberation, as it has freed the masses from excessive social control and opened up the way for individual decision-making, risk-taking and enterprise, which has contributed to the emergence of economically vibrant and democratic societies. A further step is now needed to correct the social injustices that the wrong understanding of money has perpetuated, by a new consensus on its nature.

References

Austin, J.L. (1962). How to do things with words. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Freeman, E. R., Harrison, J. S., Wicks, A. C., Parmar, B. L. and De Colle, S. (2010). Stakeholder Theory: The State of the Art. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: The social virtues and the creation of prosperity. London: Penguin.

Furness, W. (1910). The Island of Stone Money: Uap of the Carolines. Philadelphia, PA: Washington Square Press.

Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The First 5000 Years. NY: Melville House Publishing.

Humphrey, C. (1985). ‘Barter and Economic Disintegration’. Man, 20(1), pp. 48-72.

Innes, A.M. (1913, May). ‘What is money?’. Banking Law Journal, pp. 377-408.

Martin, F. (2013). Money: The Unauthorised Biography. London: The Bodley Head.

Marx, K (1859). A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Nesiba, R. F. (2013). ‘Where did “money” come from?’ Western Social Science Association (WSSA) News, 42(2) (Fall 2013).

Pepper, S. C. (1970). The Sources of Value. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Institutional Structure and Culture in the Transmission of Social Values, Part 3: A Theory of Institutional Value Transmission

Introduction

Part 1 of this essay (posted March 23, 2016) reviewed some of the significant literature and theories emerging from the relatively new field of evolutionary psychology in regard to cultural transmission and intergenerational transmission of values. Part 2 (posted April 30, 2016) explored the sociological literature for theories or partial theories of institutional transmission. Much of the literature of part 2 related to education, as formal education is the primary institutional context (outside of the family) in which values transmission takes place. Part 3 outlines a theory of institutional value transmission based on empirical field research in education and discusses that in relation to the above-mentioned literature. It begins, though, by outlining the basic theory underlying this research, a deductive hypothesis of the nature, function and transmission of values.

In a previous essay (posted August 22 and September 12, 2015) a philosophical analysis of the concept of value from first principles was undertaken, in light of perceived problems both within axiology and the usage of the term within the social sciences. The analysis concluded that, contrary to the mainstream of academic philosophy, values were real and their nature and properties describable. It found that values are semiotically related to symbols in having a structural duality and phenomenologically related to treasured personal items in being an experience of emotional attachment. Outwardly, values are linguistic signs denoting abstract concepts, while inwardly they relate to strong feelings. As part of normal language, value concepts pepper our everyday discourse and communication, either in their primary nominalised form or in lexical variations (verbs, adjectives, etc.) and are able to permeate society through the normal linguistic pathways of communication. Experientially, however, like symbols, a particular value is only truly meaningful within a (theoretically) closed social group for whom the value attains utmost significance, for example faith within a religious group, justice for a campaigning group, safety for a military reconnaissance unit or accuracy for a scientific project team. This idea has resonance with, but is not derived from, Tajfel’s (1974) concept of ‘ingroup’ and ‘outgroup’ as categories of identity through inclusion and exclusion. From either aspect values are inherently social, and this lead to one of the more surprising conclusions: that there are no private values. Values are just words on one level, but at the experiential level they are social and communal, that is they denote a shared experience, not a private experience. I can create a word for an intensely personal experience, but it could only become a value by being shared and finding an appropriate social context in which it can function. The idea of values as shared experience is not the same as, it is the exact opposite of, the idea of intersubjectivity, as that was conceived of by Habermas (1984). For Habermas individual subjectivity emerged from a collective recognition of signs; shared experience presupposes individual subjectivity as the basis for empathetic recognition of others’ interior worlds.

The function of values was not addressed at length in the original theory, which focused on the ontological question of the nature of values; however, the main line of an answer is fairly clear. If values acquire their significance in a communal setting, then a primary focus is to bind social groups together. The primary institution for human lives is the family, and though the family must be considered the cradle for our basic values, it is also an institution which is bound together by common values. Society is a multiplicity of social groupings – familial, tribal, ethnic, religious, professional, vocational, economic, political, leisure and interest – and all of them can be understood as defined by shared values. It is this aspect of values which in some respect renders them problematic. Values not only define the core of the group, they also define the boundary of the group, where the group becomes the non-group because of non-adherence to the particular values of the group (Tajfel, 1974). Values, therefore, are not only a cohesive force in society; many, possibly all, conflicts in society can be understood in terms of competing values. In complex modern societies the quest for common values, embodied in social institutions, is paramount. A second function of values is to embody the essential attributes and goals of the group. Values are not the same as attributes or goals, but they are clearly related. For example, values underlie goals; goals are more specific to a particular event or situation, but values transcend the particular event or situation to give continuity to the group beyond the immediate attainment of goals (Rokeach, 1973). A third function of values is to structure and give purpose to individual lives (Mandler, 1993; Barth, 1993). In modern societies in particular it is common to be multi-valued as a result of multiple belonging, the overlapping of different interests, commitments and loyalties. It is paradoxically both a condition and an outcome of open societies that such multiple belonging occurs; it is one of the guarantees that society does not fracture along narrow monocultural lines, defined by religion or ethnicity (Huntington, 1993, 1996).

The transmission of values is based on the twin concepts of invocation and evocation as a way of understanding the mode of existence and propagation of values in a community and of the genesis and maintenance of the community. Invocation, based on the idea of value as a symbolic type of entity, is the ritualistic utterance of the value sacred to the group, with the purpose of reinforcing their commitment to both. While this may seem too overtly couched in religious terminology, the contention is that values actually take on aspects of the sacred (Eliade, 1957), which is most explicitly demonstrated in religion, but is actually part of all aspects of human life and experienced by everyone. Evocation can be thought of as the effect that invocation has on the listener, that of opening up a realm of experience associated with the value, referred to as the moral universe of the value, but that moral universe most readily conflated with the immanent community and its obligations; for this reason ‘evocation of the moral universe of the value’ and ‘evocation of the moral community’ are essentially identical. Participation in the moral universe of the value is a grounded existential certainty and sense of belonging that Eliade (1957, p.21) refers to as the experience of the sacred, as ‘a fixed point, a centre…equivalent to the creation of the world’.

The theory outlined here is a deductive argument derived from a consideration of the meaning of value as that has been analysed in terms of phenomenological and semiotic categories. Its extension into a consideration of the function of values, and particularly the transmission of values, is only partly developed. In the following section this theoretical picture is filled out and refined by empirical data derived from field research in actual schools, as mentioned above, developing an understanding, in particular, of how values are transmitted in real-world institutional contexts. The deductive theory plays a role in this process: the concept of value informs in particular the analytic methods used, functioning as what Blumer (1954) referred to as a sensitising concept.

Empirical research-based theory of institutional value transmission

The field research was carried out in three secondary schools, with contrasting forms of governance: a faith school, an independent school and a community school (total number of participants 150). A two-tier qualitative approach, having both an inductive, theory-generating phase of data capture and analysis, and a deductive, hypothesis-led evaluative phase, was used. The inductive phase used a multiple case study format and cross-case analysis, providing data for analysis and for testing the hypotheses in the deductive phase. The case studies were each modelled on three structural aspects: an authority hierarchy; an interiority/exteriority duality in the institutional lived-experience; and a system hierarchy. Multiple data collection and analytic methods were employed in each case study, in order to build up a complex snapshot of the transmission of values in each school. Only the findings of the research are reported here. The source for details of the research is given in the references (Trubshaw, 2014).

In any consideration of values transmission in schools the central relationship has to be between teacher and pupil, which is the institutional nexus between the generations in terms of behavioural modelling, socialisation and enculturation, as well as the more mundane and well-understood conduit of information transmission (Parsons, 1961). (The two aspects are not different at one level, as values are, as explained above, in some respects just another form of information). As this theory deals with institutional transmission, rather just interpersonal transmission, though, on one side it must deal with the power relationships within the school, and even beyond the school in the influence of national policy-making and local authority implementation, whereby the values agenda – if, indeed, there is such a coherent entity – is set, and on the other the moral agency and developing moral cognition of the individual pupil subject to any attempts at values education.

The model for institutional value transmission arrived at through this research consists of four conceptual categories – institutional value permeation, institutional authority, resistance to institutional authority and transformative experience – which is best thought of as the interaction between two partial models: a permeation-authority model of institutional inculcation and a resistance-transformation model of moral autonomy. Each of the conceptual categories will be explained over a number of sub-sections, drawing on theoretical concepts derived from the data, illustrative examples from the field, the hypothetical model and the academic literature of values education and social transmission.

The institutional permeation of values

Permeation as the name implies is the extent to which a particular value has been identified throughout an institution, specifically at all identified levels and each demographic sector. In the field research these were identified as the three main levels of each school: the official, the pedagogical and the learner as represented by data from documents and interview (Head), classroom observation and field notes (teacher report/feedback sessions), and pupil survey and focus group, respectively. Permeation, it should be pointed out, is not the same as transmission. First, it would be impossible to establish causality of any sort without a longitudinal study far beyond the scope of the research undertaken. Secondly, institutions like schools are highly permeable to multiple influences and the espousal of a value is not necessarily indicative of its acquisition within its confines. What the analysis attempted to discover is the degree of commonality of experience within the lived world of the institution, the recognition of common semiotic structures which carry the value meanings, and the link between these semiotic structures and the strategies for values education (Downey and Kelly, 1978; Plunkett, 1990) that exist at the official level, however informally those are formulated. Through the cross-case analysis, a core of values that seemed to permeate the institutions investigated had been established. This was only indicative of a snapshot view of the schools, though it was verified in principle in report/feedback meetings. The point is not to argue for absolute veracity, but for theoretical plausibility on the basis of methodological reliability.

In a consideration of the hegemony of ideology in society and schooling in particular, Apple (1979, p.22) makes use of the term ‘permeate’ (in a somewhat pleonastic manner) to describe a state of ‘saturation’. The concept of permeation has been taken up to describe the extent of transmission flow though the institute, the extent to which values are transmitted through the institutional structure and recognised by the erstwhile recipients of values education. That such a flow occurs seems to be taken for granted by the schools: ‘In our mission statement we talk about everyone being treated with dignity and respect…that everyone should be treated as of equal worth…Saying it and doing it at times is difficult…But I think it does permeate through’. It should be pointed out that the use of the term ‘permeate’ in this quotation, which includes the idea of acceptance, does not quite correspond with its use here, where it means solely ubiquity.

Permeation can then be thought of as a conceptual field in which, however tenuously, there is common awareness of the preferred values of the institution transmitted either directly through verbal indication or indirectly though suggestion. As outlined in part 1 this communication of value concepts is not the transmission of values in the sense of acquisition but only the possibility for  conceptual grasp, that is, the ‘awareness stage’ of Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Schönpflug’s (2001b) two-stage process of ‘awareness’ and ‘acceptance’. The analysed research data gave a snapshot of the state of permeation and established that common values are found at all levels of the schools. Moreover the surveys established that there are significant levels of pupil awareness of the schools’ attempts to teach certain values and attitudes.

In this context, it is necessary to evaluate the two-stage process of ‘awareness’ and ‘acceptance’. First, these have to be considered stages in transmission and not a mechanism for transmission, certainly not in the sense of ‘mechanism’, understood as a causal explanation. Secondly, Schönpflug’s (ibid) two stages are of limited utility for grasping institutional transmission; they are appropriate in interpersonal transmission, but within an institution even if acceptance of a certain value can be shown, unless it can also be shown that inculcation, awareness and acceptance form a causal line within the institution, to speak of institutional transmission is not permissible. Establishing permeation is easier: indications of student awareness of being taught and of staff awareness of the ethos, both of which were evidenced in the data, are enough. Permeation means simply that there is a value discourse occurring in every sector of the institute, in this case at every one of the three levels of the schools. But while there might be institutional awareness, it requires something more to create the conditions for acceptance, or ‘acquisition’, the preferred term here.

Transmission and the institutional structure of authority

Permeation, as just noted, takes place as easily as people communicate, either informally through casual interaction, or formally as in the teacher-pupil interaction or in official documents and publications circulated through the school. Values are embedded in such modes of communication either consciously or unconsciously and therefore reach to every part of the school. However, to move to the stage of acquisition requires a very different process. This process involves the authority structure of the school.

To understand why this is so, it is necessary to go back to the basic theory outlined above, in which value has a dual structure. One is its external aspect of simply being a conceptual word, easily communicated and assimilated. However, this is not the whole or the essential nature of a value, which lies in its internal aspect of being a shared experience of the moral force of the value. For this aspect of the value to be acquired three things must happen: a communal context must exist; the value must be explained or modelled in some way; and the intended recipient as a moral agent in their own right must move to acceptance. The first two imply the existence of a source of authority. Each of these will be dealt with separately; this section will deal with the first two, under four sub-sections: a) invocation and evocation, the processes by which the community of the moral force of the institutional values (or ‘moral community’) is established; b) power and control, as aspects of authority; c) institutional authority structures, at the administrative and pedagogical level; and d) the value cycle, the self-sustaining interface between permeation and authority in the institutional ethos.

a. Invocation and evocation

The concept of invocation, explained above, is the clear link between the permeation of the institutional structure with value concepts and the beginnings of the process of the institutional inculcation of the values of the institution’s ethos. In invocation, though, the function of the value term switches from conceptual to symbolic and the particular institutional values deemed significant assume a sacred dimension and collective binding force in the institutional discourse and pedagogy. Within the classroom that is going to be supplied by the teacher’s use of a value-term in a meaningful context (Hawkes, 2010), perhaps supplying examples, in this way, more than just by definitional precision or extension, deepening the understanding of the term, and hopefully by being an example of that value and modelling that value in the behaviour they demonstrate to the pupils in the class and others. There was evidence of this type of discourse in each of the schools studied in the field research; sometimes it did in an explicit way relate to the religious tradition of the school in question, but values were implicit in secular concerns, activities and policies as well, such as the concern for inclusion, and after Eliade (1957) I have interpreted the sacred broadly as that which is existentially foundational.

According to the theory, as shared experience values have a communal aspect, the creation or maintenance of which is referred to as the ‘evocation of the moral community’. ‘The moral community’ is an abbreviation of – or better thought of as – ‘the community of the moral force of the value’, as values are definitionally a form of the good and operate as such within a value-oriented grouping. In the research two types of distinct evocation were witnessed, referred to as intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic evocation identifies the moral community with the community defined by the addressed group itself; they become, as it were, the experimental laboratory for the practice of the value. Extrinsic evocation is more an exercise in remote empathy, where the group experience vicariously, communally, the circumstances of others in a value-laden narrative.

Logically, evocation must follow invocation, but the precursor for both within an institution is that the actual physical group must exist in which inculcation of the value can occur. Evocation requires the group to be transformed into the moral community, but it is not yet the moral community. In a similar manner, invocation requires the as-if modelling of invocation, even though the value has not yet been acquired by the group. Where there is clearly some gap between the theory and the reality, both evocation and invocation can be thought of as principles for action, or activation principles, rather than as straightforward descriptions of what happens. In both the cases of evocation and invocation the issue of authority arises: the authority of the school to organise young people into classes for the purpose of learning and specifically for the transmission of values; and the authority of the teacher to stand in front of a class of morally autonomous individuals and hold the attention of the class and undertake pedagogy in order that they can acquire a particular value or values. In other words the authority of the school over the moral autonomy of the individual must be brought into play, and such institutional authority needs to be thoroughly examined.

b. Power and control

In part 2 of this essay, I considered three models of institutional transmission, that of Talcott Parsons’ view of the school class as a social system (Parsons, 1959), Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of cultural reproduction through pedagogy (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977) and Basil Bernstein’s synthesis of linguistics and politics in a theory of educational transmission (Bernstein, 1975). Of the three, Bernstein has probably most shaped my views on institutional authority, power and control. While the definitions that I arrived at through analysing the data from the schools differed ultimately from those Bernstein employed, his use of ‘classification’ for a spatial boundary between curriculum subjects and ‘framework’ for the temporal rhythm of the syllabus, shaped my thinking on how control is realistically exercised in an institutional setting.

Power has a number of manifestations, but in this model of value transmission, only two functions which are of importance: one is to create roles that function to distribute power; the other is to licence control. It is in the first of these functions of the role that power reveals its capacity to give rise to a self-replicating hierarchy, though one of vertically diminishing power. All power is symbolic and the appointment of someone to a role is a secular anointing accompanied by the symbolic trappings, such as the certificate, the office and the desk, for example. In developed economies appointments to important or professional posts – such as a teacher – are made on the basis of having met certain formal requirements that demonstrate sufficient skill to carry out the role. Once conferred, a role then gives the appointee the right in turn to confer power. A role, though, does more than just confer power; it also limits it through regulation (legal, organisational and ethical). Power takes two forms, that of empowerment and disempowerment. The role both empowers and disempowers (although, it can be seen in context that the role only disempowers by empowering in the first place; therefore, empowerment and disempowerment are relative) and by empowerment confers the power to empower and disempower in turn, though the nature of the conferred empowerment and disempowerment may be curtailed by the limitations of the role. Whether and to what extent limited, however, the power to employ empowering and disempowering methods, known collectively as ‘power distribution’, to alter the dynamics of a system such as a classroom, is fundamental to a role and one of the four areas of control conceded to a role in an institution. It seems that this power – the power to distribute power – is reproduced throughout the hierarchy, and is not a form of control which is a feature of personal charisma. Power distribution is not a creative shaping force as control is; it is essentially a reproduction of the forms of power being transmitted through the hierarchy, embodied in the assigned role. As discussed above, the role empowers through a certain space for action – a space in which charismatic control can be exercised – but also disempowers by placing limits on that space and curtailing the freedom to act by imposing mandatory requirements and responsibilities, prohibitions and taboos. Although the exercise of power distribution may appear to be undertaken spontaneously at each level, in reality the freedoms and limits, say, employed by a teacher in a classroom, are determined higher up the hierarchy and manifest in the legal and bureaucratic burdens that accompany the role.

The exact relationship between power and control is complex, because control also involves the use of coercive force, if not physical force in these times at least some form of ‘symbolic violence’ (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977; Foucault, 1979). Happily, such considerations lie outside the scope of this theory; in regards to the transmission of values, coercive force would be entirely unproductive. The forms of control that are of interest lie in a form of authority that transcends the role, which could be referred to as ‘character’, ‘personal magnetism’ or ‘charisma’, and for which the role is either unnecessary or necessary but not sufficient. (The latter seems intrinsically more realistic; even if an individual has personal magnetism, unless they have the authority to stand in a role they cannot exercise this control in a formal setting.) Power creates the context in which control can be exercised and, in that sense, unleashes it, but it is not the origin. Unlike power, which is conferred and hierarchical, control is either innate or learned and is unique to the individual.

c. The institutional expression of authority structures

At the whole school level there is an axis of authority (the authority for the school to exist, authorisation to administer education and recruit teachers, and mandatory requirement for the running of a modern school including the contents of education and pedagogies) which acts as the basis for three areas of local control relevant to values transmission: the internal structuring of the school, both in terms of its architecture and its management structures, and the limits of the school’s writ, which collectively are referred to as the bounding of space; the organisation of the syllabus into a timetabled curriculum, and the other aspects of school life into a set of routines, called collectively the periodisation of time; and overseeing a system for the permeation of values throughout the school, including strategic planning, signing, signposting and signage (semiotic marking), broadcasting and the cultivation of the school ethos, collectively known as the symbolisation of value concepts.

At the classroom level the axis of authority is manifested in the role of the teacher, which reproduces the mandated power distribution of the higher authority. So, for example, the teacher has the authority to empower and disempower students but only within the parameters mandated by the school board (or increasingly by the government). The role is the basis of the teacher’s control that they are able to exercise in the class, but only in the sense that it legitimises their position; it does not constitute it, however. Control is a manifestation of the personal charisma of the teacher, which can be either innate or learned. While this charisma (as the name suggests) may in some sense be an ineffable quality, it has tangible dimensions through which control is exerted: as the shaping and structuring of space (physical, social and behavioural) through creating boundaries; as the rhythmic structuring of time (through rhetorical devices, lesson planning and the continuity of contact with the student body) referred to as periodicity; and as the shaping and manipulation of images through the spoken and written word and through performative acts, known as symbolisation. The relationships between these concepts are summarised in the table below.

Untitled

At the level of abstraction given above, the structural similarities between the two levels (whole school and classroom) and their point for point correspondence become clear. Evidence was gathered in the case studies that these attributes of power and control are ubiquitous throughout the institutional hierarchy; power distribution, though, is reproduced directly and hierarchically, whereas the other aspects of control – boundary, periodicity and symbolism – emerge spontaneously. The nexus between the two levels of transmission occurs (potentially) at several points: a direct link, as mentioned, in terms of authoritative axis and role, although this plays no decisive part in transmission but rather ensures the stability and continuity of the institutional structure; the critical nexus occurs in the area of pedagogical control, as teachers participate in and build on the institutional strategy for their own classroom strategy, appropriate the institutional semiosis, suitably adapted for their own classroom pedagogy, and both draw upon and contribute to the school ethos.

d. The value cycle

Up to this point permeation and control have been discussed in isolation, as if these processes or states were unrelated to each other. On the route to value acquisition, though, in the process of initiating and maintaining institutional value awareness, they are intimately related. As discussed above, control manifests itself through the persuasive manipulation of language, patterning time (periodicity), space (boundary) and image (symbolisation), in effect to create a controlled environment and conscious state in which individuals can be empowered or disempowered.

In the cross-case analysis of observational data from the field a causal relationship was identified that could be simplified to four categories: authority (power and control), strategy, sign, and participation. This represents the interface between the structure of institutional permeation and the structure of institutional authority. Teacher classroom strategy in the transmission of values, as previously mentioned, draws upon the institutional repository of the ethos and other sources of values and projects the message through a semiotic display in the classroom combining signs for control and embedded signs for a value, this pathway from strategy to sign being the process of invocation. The signs now permeate the consciousness of the pupils empowered and tasked to participate in the moral universe of the value. This pathway from sign to participation is the process of evocation. Participation in the moral universe of the value is also, for reasons already discussed at length, participation in the moral community, where the ‘sense of community’ is experienced. This leads naturally to an intensification of participation through value-based strategic action and semiosis at every level of the institution. The completion of the cycle from participation back to strategy equates to acquisition. At each stage of this cycle charismatic control is exercised; through the distribution of power pupils can exercise a measure of control over themselves and one another in maintaining a stable, value centred community. This process is shown in the following figure, where P = power, R = role, CC = charismatic control, St = strategy, in = invocation, Si = sign, ev = evocation, Pa = participation and ac = acquisition.

value cycle

The value cycle

 

Resistance, moral autonomy and transformation

The explanation outlined up to this point offers a hegemonistic and deterministic view of value transmission, in terms of permeation and authority. It describes the mechanism of value transmission from the inculcatory perspective of the institution and the teacher, but has not considered from the acquisitive perspective the recipient, the pupils, as autonomous moral agents (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994; Barni et al., 2011). To the extent that it has considered them, they have been viewed as blank canvases and as output, albeit the output from a rather more sophisticated process than that considered in many theories of values education. What has not been explained is the trigger to value acquisition; for inculcation or the attempt to inculcate is often met by resistance and for those cases something must ameliorate that resistance. This final part of the outline of a model of institutional values transmission will look at the nature of resistance and the transformation that needs to take place for values to be acquired within an institutional setting.

Resistance takes on different forms varying in intensity, from questioning to outright rebellion. Cases of the latter were only encountered in the literature (e.g. Willis, 1977); the cases from the research field were limited to a range between questioning and robust criticism. It would be wrong to think, though, that resistance is either limited to students or necessarily an expression of antisocial tendencies. The data exhibits examples of resistance across the institutional structure and towards varying targets: criticism of government policies by head teachers, criticism of teachers and head teachers by pupils, some criticism of teachers by other teachers, implied conflicts over policies, criticism of local authorities, other schools and other agencies by head teachers, and criticisms of sixth formers by younger pupils.

When individuals encounter the boundaries established by rules and regulations and limitations on their freedom they usually resist to some degree, either actively or passively (Brehm, 1966). In this state of resistance it is impossible to acquire the values promulgated by the institution, which raises a dilemma for the institution: it cannot relinquish the principles that bound the form of life (Pring, 1986) that the institution embodies, for in this case the institution would lose its identity and its raison d’être; neither can it simply reaffirm its principles, nor affirm them more vociferously, for this is only likely to strengthen the resistance. In order to seek the resolution of this dilemma it is first necessary to understand the nature of resistance in greater depth.

What is common to the examples of resistance given above is the reaction of moral agency to the perception that authority is encroaching on the space in which it exercises moral autonomy, something explicitly voiced in the research data. What can overcome that resistance is the calculation that a benefit is to be had by trading a degree of moral autonomy for something that authority has to offer; that is the moral community, evidence for which was encountered in the field. Therefore, resistance should not be viewed as something pathological, but as an intrinsic psychic mechanism for the protection of moral integrity, which is, nevertheless, at the same time, negotiable. From the perspective of authority the process of transmitter inculcation/recipient acquisition can only be completed through overcoming this resistance; from the individual acquirer’s perspective resistance is an asset which creates the possibility of testing the integrity of the moral community before acquiescing to the merging of their moral identity with the collective. In our complex and relatively open social world individuals rarely become identified with a single form of life, but enjoy multiple identification and belonging. But for each belonging there is a concession of moral autonomy. Objectively, from a neutral perspective, we can speak of the necessity for a transformative experience. Many things can trigger that transformative experience, but to be meaningful to the idea of institutional transmission they should be institutionally contextualised, i.e. things that occur or are witnessed within the school.

In the deductive theory the nature of value was analysed and exposed as a conceptualised shared experience. It seems logical, therefore, that a transformative experience within an institutional context must underlie the transformation from resistance to the acquisition of a value or values. The evidence from schools and the data collected in this research is circumstantial but suggestive of a typology: the acquisition of values is always accompanied by a turning inward. Indeed the conceptual aspect of values logically requires that acquisition should be accompanied by a more reflective attitude. I have already suggested above that this inward turn is accomplished through a process of negotiation between moral autonomy and belonging to the moral community. It is ultimately to find in the community something sufficiently compelling and attractive that the boundary, the encroachment of authority on moral autonomy, becomes invisible or irrelevant. It could be something explicitly inward, such as spirituality, but also a pride in the school or the tradition of the school, or learning to take responsibility for others, and again there were examples of all these in the data.

These things describe the nature of acquisitive transformation, but not ultimately why it occurs, what triggers the transformation that allows the acquisition of values within an institution. The reasons may ultimately be ineffable and idiosyncratic, yet a common phenomenon appears in two anecdotes from the field. It is difficult to put one’s finger on it exactly, but I have decided to refer to it as ‘the slipping of the mask’. The pupils in one of my focus groups told me, almost in hushed tones, of their admiration for the former Head, who had spent an entire break time with one of them, ‘sharing a bag of crisps and talking about TV and stuff’ and on another occasion had participated in a snowball fight. What is not significant here are the actions themselves, which are mundane, but the dissonance between the mask of authority and the humanity beneath. A similar dissonance, on an institutional as well as a personal level, occurred between the hierarchical, tradition-bound structures of an independent boarding school and the glimpses of warm communal life. During an interview, the Chaplain related his amazement at the care shown by a housemaster to his charges, deeply grounded in intimate and detailed knowledge of their likes, dislikes and background, something that will probably have as lasting an impression on those pupils as it obviously has had on the Chaplain. As Heidegger (1962, p.243), quoting an ancient Roman fable, reminds us, ‘Care’ is ‘that to which human [Being] belongs ‘for its lifetime’’.

There is one final aspect of transformation that needs to be explored, which is replication. The essence of values is in a shared experience. Therefore, to acquire a value is to acquire the desire to share the value, both as a way to reinforce the negotiated decision involved in transformation and to extend the moral community. The basis of this concept is deductive reasoning from the nature of value and the symmetry of the model of permeation-authority, outlined in the previous section, and illustrated in the diagram of the value cycle, which entails a new cycle of strategy, sign and participation. Nevertheless, evidence from the data – though limited at this point in time – supports this contention; in one case study pupils spontaneously affirmed values of inclusion permeating through the institution structure from the official levels to classroom pedagogy, and there is circumstantial support for this phenomenon in other cases. Replication links the phenomena of resistance and transformation to those of permeation and authority, by completing the link between participation and strategy. Participation is the end result of the process of transmission, but also stands at the head of a new cycle of transmission. In real contexts this recursive structure is likely to be curtailed by the limited nature of the institution and the downward diffusion of power.

Conclusion

Comparison with models of values education and models of value transmission

Because the model I have presented takes a holistic and integrative view of values transmission, it bears some similarities to other holistic views in the literature. For example, Downey and Kelly (1978) and Plunkett (1990, pp.128-9) put forward similar ideas of values education being approached from one of four possible avenues: through a specialised curriculum, through a broadening of the existing curriculum, through pastoral care or through the school community. Hawkes (2010) has effectively taken all those approaches and combined them in pedagogy of values education. Hawkes, even more explicitly recommends the creation of a vocabulary of value terms to structure pedagogy, an approach essentially undertaken on a national level in Australia which has a list of desired values (Toomey, 2010), around which participating schools can design their curricular and pedagogic approaches. Seeing values education less from a curricular and more from a psychological perspective, Darom (2000) discerns four distinct aspects of education, the cognitive, affective, values and behaviour, which he believes should be integrated for education to have ‘a chance of truly touching young people’ (ibid, p.20). The model of values transmission touches on all those points but explores their theoretical connections, not only as interconnected parts of institutional structure but as aspects of a coherent mechanism.

That mechanism, which I have presented here, I would argue, builds upon, incorporates and goes beyond the mechanism put forward by Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Schönpflug (2001a), a two-stage process of awareness and acceptance. Looking at transmission from an institutional perspective, it has had to take into account issues of authority and control which are constitutive of the deontology of institutions, aspects not made explicit in their theories (even if assumed), which make formal education possible and, as I have described, have a central role to play at the stage of awareness. Between awareness and acceptance there is also a hiatus, which they have not clearly addressed, that of resistance and transformation. This theory has provided a theoretical framework that bridges that gap. In some sense the theory of transmission explained here could also be said to extend Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman’s viral transmission model by incorporating the idea of the dual conceptual and symbolic functions of values, allowing them to switch from ‘diffusion’ mode to ‘infection’ mode.

The centrality of the human relationship to transmission

If there is any consensus over the frequently disputed area of values and values education it is the centrality of the human relationship and the quality of that relationship in the transmission of values. As Schönpflug reminds us (2001b, p.132), the contents of transmission are ‘particularly sensitive to the channel’ of transmission, which I interpret to mean that for the recipient of any form of information, and particularly with the case of values, which also need to be activated in the recipient, who the transmitter is, in terms of the perception of the transmitter by the recipient, is vitally important. From a negative perspective, in cases from the schools studied where teachers were not held in high regard, this had a negative impact on academic performance; and in all these cases the cause of the complaint was not their competence as teachers, which in all but a small minority would be taken as given, but their lack of warmth, remoteness or unpredictability. Research invariably backs this observation up. There is a broad area of agreement with various psychological and philosophical views that the quality of relationships is central to the idea of transmission. For Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) the relationship between the teacher (transmitter) and the taught (recipient) is a key condition of transmission. Although the focus of studies on values transmission has been on the parent child relationship, shifted into an institutional context, all of that which has been predicated of relationships in intergenerational transmission is equally true of the teacher-pupil relationship. For Schönpflug it is (2001a) that is ‘an empathetic style’; for Euler et al. (2001) it is ‘emotional closeness between the generations’; for Barni et al. (2011) it is the ‘relationship’ among the parents and the ‘consistency’ of the value message that is received, as well as the ‘closeness’ of the relationship. These all fit into a pattern of successful parenting, which most now agree is authoritative (Steinberg, et al., 1989), rather than authoritarian or permissive. This also seems a fitting description of the relationship that ought to exist between teachers and their pupils in the context of education in general, but specifically in the context of transmitting values. An ‘authoritative style’ seems a fitting description of the combination of authority and humanity of key figures that I discovered in the data from the schools and characterised as ‘the slipping of the mask’, which I concluded was fundamental to a contextual transformative experience en route to the acceptance of institutional values.

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Toomey, R. (2010). Values education instructional scaffolding and student wellbeing. In Lovat, T. et al (Eds.), International research handbook on values education and student wellbeing. London: Springer, pp. 19-36.

Trubshaw, D. (2014). Modelling institutional values transmission though a comparative case study of three schools (doctoral thesis). University of Derby. Available at: http://derby.openrepository.com/derby/handle/10545/337247; http://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.633680

Willis, P. (1977). Learning to labour. Farnborough, UK: Saxon House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foundations of the Moral Order

By Colin Turfus

Part 2: Rethinking the Moral Order

Part 1 of this essay dealt with the fundamental principles of the grand political project which is the European Union, that is solidarity and subsidiarity, and at how those principles have been either undermined by the nature of the project or remain unimplemented. In part 2, the deeper tradition of European thought is explored for its contribution to an examination of the Good Life, and a re-examination of the Aristotelian idea of telos considered as an alternative to the impasse of human rights to which Europe has committed itself.

The Limits of Our Knowledge?

The epithet attributed to Albert Einstein that the more he learned the more aware he became of how little he really knew has been oft repeated since, and probably also before, he pronounced it! It is a thought-provoking and humbling perspective on humans’ place in the universe. Although the observation was originally made in the context of scientific knowledge, it might be argued that it is more applicable to the social sciences and philosophy, particularly in relation to questions about how we should live our lives and order our society. For these questions have been debated down through the centuries and whatever wisdom is uncovered in the process invariably has a precarious existence as the reversals of fortune turn yesterday’s heroes into tomorrow’s villains, and vice versa.

At the heart of this questioning is the search for the foundation of value, or values. Its heyday was probably the Enlightenment, with numerous philosophers, most memorably Bentham, Kant and Hegel, looking to set out a universal basis while others, in particular David Hume, argued for the impossibility of this task. The interest in a universal foundation for values continues to this day notwithstanding that the clear trend in modern philosophy, and indeed society, seems to be towards an ever-increasing proliferation of mutually incompatible value perspectives competing for attention.

One of the most influential attempts historically to address this problem (or rather a previous manifestation thereof) was that of Aristotle. He, in his Eudemian Ethics, identified the good for a person with the pursuit of his (or her) telos – an ultimate immutable set of aims and goals toward the fulfilment of which a person moves by nature. For Aristotle, one’s telos was fixed as it were biologically: what Marx might later have referred to as “species-essence”. The major shortcoming of Aristotle’s account of ethics was of course seen subsequently to be its rootedness in 4th century BC Athenian society. Even relative to the perspectives in neighbouring Greek city-states, there were significant differences in accounts of what the telos consisted in. Also Aristotle was unable to attribute to slaves the same telos as he counted free Athenian males as possessing. So it was that Aristotelian philosophy has ultimately been judged to have failed in its attempt to identify a universal conception of “the good”.

However, his views were to enjoy a revival across Europe in 13th century European society following the rediscovery of classical Greek texts through contact with the Islamic world. Here the homogeneity of perspective that had been imposed by the Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe and the widespread influence of Augustinian theology made the situation ripe for a revival of Aristotelian ethics. The successful integration of Aristotelian philosophy with the prevalent Augustinian theology has been attributed to Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). He identified the human telos with the fulfilment of the specifically Christian virtues of fides (faith), spes (hope) and caritas (love), and the Aristotelian virtues of sophia (wisdom), andreia (courage), sophrosune (prudent caution) and dikaiosune (justice).

The hegemony enjoyed by Aquinas’ synthesis was itself of course destined not to last, albeit that many adherents both of the Augustinian school and of the Aristotelian tradition did come to make their home together for a time in the grand edifice Aquinas had constructed for them. The rise of humanism in the ensuing Renaissance starting in the following century laid the grounds for an alternative approach. This led in turn to the Enlightenment and its grand project to refound moral science on a purely rational basis and, by the time this had run its course, that grand unified world view which had been Aquinas’ legacy stood in ruins. The story has been told many times and does not need repeating here. The accounts given by Alasdair MacIntyre in his trilogy of monographs on the subject [1, 2, 3] are, in this author’s opinion, particularly incisive and we shall return to them below.

Kant and Human Rights

So we return to the question of whether we have in the last few hundred years made progress in the quest for a universal foundation for human values or merely become more confirmed in the intractability of the project. One would have to be forgiven on the basis of surveying the detritus left in the wake of the philosophical critiques and counter-critiques of all the big ideas from the Enlightenment onwards that it should be expected there is not much left of the original edifices. But that is not the whole story. For while postmodernism has turned the focus explicitly away from unified interpretations of the human state towards group narratives unburdened by the onus of any requirement for mutual compatibility, a metasystem has yet managed surreptitiously to establish itself as the backdrop against which incompatible claims can look to be mediated.

The foundations of this metasystem I would identify as Kant’s categorical imperative, the first formulation of which impels us to “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” Although this principle has not been able to give rise in practice to a universal foundation for ethics and human values, it has been successful in providing a philosophical underpinning for the establishment of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is premised on a Universalist claim that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” The charter has been enacted and ratified as international law in most countries, most notably in Europe through the European Convention on Human Rights.

I believe a consequence of this has been that ethical questions which relate to rights protected, or deemed to be protected, under the European Convention are no longer addressed through philosophical considerations but through human rights law, i.e. legal considerations. This has its attractions in facilitating (or imposing?) a consensus solution to what might otherwise be an intractable ethical dilemma. But it has at the same time a number of significant drawbacks which have become evident in recent years.

* Incompatibilities have arisen between rights wherein some are necessarily deemed to have priority over others in certain contexts. In particular, it is often argued that freedom of conscience is protected only insofar as it is not used as a justification for what is claimed to be an infringement of the rights of other individuals or groups, in particular if discrimination is alleged on the basis of some protected attribute such as gender or sexual orientation.

* What were originally seen as requirements constraining the behaviour of states and the upholding of the rule of law have increasingly encroached into the private realm to the point where private thoughts have to be policed in order that it can be determined whether disregard for a protected right motivated an (otherwise legal) action. Such could of course arguably be construed as an infringement on freedom of thought/conscience. But it would be unwise to imagine that such a defence would be upheld in a court of law or even protect one from arrest if a complaint is made to the police.

* The effective removal of private moral intuition from that part of the ethical sphere deemed to be under the jurisdiction of human rights has meant that a distance has opened up between the two to the point where individuals can find that conformity with human rights legislation can bring them into conflict with their conscience or vice versa.

* The increasing complexity of human rights law has meant that it is not possible for individuals to know definitively which behaviours are compatible with human rights and which not without a court ruling. The backlog of cases waiting to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights makes the establishment of a decision a lengthy and time-consuming procedure.

* Two further consequences of the previous point are that the occupation of the moral ground through use of human rights law can become the province of the rich and powerful; further, we are all (governments included) likely to feel compelled to make conservative interpretations of human rights law on the basis that facing and potentially losing a challenge in court can be extremely expensive and result in significant loss of reputation.

* There have been frequently repeated allegations of judicial activism laid against the European Court of Human Rights. Court decisions to prevent extradition of individuals charged with terrorist offences to the US and other countries and to require that voting rights be afforded to UK prison inmates have in recent years caused particular public outrage. See [4] for a description of how the court is able to exert its influence despite its limited power to enforce its decisions, and how it is able and likely to exert greater control over states with better human rights records. Within the European Union, the problem is compounded by the role of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights which sets out rights similar to but further-reaching than those of the European Convention. The former is under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice which is widely recognised as having an activist socio-political agenda exceeding the scope of that pursued by the European Court of Human Rights. See for example [5].

* Non-ratification in Islamic cultures on the basis of incompatibility with Shariah Law can lead to and has led to tension and potentially intractable conflicts with Islamic migrants in Europe. Interestingly the experience of countries such as France and Britain which had a substantial degree of immigration of Muslims a generation ago report that the tensions resulting from issues around incompatibility of local law with their interpretation of the requirements of Shariah law are more of a problem with the second generation than with their parents’ generation, despite the fact much accommodation has been made in the meantime.

For these and other reasons there is a growing frustration with human rights legislation and courts as an effectively unchallengeable means of determining the ethical foundations of our society and shared moral life.

The Good Life Revisited

So, if as I have suggested there are indeed grounds in this postenlightenment era for making new sense of Aristotle’s notion of a human telos, how reasonable is it to take the next step of arguing that this telos can be given content in such a way as to apply in a general or universal way to humans as a species, rather than separately to each individual person?

The first and most obvious challenge we must confront is the fact of the diversity of alternative standards of justice and right which have been put forward since the inception of the Enlightenment and even before. Some of these were radical attempts to argue from principles of pure rationality. Others sought to justify current practice and belief. Many sought to supplant the need for theistic belief in arriving at answers to questions of the good. Others again sought to prove the necessity of religious belief in finding such answers. What emerged from the successive failures of each attempt to overcome the limitations and shortcomings of its predecessors was a widespread recognition of the impossibility of any such enterprise ever succeeding in achieving a definitive victory, not over all of its rivals, but even over one of its rivals. This is the problem of what MacIntyre refers to as incompatibility and incommensurability [4]; that is that, although in terms of a tradition of inquiry A it may be possible to show that the adherents of tradition B are in error on a particular point, it may be equally possible to show, within the scope of tradition B, that it is precisely B’s rivals who are misled by the fallacies implicit in tradition A. Worse, it may be that adherents of tradition A, for reasons of differences of language, cultural background, etc. find themselves simply incapable of comprehending what it is the adherents of tradition B are trying to say to them. (To illustrate that this is not a trivial problem I would cite the fact that Roger Scruton, one of the most eminent conservative philosophers in Great Britain today, feels precisely this way about the existentialist philosophy of Heidegger [6, p. 260].)

Such incompatibility or incommensurability is a serious obstacle to our present project, although not, as MacIntyre [1] has shown, an altogether insuperable one. For Aquinas, in his grand synthesis of Augustinianism and Aristotelianism discussed above, was able to resolve an apparent dichotomy and show Augustinians to their satisfaction how his reinterpretation and expansion of Aristotle’s philosophy was able to resolve problems which they had previously had to view as intractable from within their own tradition and vice versa (see [2] for details, in particular Chapter X, “Overcoming a Conflict of Traditions”). This offers some grounds for hope as it indicates that, even in the face of myriad conflicting mutually incompatible claims, it may yet be possible to maintain a coherent notion of progress in moral science.

Nonetheless, since such successes proved to be few and far between, the conclusion which has widely been drawn from surveying the fruits of the Enlightenment project is that it was fundamentally misconceived and that the best we can realistically hope for is the establishment of a level playing field upon which advocates of rival versions of the good life can compete with one another for power, influence and adherents – the so-called “liberalist” position. But MacIntyre is right, I believe, in pointing out [2, pp. 326-48] that, in the absence of any consistent justification for itself or of self-evident principles governing how a truly liberal régime should be operated, liberalism itself has difficulty in refuting the allegation that it is no more than one other tradition of inquiry among many competing versions, to whose validity there exist no particularly compelling a priori reasons to give one’s assent. He reserves special criticism for that most celebrated creation of this tradition, the so-called “liberal university”, whose introductory courses on “Great Books” he characterizes as not a “reintroduction to the culture of past traditions” but, on account of their prior commitment to a level playing field, “a tour through what is in effect a museum of texts, each rendered contextless and therefore other than its original by being placed on a cultural pedestal” [2, p. 386] (for his counterproposal, see [3, pp. 216-36]).

But I digress. The important question we should address is what to make of this antinomy with which liberalism confronts us. One response is that initiated by Friedrich Nietzche, which MacIntyre has variously dubbed the “perspectivist” fallacy [2] or “genealogy” [3]. This view has in recent times achieved some notoriety through its popularization in the writings of the so-called “postmodernist” school of thought. Its proponents hold that all attempts, liberal or otherwise, to give an account of “the good life” are misguided since there is and can be no such thing as a concept of the good life for people as such; indeed there is not even any such thing as the good life for any one person, except for what that person deems to be such of her own volition. It is MacIntyre’s [3] main thesis that both the protagonists of the Enlightenment project and the proponents of the genealogical view participate in a common fallacy, namely the view that values and moral perspectives are to be deduced out of abstract principles of rationality: the Enlightenment illustrates the impossibility of ever fulfilling such a goal; genealogy draws the apparently justifiable conclusion therefrom that there are no such things as values-as-such.

It is MacIntyre’s argument that, rather than seeking to ground our values in abstract reasoning, we should seek a more historically-based evolutionary account of human values. This MacIntyre has initiated with his account of practices, virtues and traditions. The former he defines as:

“any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.” [1, p. 187]

Two things are worthy of note in his definition. First, what is considered “good” is to be determined in the course of practising, not by abstract reflection. Secondly, what is considered a good or worthwhile end is not fixed but can be systematically extended through participation in the practice. Thus the notion of goodness implicit in practices is inherently evolutionary. Of course the exercise of reason, being required as it normally is to participate in a practice, is not excluded from the process. But the relative importance of the role which it plays is to be decided by the practitioners themselves in the light of the history of the practice. A virtue is then tentatively identified as:

“an acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any such goods.” [1, p. 191]

This definition has the virtue of simplicity, but is clearly too wide in its scope; neither does it allow us to compare the relative importance of the virtues associated with different practices. To overcome this shortcoming, MacIntyre points to the need to relate practices to what he calls the “narrative” of a human life or lives, in the sense of their self-understanding. Arguing that it is a fundamental characteristic of human life that it possesses or seeks a consistent self-understanding which is furthermore always directed towards the future, he suggests that such a self-understanding or “narrative quest” naturally provides us with our conception of the good life (to use Aristotle’s phrase), in the sense of identifying the good to which other goods must contribute if they are to be meaningfully integrated into a whole life. Locating practices in such a context then allows us to sharpen the above tentative definition of a virtue by excluding those human qualities which are judged incompatible with the practice of the good life; and it allows us, in principle at least, to compare the relative importance or merits of the virtues associated with different practices.

The criticism may be raised at this point that the viewpoint I have identified appears not too different from that imputed to the perspectivists. But one further qualification needs to be made. The good life is never lived in isolation but always shared in community with others. Thus one’s conception of the good for oneself has to be framed in such a way that one’s life does not interfere unduly with the capacity of others to live out their good life. Such is of course far easier said than done, but we are assisted at this point by the existence of what MacIntyre calls “traditions.” These are precisely the historically determined shared understandings and beliefs of those who engage together in a given practice. And since the good life is lived out by definition through practices (in MacIntyre’s sense), this is always in the context of some tradition or another.

A not dissimilar viewpoint was advanced by British moral and political philosopher Michael Oakeshott [7]. He distinguished conceptually two forms of moral life: the “habitual” and the “reflective”. The first of these emerges not by “consciously applying to ourselves a rule of behaviour, nor by conduct recognized as the expression of a moral ideal”, but rather by simply “acting in accordance with a certain habit of behaviour”. The “reflective” moral life is by contrast determined by a “self-conscious pursuit of moral ideals” or through “the reflective observance of moral rules.” Oakeshott emphasizes that the moral life is necessarily lived in practice as some combination of the habitual and the reflective modes. Yet there is a tendency for societies where the first of these two poles holds sway, such as was the case with the pre-Socratic Graeco-Roman world or in early Christian communities, to become increasingly concerned with the formal codification of their values and ideals and so to drift towards the second pole.

Oakeshott finds this trend unfortunate insofar as he associates this second pole with a “denial of the poetic character of all human activity.” He denigrates its advocates and practitioners by means of allegorical critique. For example he compares the capacity for moral cultivation of a man caught up in deliberations about how to balance conflicting moral ideals which press upon his mind with the capacity of a farmer to cultivate the land when he is “confused and distracted by academic critics and political directors.” He compares this situation also to that of a literature in which criticism has usurped the place of poetry, or in a religious life in which he pursuit of theology offers itself as an alternative to the practice of piety. The parallels with MacIntyre’s [1] emphasis on the centrality of practices in determining the form of the good life cannot be missed.

So we find that we have returned to where we began with the twin principles of solidarity and subsidiarity as the foundations of the moral order. But whereas we started out examining these principles form the top-down approach pursued by the European Union and more generally by the rationalist tradition, we have returned to them from a bottom-up perspective more aligned with the empiricist tradition. In the process of making this transition I believe our understanding is deepened concerning the origins of some of the problems we currently face, and our ability to think more clearly about the foundations of the moral order enhanced.

References

[1] A. MacIntyre: After Virtue – A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed., 1985 (Duckworth, London)

[2] A. MacIntyre: Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 1988 (Duckworth, London)

[3] A. MacIntyre: Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 1990 (Duckworth, London)

[4] S. Dothan: Judicial Tactics in the European Court of Human Rights, 2011, Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 358, University of Chicago, Department of Law

[5] H.-W. Micklitz: Judicial Activism of the European Court of Justice and the Development of the European Social Mode in Anti-Discrimination and Consumer Law, 2009, European University Institute Working Papers, LAW 2009/19.

[6] R. Scruton: A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein 1984 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London)

[7] M. Oakeshott: The Tower of Babel in “Rationalism in Politics” 1962 (Methuen), first published in 1948 in Cambridge Journal, vol. 2

[8] Ben Ryan: A Soul for the Union, 2016, Theos Think Tank Report http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/publications/2016/01/21/a-soul-for-the-union

[9] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/subsidiarity.html

[10] David Goodhart, 2013, The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration

 

Foundations of the Moral Order

By Colin Turfus

Part 1: The Moral Basis of the European Project

The Two Pillars

For over half a century now a project has been under way to transform European society from what it was at the mid-point of the 20th century, a disparate collection of peoples possessed of distinct national identities and traditions, into a coherent unified whole based on principles of co-operation and solidarity. This project has been known by various names through its 60-year evolution but is now constituted as the European Union. Opinions vary as to whether the cost of what has been lost along the way is mitigated by the undoubted gains which have been made in terms of both co-operation and solidarity, particularly when one compares the history of the European project with the circumstances of the half-century which preceded its inception with two world wars, both initiated in West/Central Europe. But it cannot be denied that, in terms of its growth in size and scope, it has been an extremely successful political project. To what can this success be attributed? And why is it that when, as at present, voices of dissent are being heard ever more widely in relation to a growing number of issues which are so obviously damaging the life chances and disrupting the lives of many individual and families across Europe, so many continue to defend the track record of the European Union and maintain faith in its founding vision of a united Europe, indeed of a United States of Europe?

In a recently written report on the subject, written for the Theos think tank [8], Ben Ryan argues that the founding vision was essentially a moral one, based on the twin principles or “pillars” of solidarity and subsidiarity. The former, he suggests, is captured in the May 1950 Schuman Declaration as follows:

“Europe will not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity.”

while subsidiarity is according to the glossary of the EU website [9] defined as a principle that

“…aims to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen and that constant checks are made to verify that action at Union level is justified in light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level.”

Specifically, it is the principle whereby the Union does not take action (except in the areas which fall within its exclusive competence), unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level.

It will be my claim below that the success and enduring traction of the European project in winning the hearts and minds of citizens across Europe and beyond is in its appeal to these two principles; indeed that these two principles lie at the heart of any functioning moral framework.

Following the setting out of the founding vision in the first part of his report, Ryan goes on to describe in a second part how the original moral and spiritual vision has been lost and suggests how the various crises which are causing increasing disillusionment with the European project in a growing number of countries are a consequence of this. The third and final part of his report is then devoted to his proposal for “putting a soul (back) in the union.”

While I concur with Ryan in the broad conclusions he draws in his second part, I will seek to argue that what has gone wrong in the European project is not adequately characterised as simply a loss of moral vision but also has to be seen as a failure to grasp the nature of the moral order and to understand its foundations. I will draw my own conclusions on that basis of what can be done to restore the lost moral dimension and provide a new direction for development in the UK in particular, but more generally across the European continent.

The Solidarity Principle

As I suggested, it is hard to argue against the solidarity principle. It is in our fundamental human nature that we share a common identity with all members of the human race. This has led to the framing of the golden rule, formalised by Kant as we shall see below into his categorical imperative. However, the key point I want to bring out is “common identity.” Whereas some aspects of our identity are shared across all our fellow human beings others are specific to smaller groups or communities to which we belong. The fact that solidarity is premised on a shared identity, and rightly so, inevitably means that a greater degree of solidarity is felt for those with whom we have more in common and with whom we “identify” more strongly. This point was well brought out by David Goodhart [10] in his analysis of UK post-war immigration where he pointed out the unresolved tension at the heart of the “multicultural society” whereby separate identity of minorities is promoted while at the same time the inculcation of a universal sense of solidarity is sought.

Also it is human nature to feel greater solidarity for those with whom we feel most closely connected. But often when greater “solidarity” is advocated these days it is not in relation to those surrounding us in our daily lives but often in other countries or in far remote parts of the world, and/or in relation to people about whose lifestyles and circumstances we know little, but who are perceived or portrayed as being in need. I would suggest that this is probably a misuse of the concept of solidarity which is something that arguably should exist independently of the needs of those with whom we feel solidarity and which furthermore tends to be mutual. Such “solidarity” with relative strangers is more accurately characterised as sympathy or compassion, resulting in an expression of support: no less a virtue but a different one.

Within the European Union, one of the main avenues for the expression of solidarity is through the so-called Solidarity Fund whereby the cost of projects in less-developed areas of the Union (or even in accession states) are subsidised by those in more developed nations. This is done in such a way that the European Union itself and not the donors is perceived as the origin of the funding and indeed such is reinforced by the imposition of large plaques which must be displayed at penalty of hefty fines being levied in the event of failure to comply. In this way, the European project is able to expand and sell itself successfully to ever more countries, to the point where it is now running out of European countries and starting to talk about membership for Turkey. This is perhaps not surprising when one re-reads the excerpt from the Schuman Declaration above and realises that solidarity is there defined not as an end itself but as a means to fulfilling “the plan” through “concrete achievements” (their words not mine).

Another point I would make about solidarity is that it is a property associated with a community rather than with an individual, whereas of course sympathy and compassion represent the personal response of an individual. As I have already mentioned, they are also conditioned on the circumstances of another which elicits the response. A further point I would make is that, in the age of the welfare state and universal care, the meeting of the needs of those facing disadvantage or hardship in developed societies becomes less and less the responsibility of individuals motivated by compassion and more the responsibility of government and (publicly-funded) NGOs. So it is natural that the advocacy of more funds being made available for such purposes becomes a substitute for engaging in a direct expression of compassion for those whose needs we are made aware of through first-hand experience (rather then sound-bites on the BBC News at Ten or artful photojournalism). Even “charitable work” for most of those who engage in it in a voluntary capacity consists of raising funds for organisations whose charitable outreach work is invariably done these days by (well-)paid professionals.

So if UK taxpayers (or those of any other country) are to make available funds to support infrastructure development projects in other parts of Europe, let the case be made by our/their elected politicians as to which projects should be supported where. And let us have our say on the proposals in an election. Then it really will be solidarity and the satisfaction we feel will be all the more for it, as will the appreciation and recognition of those in receipt for that which is freely given. We in Britain are already giving about twice as much in overseas aid as a fraction of our GDP than any other country. It is not as if we need to be led by the example of our partners in Europe to find generosity in our hearts. Though to hear how we are criticised by them for our lack of “solidarity” one might easily imagine the situation to be otherwise.

And let us bear in mind that solidarity is mainly about our relationship with those with whom we live in community. Yes, it makes sense to feel and demonstrate solidarity with the Syrian refugees or the Polish immigrants who have moved in down the road or whom we meet at the local school. But our duty towards those who may be facing difficulty in Poland or Syria is a different matter. We should take care lest we find that our attempts to address their issues based on “compassion” rather than a familiarity with the local circumstances, and driven more by a desire to salve our conscience and/or signal our virtue, may do more harm than good and be rewarded not by reciprocated solidarity but by accusations of meddling or even “cultural imperialism.”

The Subsidiarity Principle

If the problem we identified above with the hollowing out of the concept of solidarity within the European Union to the point where it is largely about the enforced transfer of funds is acknowledged as meriting consideration, the shortcomings in this regard pale into insignificance in relation to the obfuscation and disingenuousness that exists around subsidiarity.

But first, why is subsidiarity important in a moral context? As I stated above, the concept of solidarity (or, if you like, empathy) gives rise to the golden rule and provides the justification for Kant’s categorical imperative which, I shall argue in Part 2 below, is the foundation of the modern doctrine of human rights. If the enumeration and enforcement of such rights were a sufficient condition for the establishment of a harmonious world order (or even a single nation), nothing further would need to be said and the argument for subsidiarity would be more difficult to make. But for reasons I shall return to below, human rights have become problematic in a number of ways.

The essence of the problem is that values and consequently what we see as “rights” have a habit of turning out to be incommensurable one with another. This is a reflection of the fact that our values are intrinsically connected to our identities which are in turn shaped by our history (personal and national) and our community, or more properly in a modern context, the diverse communities, real and virtual, in which we live out our lives. I like to think of this multiple connectedness in terms of an individual living at the intersection of multiple hyperplanes, each with its own set of rules and conventions. As we move around on each hyperplane we follow the conventions appropriate to that social context which are shared, either implicitly (between friends) or explicitly (as, for example, in the workplace). As long as activities on different hyperplanes remain partitioned, this works fine. But such separation is not always possible since the hyperplanes intersect. Also, particularly in the modern multicultural society, the rights of diverse groups thrown together in community to live according to their traditional values and lifestyle may explicitly prevent others from doing so. Whereas in the past this was always seen as a problem mainly for the newcomer or immigrant, the pendulum appears to have swung the other way to the point where the incumbents tend to be the ones who are expected to make concessions in the event that a conflict arises.

There are two opposed approaches which can be taken to address the above issue. One approach is to seek a reduction in the dimensionality of the hyperspace and look to impose as far as possible a one-size-fits-all set of rules which everyone is expected to conform to. This is the essence of the human rights approach whereby making society “fairer” comes to be about identifying groups who are disadvantaged or discriminated against and seeking redress through expressions of “solidarity,” publicising the purported injustices and obliging others (through the courts if necessary) to explicitly acknowledge those rights and to “respect” the chosen lifestyles or belief systems of those asserting them. One can certainly see that there is a strong strand of this way of thinking in the policy direction pursued by those driving the European Project.

The alternative approach is based on subsidiarity whereby we seek to allow established hyperplanes to exist and manage conflict according to agreed rules or compromise. Communities once established are, wherever possible, entitled to self-determination, unless some good reason can be given as to why this is antithetical to the greater public good (a Kantian categorical imperative). Interestingly, this second approach appears to be aligned with the idea of the multicultural society. I would argue that it may be. But it does not, as advocates of the multicultural society often argue, mean that we should necessarily side with the minority community and offer them preferential treatment. Much more could be said here but this point is not central to my main argument here.

In the context of the European Union, though, the half-heartedness of its commitment to the principle of subsidiarity is evident in the very language used. For example, areas where the Union has “exclusive competence” are explicitly excluded from challenge by the subsidiarity principle. But one of the biggest criticisms made against the European Project is the avidity with which it arrogates competences to itself at the expense of national parliaments; and the anti-democratic nature of such behaviour. Of course, the fact power was previously exercised at a subsidiary level but then is arrogated to the centre is clear evidence that the principle of subsidiarity is being turned on its head. How is this allowed to occur? The answer is again clear from the EU’s own words: checks are made, it is claimed, to ensure that action is not taken by the Union which would be more effective if taken at a local level. But who is carrying out the checks and making the decisions? We know the answer to that. And what visibility is granted to lower level authorities of decision-making processes which would allow them to influence the outcome? Clearly subsidiarity properly understood is something which the EU is likely only ever to be able to pay lip service to.

So we come to understand the crippled state the EU now finds itself in, where it maintains its popularity by identifying and paying homage to the twin pillars of solidarity and subsidiarity which support the moral order. But it has hollowed out the one and turned the other on its head. The consequence of this is that it heaps criticism and contempt on countries and groups which seek to challenge its one-size-fits-all policies which are defined as if they were categorical imperatives but are actually hypothetical, conditioned on the support they provide for the advancement of the European Project. It evades the need to universalize its arguments by vilifying the disenfranchised, impoverished masses who suffer the consequences of its misguided economic and social policies, justifying its anti-democratic approach on the basis that its critics are populist upstarts, led on by demagogues and racists and pursuing a self-serving nationalist agenda. It pretends to be listening but is only really interested in being seen to be listening. And rather than exercising subsidiarity it gets lackeys like our Prime Minister David Cameron to trumpet the virtues of the European Project and push it down the throat of the electorate with such force that his reputation and that of his chancellor will probably be damaged beyond repair. And indeed his own party will probably take a long time to recover from the battering it has visited on itself in recent weeks.

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In the second part of this essay I shall develop a framework for thinking more broadly about the establishment of a moral order in which some of the issues we currently face, not only in Europe but across the globe, might be better addressed.

References

[1] A. MacIntyre: After Virtue – A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd ed., 1985 (Duckworth, London)

[2] A. MacIntyre: Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 1988 (Duckworth, London)

[3] A. MacIntyre: Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 1990 (Duckworth, London)

[4] S. Dothan: Judicial Tactics in the European Court of Human Rights, 2011, Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 358, University of Chicago, Department of Law

[5] H.-W. Micklitz: Judicial Activism of the European Court of Justice and the Development of the European Social Mode in Anti-Discrimination and Consumer Law, 2009, European University Institute Working Papers, LAW 2009/19.

[6] R. Scruton: A Short History of Modern Philosophy: From Descartes to Wittgenstein 1984 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London)

[7] M. Oakeshott: The Tower of Babel in “Rationalism in Politics” 1962 (Methuen), first published in 1948 in Cambridge Journal, vol. 2

[8] Ben Ryan: A Soul for the Union, 2016, Theos Think Tank Report http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk/publications/2016/01/21/a-soul-for-the-union

[9] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/subsidiarity.html

[10] David Goodhart, 2013, The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration

 

Institutional Structure and Culture in the Transmission of Social Values

Part 2: Modes, Aspects and Models of Institutional Transmission

In part 1 of this article I considered some of the theories of value transmission, particularly what is called inter-generational transmission, principally from parents to children, looking at basic models and some of the variables that make that process more or less successful. In this second part I will analyse some of the theories that relate to or directly model the social transmission of knowledge. For this reason many of the theories considered relate to education. The theory of institutional value transmission developed in part 3 is institutionally generalisable, however.

Modes and Aspects of Transmission

The four modes and aspects I want to look at – social capital, hegemony, resistance, and intersubjectivity – are not theories of transmission, but they consider various perspectives on the social world that are related to values transmission and are significantly relevant to the theory of value transmission outlined in the introduction to part 1.

Social Capital

The idea of social capital, if not the terminology, has existed for as long as the social sciences themselves (Portes, 1998). Though its use is widespread in the social sciences, the idea of social capital does not have a single definition, but should rather be viewed as a family of definitions (Paldam, 2000). Fundamentally, though, most definitions incorporate the idea that the interaction of members of a society creates a social ‘good’ that in some manner can be transformed into (or ‘spent’ on) other more tangible goods, particularly of an economic or a political nature. Croll (2004, p.398) describes social capital as arising from ‘social relationships and the personal networks which they create’, which then becomes ‘a resource which can be used to generate outcomes which are valued’. Human relationships therefore become a resource that have ‘productive capacity’ for society as a whole, not just for the individuals concerned (ibid). Bourdieu defines it as ‘The aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition’ (cited in Portes, 2000, p. 45). An understanding of social capital may be very useful in understanding the dynamics within institutions and in their relationship to the wider society.

Stepping back and taking a broad view, Croll (2004) identifies three dimensions of the analysis of social capital, by which the various commentators on the phenomenon can be distinguished: the extent to which it is dependent on relationships inside the family or outside the family; the degree to which it is related by the theorist to other types of capital; and the extent to which it is seen as principally a resource for the individual or the broader society (ibid). Adler and Kwon (2002), though, make a distinction of more particular relevance to my thinking in this essay. They categorise social capital theorists according to whether they focus on the building of communal links, such as Coleman (1990), Fukuyama (1995) and Putnam (1995), the building of external links, such as Bourdieu (1985) and Portes (2000), or incorporate both, such as Pennar (1997), Schiff (1992) and Woolcock (1998). In a similar vein Paldam (2000) claims that theories of social capital can be categorised according to whether the building of trust, the building of networks, or cooperation is considered to be the main feature of social relationships. Adler and Kwon conclude (2002, p.34) that the distinction between internal bonding and external linking is largely illusory as ‘external ties at a given level of analysis become internal ties at the higher levels of analysis, and, conversely, internal ties become external at the lower levels’.

Most theorists see social capital as something that contributes to an ‘excess’ in society. However, Paldam (2000) warns against the potential for seduction by the positive aura attached to the notion of social capital. And Putnam points out that the distribution of benefit is not predetermined: ‘Who benefits from these connections, norms and trust – the individual, the wider community or some faction within the community – must be determined empirically, not definitionally’ (Putnam, 1995, pp.664-5). Bourdieu does not even accept the democratic nature of social capital. For him it is linked to other forms of capital, i.e. cultural, human and economic capital, and is one more means whereby those who benefit most transmit their advantage through society (Croll, 2004).

There is something compelling about the idea of social capital that reinforces the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and also that value is somehow embedded in social relations. I have some reservations though. An idea for which there are so many definitions and schools of thought suggests that it functions more as a metaphor for a number of connected features of society and a conceptual guideline for sociological research programmes than as a definable aspect of social reality. Portes (1998) believes that the heuristic value of the term itself loses viability if it is overextended. Adler and Kwon (op. cit.) have determined that social capital implies a hierarchy of communication networks. This, however, is simply an empirical fact of social being and does not entail the existence of social capital. These networks may be capitalised on by utilising them for financial or cultural transactions, but this requires the development of a particular range of entrepreneurial and managerial skills. Underlying these networks are personal relations built upon a range of values. Many of these values are not amenable to the exploitation of relationships for financial or other outcomes. However, Fukuyama (1995) identifies trust as one such value which is so convertible, capable of being scaled up and potentially self-replenishing.

Hegemony

The term ‘hegemony’, or ‘cultural hegemony’ to be more precise, as a theoretical idea in the social sciences has its origins in Marx but its first clear expression in Gramsci and Althusser. At one level it means ideological domination, but, more subtly, a wilful blindness to the state of dominion, such is its all-pervasive nature. However, even this does not completely capture its sense. According to Strinati (1995, pp.165-6) the existence of a hegemonic domination is in part due to a ‘spontaneous consensus’ of the ruled who find in its rules and values a potential for realising their own self-interest. Apple (1979, p. 18) locates this paradox in the dual senses of ideology:

Functionally, ideology has been evaluated historically as a form of false consciousness which distorts one’s picture of social reality and serves the interests of the dominant classes in a society. However, it has also been treated, as Geertz puts it, as ‘systems of interacting symbols’ that provide the primary ways of making ‘otherwise incomprehensible social situations meaningful.’

Apple finds the resolution of these two views of ideology in the concept of hegemony. Hegemony, therefore, should not be viewed essentially as just a negative imposition, but a prevailing aspect of social reality, which enables us to function, however imperfectly, within society. Within education, Apple sees that:

“The idea that ideological saturation permeates our lived experience enables one to see how people can employ frameworks which both assist them in organizing their world and enable them to believe they are neutral participants in the neutral instrumentation of schooling,…while at the same time, these frameworks serve particular economic and ideological interests which are hidden from them” (ibid, p.22).

There are interesting insights in the notion of hegemony, but essentially it seems to be the conflation of two empirical observations. The first is the commonplace that any believing, as any belonging, is the source of both individual orientation and of self-limitation. The second is that all societies function through differentiation of authority, role and status. In hegemony the rhetoric of Marxist class conflict has appropriated an allegorical interpretation of social differentiation as ‘ideology’, an ideology to which – it is claimed – we are all in thrall and in which we find both our orientation (false consciousness) and limitation (domination). That said, at its core there is an insight, which I find persuasive, that individually, and to some degree collectively, we accept worldviews and their attendant values that are pervasive to the degree that we cannot conceive of the world being otherwise; that is to say we are imprisoned within the perspective of our own perception. Apple’s use of the verb ‘permeate’ is particularly striking in this context and I will use this, in its noun form ‘permeation’ later in this essay to describe the degree of institutional penetration of values.

Resistance

Resistance is a very broad term which includes many different theoretical and ideological persuasions. They are united by the sense that there is a dislocation between the role an individual is expected to play within a social system and the sense that this role in some manner compromises their intrinsic worth, leading to a state of rebellion, which can range from passive non-compliance to aggressive challenge. Two examples will be considered, in the work of Parsons and Willis.

In a classic paper in which he discusses the socialising function of the school class, discussed in the next section, Parsons (1961) also develops an example of what has come to be known as (anomic) strain theory. In a culture (the example is specific to the US, though not limited to that case) in which achievement at school has become a defining standard of progress towards adulthood and therefore of the socialisation of the individual, this sets a bar, which for some becomes a barrier, differentiating the accomplished and therefore successfully socialised from the unaccomplished and, therefore in some manner, socially delinquent. For this reason, Parsons argues (ibid, pp.98-99) much of youth culture, particularly the disaffected youth, reflects an anti-intellectual stance, and pointedly states that this is not the result ‘of a general failure of the educational process’; rather:

Both the general upgrading process and the pressure to enhanced independence should be expected to increase strain on the lower, most marginal groups…those for whom adaptation to educational expectations at any level is difficult. As the acceptable minimum of educational qualification rises, persons near and below the margin will tend to be pushed into an attitude of repudiation of these expectations. Truancy and delinquency are ways of expressing this repudiation. Thus the very improvement of educational standards in the society at large may well be a major factor in the failure of the educational process for a growing number at the lower end of the status and ability distribution (ibid).

Parsons parallels at this point a principle within education known as differentiation-polarisation (Hargreaves, 1967; Lacey, 1970), which states that raising academic achievement, for example within a school, can only be bought at the price of alienating an increasing number of underperforming students, though Parsons applies his principle on a society-wide scale.

What Parsons has to say is of particular interest because he grounds educational attainment in the widespread acceptance of the value of ‘achievement’, at least in its intellectual context, but possibly also more widely. The corollary of that would be that resistance to academic achievement at school may also be reflected in the rejection of social achievement in general. Parsons’ perspective was overwhelmingly deductive. However, such a phenomenon was observed by Paul Willis in his research into disaffected youth in a school in the 1970s (Willis, 1977). Willis followed the progress of a group of youths (the ‘lads’) from working class backgrounds during the last two years of their schooling. They had consciously rejected the ethos of the school, of ‘middle-class’ attainment through academic achievement, and had accepted that their future was to be employed in doing physical labour or some menial job. There is a caveat to this, though; the lads had not necessarily rejected the values associated with success as such, but with the middle-class version of success which entailed working hard academically, accepting the discipline of school and the authority of teachers, in preparation for a life of mental work. Instead, they had chosen values which were concomitant with entering the workforce as manual workers, such as male solidarity, anti-intellectualism, freedom from authority and practical skills.

Resistance is a psychological process that, logically, must occur between the ‘awareness and acceptance’ (Schönpflug, 2001b) aspects of transmission, discussed in part 1. It is connected with moral autonomy and the self-generation of values (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994), as is apparent from Willis’ research, and will form an important part of the understanding of the process of values transmission.

Intersubjectivity

We are undoubtedly social beings and thus interconnected, but since Descartes’ formulation of the basis of knowledge, cogito ergo sum, Western philosophy has been saddled with an epistemological dilemma (Kolakowski, 1988): if thinking (res cogitans) and being (res extens) are incommensurable, as Descartes maintained, what is it that the subject actually knows, and how can what we believe or claim we know be definitively authenticated? The tradition of Western philosophy since can be understood in large part as an attempt to breach this impasse. While solipsism is intuitively rejected by most people, it is inescapably entailed by the logic of the Cartesian dichotomy, with implications for our understanding of human sociality within philosophy. In the twentieth century there were three attempts to provide an intersubjective solution to this problem. By intersubjectivity is meant a shared realm of subjectivity, mirroring to some extent Teilhard de chardin’s (1955) anthropological notion of the noosphere. These three attempts, undertaken by Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Jurgen Habermas, proposed different versions of the same idea, each ultimately unsuccessful.

Husserl proposed a solution by returning to Descartes and recasting his idea. Descartes had characterised subjectivity as thinking substance; Husserl, drawing on Brentano’s concept of the intentionality of consciousness, proposed instead the formulation ego-cogito-cogitatum, the self is not merely thinking but has an object of thought (Husserl, 1931). In this manner, Husserl sought to dissolve the distinction between subject and object and bring them together as experience, and establish the experienced phenomena as the proper realm of scientific and philosophical inquiry. He believed that by establishing that we experience the world, including the social world, directly, rather than through theoretical structures, this was a sufficient basis to claim that experience was intersubjective (Thompson, 2005).

The phenomenological approach developed by Husserl dissolved the rigidity of the Cartesian polarisation of thinking and opened the way for a range of experience that had not hitherto been considered the proper subject of philosophical inquiry – such as social, religious and aesthetic experience – to now be taken into consideration. Indeed, the phenomenology of values has constituted an important part of the development of philosophical stance in this essay. Nevertheless, even Husserl’s supporters conceded that he had not resolved the epistemological dilemma of how to break out of the solipsistic subject, he had merely posited that experience was inherently intersubjective and not subjective (Thompson, 2005).

Heidegger took the radical step of recasting phenomenology from an ontological, rather than an epistemological, viewpoint. For Heidegger the proper realm of study was Being – existence – not consciousness, particularly the being of human being (Dasein), which was understood to be intrinsically social, being-in-the-world (Heidegger, 1962), from which we derive our sense of individuality only through a process of reflection after the fact (Thompson, 2005), a process the outcome of which determines whether we come to live our lives authentically or inauthentically. Accepting the fact that we are, perhaps primarily, social beings, does not entail intersubjectivity, however. The case for sociality being the outcome of reflective practice is more compelling, I think, than that for individuality.

Based on the theories of George Herbert Mead, Habermas (1984) developed a theory of intersubjectivity based neither on consciousness nor being, but on language. According to Habermas (ibid, p.390), ‘Mead elevated symbolically mediated interaction to the new paradigm of reason and based reason on the communicative relation between subjects, which is rooted in the mimetic act of role-taking, that is, in ego’s making his own the expectations that alter directs to him’, which is to say that reason (hence subjectivity) emerges from the sharing of and response to signs and sign acts. There have been a number of critiques of Habermas’ idea of intersubjectivity. Frie (1997) delivers what I think must be a fatal blow when he claims that recognition of the signs others make presupposes subjectivity; it is not the basis of subjectivity.

The idea of intersubjectivity is of interest because of the notion of ‘shared experience’ that underlies the concept of value that I outlined in an earlier article (posted in September 2015). That does not mean shared in any sense of mystical transfer, but in the ordinary sense of establishing similarity of experience through the medium of discourse and empathetic identification. I suspect that intersubjectivity is a philosophical cul-de-sac; moreover, I believe it violates the principle of moral autonomy which is fundamental to the acquisition of values.

Models of institutional transmission

Having looked at various aspects of social transmission, I want to focus on three models of institutional transmission. These are taken respectively from the work of three sociologists or social theorists, Talcott Parsons, Pierre Bourdieu and Basil Bernstein, specifically their work on education and schooling. The main reason for this focus is that the school provides an institutional nexus between the transmission of knowledge and values in the classroom – which is itself, in the teacher-pupil relationship, an institutional augmentation of the intergenerational transmission considered in part 1 – and the wider social world of cultural forces, economic pressures and government policies and legislation.

Parsons’ model of Socialisation

Fundamentally, Parsons looks at the school class as an agency of socialisation and selection. He focuses on the class rather than the whole school because ‘it is recognised both by the school system and by the individual pupil as the place where the ‘business’ of formal education actually takes place’ (Parsons, 1961, p. 85). He considers the school class to be ‘an agency through which individual personalities are trained to be motivationally and technically adequate to the performance of adult roles’ (ibid), though not the only such agency: others include the family, churches, training courses and clubs.

As well as socialisation, the school class also performs the function of selection. Parsons considers that the process already begins in the elementary school and occurs along ‘a single main axis of achievement’ (ibid, p.87). There are considered to be two components of this achievement. The first is the mastery of the academic, the learning of the skills needed to take up a role within the adult world, such as reading, writing and numeracy. The second is what Parsons characterises as ‘responsible citizenship’ of the school community, including ‘[s]uch things as respect for the teacher, consideration and co-operativeness in relation to fellow-pupils and ‘good work-habits’…leading on to capacity for ‘leadership’ and ‘initiative’’ (ibid, p. 91).

In this process the role of the teacher as vital. Firstly the teacher is a representative of the adult world into which the young are being socialised, but not just a representative but also an ‘agent’ of that world catalysing the process through imposing the expectations of achievement on the class (ibid, p. 91). Primary identification of the student with the teacher is almost invariably an indicator of progress on to college, while stronger identification with the peer group correlates strongly with failure to so progress:

“The bifurcation of the class on the basis of identification with teacher or peer group so strikingly corresponds with the bifurcation into college-goers and non-college-goers that it would be hard to avoid the hypothesis that this structural dichotomization in the school system is the primary source of the selective dichotomization” (ibid, p. 94).

Parsons summarises the process occurring within the school class in four points: 1) an emancipation of the child from primary emotional attachment to the family; 2) an internalisation of a level of societal values and norms that is a step higher than those he can learn from his family alone; 3) a differentiation of the school class in terms both of actual achievement and of differential valuation of achievement; and 4) a selection and allocation of [society’s] human resources relative to the adult role system. He sees as integral to this process the ‘recognition that it is fair to give differential rewards for different levels of achievement, so long as there has been fair access to opportunity’ (ibid, p. 96).

The Parsonian model of socialisation is a fairly complete model of institutional transmission. First, it differentiates between the transmission that occurs at school and that which occurs in the family. Then, although it is centred on the classroom, it deals with the micro and macro aspects of transmission. At the micro level the relationship between the teacher and pupil, roles and authority are all considered. It also tackles the issue of resistance and embeds that within the model. Furthermore, it looks beyond the school to the relationship between the teacher and parents and the wider societal norms and expectations. Parsons’ model works well with the single value of achievement. However, schools are expected to transmit a range of values that prepare pupils for adult life, so the model as a general model for values transmission is inadequate as it stands. Also, I think the model too readily legitimises failure within the system; a model for general value transmission must have more flexibility and adaptability built into it.

Bourdieu’s theory of Reproduction

According to Apple (1979, p.1):

“[E]ducation is not a neutral enterprise, …by the very nature of the institution, the educator [is] involved, whether he or she [is] conscious of it or not, in a political act…[I]n the last analysis educators [can] not fully separate their educational activity from the unequally responsive institutional arrangements and the forms of consciousness that dominate advanced industrial economies like our own”.

This leads to the phenomenon known as reproduction, in which education, perhaps unwittingly, participates in the perpetuation of macroscopic socio-cultural structural features of the society of which it is a part. Apple contrasts two theoretical stances on this. In one education is seen as a neutral mediator between individual consciousness and the larger society, in which the norms and conventions of a culture are ‘filtered down from the macro level of economic and political structures to the individual via work experience, educational processes and family socialization’ (MacDonald, 1977, in Apple, 1979, p.33). There is, though, a far more critical tradition of reproduction theories for which ‘schools latently recreate cultural and economic disparities, though this is certainly not what most school people intend at all’ (Apple, 1979, pp.33-34). It is this latter tradition to which Pierre Bourdieu belongs.

Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) advance the notion that education ‘reproduces’ the unequal distribution of privilege in society through the exercise of an arbitrary power in schools, derived from and mirroring the power of the state in society. He terms this power a ‘cultural arbitrary’ – arbitrary in two senses: first in that it hides its true nature under the guise of pedagogic language; secondly, that it claims a legitimacy for which the justification is non-existent. The wielding of this arbitrary power results in ‘symbolic violence’, an analogy with and ultimately resting upon the State’s monopoly of legitimate physical violence (ibid, p. xi-xii). They (ibid, p.6) suggest that teaching (‘pedagogic action’) is a form of this symbolic violence as it acts arbitrarily (in the senses given above) to perpetuate the inequalities of society:

“Every institutionalised educational system owes the specific characteristics of its structure and functioning to the fact that, by the means proper to the institution, it has to produce and reproduce the institutional conditions whose existence and persistence (self-reproduction of the system) are necessary both to the exercise of its essential function of inculcation and to the fulfilment of its function of reproducing a cultural arbitrary which it does not produce (cultural reproduction), the reproduction of which contributes to the reproduction of the relations between the groups or classes (social reproduction)” (ibid, p. 54).

At the classroom level this takes place through ‘pedagogic work, a process of inculcation which must last long enough to produce a durable training, i.e. a habitus, the product of the principle of internalisation of a cultural arbitrary capable of perpetuating itself after pedagogic action has ceased and thereby of perpetuating in practices the principles of the internalised arbitrary’ (ibid, p.67). Teachers are the agents of cultural reproduction at the frontline of education, inculcating practices in their students which perpetuate the inequalities of the social system.

There are critics of Bourdieu, who see in the concept of reproduction essentially a Marxist interpretation of education that does little more than emplace an immoveable ideological justification for carping at any and all educational initiatives. However, I think Bourdieu is right to question the role of power in the educational system. Parsons and Bourdieu both accept the central role of schools in transmitting the values of society and reproducing the inequalities of that society, although they judge the nature of this inequality differently and also evaluate it differently. Bourdieu provides an analysis of the power structures of schools as resting on the authority of the state and the legitimation of coercion. A theory of institutional value transmission must also account for some form of coercive power, or at least the possibility of coercion, lying at the basis of all education, including, one supposes, the education of values, even though the evidence from transmission studies, in part 1, indicates that it is the quality of the relationship between transmitter and recipient that lies at the base of successful transmission.

Bernstein’s theory of educational transmission

Bernstein’s sociology of education is based on his work in linguistics (Bernstein, 1971), particularly on the rules of meaning that he referred to as ‘codes’. He distinguishes two types of codes, restricted and elaborated. Restricted codes are ‘in-group’ language, based on common experience, closed off to outsiders. Restricted codes can express deeper meaning with fewer words, because of the familiarity of context. By contrast, elaborated codes contain more extended explanations in which meaning is made explicit. It is, by contrast with restricted code, open and universal; there is no insider dimension to it. Bernstein reckoned that restricted codes are intrinsic to industrial work, because of the specialised and limited nature of the work, and characterised by deep knowledge of a particular area of economic activity, which by its very nature is not conducive to elaborated codes. However, the ‘symbolic labour’ of the middle classes employs both restricted codes and elaborated codes. Children brought up in working class and middle-class families are socialised into these respective codes. Schooling operates largely on elaborated codes, being an open and expressive medium for the transmission of universal knowledge. It is, by its nature, therefore, biased in favour of middle-class children. Thus, through the idea of codes, Bernstein made a connection between language and social reproduction.

Bernstein’s concept of educational transmission is built around a second pair of ‘codes’, referred to as collection and integrated and how these interact with two other significant ideas, classification and frame (Bernstein, 1975). Classification applies to the type of curriculum operating in a school, but not the contents of the curriculum but the ‘degree of boundary maintenance between contents’ (ibid, p.87) in the curriculum, that is, the extent to which the various subjects are insulated from each other. Where these boundaries are strong Bernstein refers to a ‘collection code’, where weak, an ‘integrated code’. In a similar manner, ‘frame’ refers to ‘the strength of the boundary between what may be transmitted and what may not be transmitted in the pedagogical relationship’ (ibid, p.88). Where this boundary is strong and ‘sharp’, this constitutes a collection code, where weak and ‘blurred’ an integrated code (ibid).

Based on these structural definitions, Bernstein undertakes an interpretation of power distribution and control within educational institutions. Within curriculum he distinguishes between the more hierarchical relationships in collection codes, where knowledge is specialised and access is controlled and mediated through the expert, knowledge is treated as ‘esoteric’ and access to its ‘deep structure’ is only gained over many years, and integrated codes in which pupils have ‘increased discretion’ over the curriculum and pedagogy and access to the deep structure of knowledge from the beginning (ibid, pp. 101-102). Paradoxically, Bernstein claims that integrated codes require greater ideological conformity among the staff members, which can have an effect on recruitment. Moreover, integrated codes demand more of the pupil in terms of their expression of thoughts, feelings and values and this can instigate rebellion against open learning contexts just as occur with closed learning contexts (ibid, pp. 107-109).

There are clear structural motifs that run through Bernstein’s theories, and an analogy between the open and closed formats in language and education. Nevertheless, despite these motifs, I fail to see any deep connection between the linguistic theory and the educational theory. There are points of contact as where Bernstein states, ‘Educational knowledge is uncommonsense knowledge’ (ibid, p. 99), which suggests a link between elaborated codes and curriculum collection codes, as restricted codes are the commonsense knowledge of the ‘uneducated’ industrial classes. But there is also an underlying inconsistency; collection codes are the bounded forms of specialised insider knowledge handed down from experts to novices who have passed through a rite of passage; my sense is that this is morphologically closer to the restricted code than to the elaborated code with which it is identified.

Bernstein’s concept of closed and open boundary maintenance has some resonance with that of open and closed worlds in the theory of value outlined in the introduction of part 1. There is one further aspect of Bernstein’s theories which is of particular interest. He distinguishes between an instrumental order through which the transmission of ‘facts, procedures and judgments’ occurs and an expressive order ‘which controls the transmission of the beliefs and the moral system’ (ibid, pp. 54-55). The expressive order is that aspect of the school dealing with its ‘shared values’, that which gives the institution its cohesion. The expressive order is maintained through a high degree of ritualization. Ritualization itself takes two forms: consensual and differentiating. Consensual ritualization is that which applies equally to everyone, at least to all pupils and consists of things like school uniform and other school symbolism, traditions, assemblies and the systems of reward and punishment. Bernstein sees its essential function as shaping identity in relation to one of society’s dominant groups. Differentiating ritualization, by contrast is concerned with deepening respect. There are four aspects of differentiation: age differentiation or life stages which are expressed through various rites of passage; age relationship between junior and senior, between generations, expressed through respect; sex differentiation expressed through gender roles; and house differentiation expressed through loyalty (ibid, pp. 55-58). Bernstein here approaches what I would term a structural semiotics of the institution, through which important values – in this case, respect and loyalty – are transmitted through the school. This aspect of structural semiotics will play an important part in an integrated theory of institutional transmission in the third part of this article.

References

Adler, P. S. and Kwon, S. W. (2002). Social capital: Prospects for a new concept. The Academy of Management Review, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 17–28.

Apple, M. W. (1979). Ideology and curriculum. London: Routledge.

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Institutional Structure and Culture in the Transmission of Social Values

In the social sciences values have been considered largely a black box issue, at best subject to large-scale quantitative research (such as the American Values Survey). There have been few attempts to locate the function of values within social structures in social theory, and even fewer to have linked this function to the nature of values. In two earlier articles (posted 2015) I argued, based on phenomenological and semiotic analyses, that values have a dual modality, of interiority as shared experience and exteriority as linguistic marker, and also a dual functionality as symbol and information, these functionalities operative in ‘closed’ and ‘open’ social groupings, respectively, social forms that are largely interpenetrative in liberal societies. I also suggested that these functionalities are both operative in social transmission of values, embedding value discourse in everyday language disseminated through normal communicative channels, which is then ‘activated’ when values assume a more symbolic function in relatively closed contexts, such as political parties, businesses, government bodies, schools and religions.

In this article I want to extent this idea from the philosophy of value to social theory, by way of considering the ideas of a number of social researchers that can be broadly described as transmission theories. Its aim is to lead to a theory of institutional value transmission, in which values, institutional praxis and institutional structure are largely interdefinable. This article will be divided into three parts. In the first part I will look at the contribution to the idea of cultural transmission by a number of researchers and theorists in the field of evolutionary psychology and, in particular, those looking at inter-generational value transmission. In part two I will be considering sociological theories dealing with social transmission or aspects of, with a focus on education as one of the principal ways in which as societies we attempts to transmit values. The third part will be taken up with modelling a plausible mechanism for institutional value transmission, based on empirical research.

Part 1: Cultural and Inter-Generational Value Transmission

Although the concept of transmission is discussed in information theory, it is its biological dimensions that are of interest here. This is because although social theory has developed as an autonomous branch of knowledge, there is a growing understanding that the rationalistic view of social factors as entirely divorced from biologically-rooted motives is incorrect, and issues such as social transmission have to be understood primarily as modelled on and built upon genetics and kinship. Much of the recent research in this area, as a result, has been exploring evolutionary models of transmission and focussing on inter-generational relationships. I have divided the main part of the discussion of transmission into two parts, looking at some ideas about the evolutionary basis of transmission, and then the parameters and conditions of transmission. Parameters are the basic components and structures of transmission; conditions are various other factors associated with transmission, particularly the requirements for transmission to take place successfully. The parameters were laid down fairly early on in the 1980s and there has been little significant development since then. The subsequent research in the field has focused strongly on conditions.

The evolutionary basis of value transmission

As the areas that concern values, such as our own survival, social being, sexuality, culture and creativity, and spirituality are rooted in – though not necessarily defined by – our evolutionary past, it is to expected that any consideration of value transmission must also be rooted in our biology and our psychology. The relatively new fields of evolutionary anthropology and evolutionary psychology attempt to understand human nature and behaviour in a holistic manner underpinned by Darwinian evolutionary theory (Buss, 2015), and one of the main areas they are concerned with is the origins of our moral sense and to what extent this is inherited through our genes and to what extent passed through a separate cultural inheritance.

Beginning in the 1970s a considerable body of work has amassed on the evolutionary basis of cultural transmission. One of the most prominent hypotheses is known as the Dual Inheritance Theory, which claims that human nature and behaviour can best be understood as an amalgamation of genetic inheritance and cultural transmission (McElreath and Henrich, 2007). The main contributors to the field have been Lumsden and Wilson (1981), Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) and Boyd and Richerson (1985) who all developed mathematical models of how genetic and cultural factors can reinforce each other. I will look at the theory of Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman in some detail as it has features of interest in seeking to understand institutional transmission. Slightly predating these, and far better known, Dawkins (1976) theory of memetic evolution (cultural transmission though ‘memes’, a cultural analogue of genes) is of less interest. Dawkins’ focus is on the logic of the meme as universal replicator, which implies that cultural reproduction is sui generis; there is little in the way of the social context necessary for understanding institutional transmission.

In more recent theories there has been a drift away from the dual inheritance orthodoxy towards a more monistic view that human moral behaviours arise through survival strategies determined in close kinship groups in the earlier stages of our biological and social evolution as a distinct species. One notable contribution to this trend is Haidt’s (2012) Moral Foundations Theory, which proposes that as humans we have visceral responses to a number of deep-seated ‘foundations’ or value-disvalue oppositions, six at present (although the final number is undetermined): care/harm; fairness/cheating; liberty/oppression; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; and sanctity/degradation. These are supposedly invariant across cultures, although some are emphasised more in some cultures than others, and there are individual and group preferences even within cultures.

Although theories like Haidt’s help us to understand the evolutionary foundations of our moral perceptions in groupish behaviour and the social values that have evolved in modern societies, they penetrate little to the core question considered in this article of the actual mechanism by which transmission takes place. That discussion has taken place in the research on cultural transmission and inter-generational value transmission. The rooting of social transmission firmly in evolutionary biology is, to the best of my knowledge, research still to be done.

Parameters and conditions of transmission

Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) developed a theory of cultural transmission based on an epidemiological model of viral diffusion. That model draws on four evolutionary factors (ibid, pp. 65-67) as the driving forces of evolutionary change, the two classical Darwinian notions of variation and selection and the later neo-Darwinian concepts of drift and migration. Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman utilise the first two to create a basic typology of cultural change through the reproducibility of cultural knowledge, akin to genetic variation. As in epidemic spread, they identify three transmission routes (ibid, p. 54): vertical, from parent to offspring; horizontal, from peer to peer (non-related individuals of the same generation); and oblique, between non-related or distantly-related individuals of different generations, though Cavalli-Sforza (1993, p.312) later refined this concept of transmission routes adding ‘one to many’, typical of institutional structures such as schools, and ‘many to one’, referred to as ‘social group pressure’.

Schönpflug (2001b, p.132), clearly indebted to Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, but adapting and developing the ideas into the social-psychological arena, identifies four significant parameters of cultural transmission: the carriers of transmission, or transmitters – the people involved in the process of transmission; the contents of transmission, that which is transmitted, which are particularly sensitive to the channel; the mechanism of transmission, which is thought to include two stages – awareness and acceptance (cf. Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, 1981, p.62); and developmental windows, which can be genetically-based (e.g. language acquisition) or socially-based (e.g. compulsory schooling).

Within their model Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (ibid, pp.61-62) reckon there are four structural variables, ‘factors in transmission rules’: the relationship of teacher (transmitter) and taught (recipient); the age difference between transmitter and recipient (generation gap); the numerical relationship (ratio) of teacher to taught; and the degree of complexity of the society in which the transmission takes place. Schönpflug (2001a, p.174) considers the conditions, which he terms ‘transmission belts’, which favour cultural transmission taking place in a particular socio-economic and cultural context. They are primarily the age and educational level of the transmitter and receiver (‘personal characteristics’) and the marital relationship of the parents and the parenting style of the parents (‘family interaction variables’). Altogether ten conditions have been identified: degree of acceptance, quality of relationships, developmental windows, personal characteristics, perceptions, biases, common values, generation of values, numerical ratio, and social complexity. There is a degree of overlap, but they will be dealt with separately.

Degree of acceptance:  According to Cavalli-Sforza (1993) vertical transmission is more likely to result in variation in terms of the intergenerational value systems, whereas other routes, particularly the institutional route of ‘one to many’, are more likely to result in homogeneity of values. Barni et al. (2011) argue that there is a moderate degree of willingness among adolescents to accept their parents’ values. Also, after a period in which adolescents’ values diverge from their parents’, as they are asserting their identity, there is a tendency for the two generations’ values to become more similar (ibid).

Quality of relationships: Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman (1981) state that the relationship of teacher (transmitter) and taught (recipient) is a key condition of transmission, while Schoenpflug (2001a) specifies the marital relationship of the parents and the parenting style of the parents. More effective cultural transmission takes place when there is a harmonious and constructive relationship between the parents (ibid), and less effective transmission in a dysfunctional relationship. Schönpflug’s research also suggests that empathetic parents are the most effective transmitters (ibid). Euler et al. (2001) add that two important related aspects of cultural transmission between generations are investment in the younger generation and emotional closeness between the generations. Barni et al. (2011) assert that acceptance is assisted when the parents themselves share the same values, and that there is a reciprocal relationship between closeness and acceptance of parental values; that is, this is not a relationship of simple causality, but a bi-directional relationship.

Developmental stage: According to Schönpflug (2001a, p.185) acquisition of values is differentiated according to age of the receiver/acquirer. Early adolescents are more open to collective values, but are less receptive as they reach later adolescence; however, in later adolescence they are more open (and more cognitively developed to receive) individualistic values, those that contribute to a ‘stimulating life’, a point that Barni et al. (2011) confirm.

Personal characteristics: Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, and Schönpflug both assert the importance of personal characteristics; the former emphasise the age difference between transmitter and recipient (generation gap) and the latter adds the educational level of the transmitter and receiver.

Perceptions: In general, the values the parents wish to transmit are perceived by the younger generation to be more conservative, whereas the young are more open to new ideas (Barni et al., 2011).

Biases: Whitbeck and Gecas (1988) recognise that females have a slightly higher acceptance of parents values than males and that the mother-daughter bond in this respect is particularly strong, what they refer to as the ‘female lineage’ of value transmission.

Common values: According to Barni et al. (2011), some values seem to be almost universally shared between the generations, such as benevolence and independence of thought and action.

Generation of values: According to Grusec and Goodnow (1994) acquisition of values takes place through the assertion of moral autonomy; acceptance comes on the basis of self-generation. Barni et al. (2011) contest this view; they prefer the notion of self-other generation: the values we acquire are the result of our free choice, but this choice is not made in a vacuum; we tend to choose the values of those close to us in a familial setting.

The final two points are of particular relevance outside of the immediate family setting, in the broader social and institutional context:

Numerical ratio: The numerical relationship (ratio) of teacher to taught can also be a factor in how effective value transmission can be (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, 1981). It is unclear here what conclusion they might have reached about this. The assumption is that they consider a smaller teacher-pupil ratio to be more effective; however, this might contradict the idea that ‘one to many’ transmission reproduces a more homogeneous set of values, referred to above.

Social complexity: The degree of complexity of the society in which the transmission takes place is considered to be a factor in value transmission(Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman, 1981; Whitbeck and Gecas, 1988); there is a recognition that multiple factors are at play in value socialisation, not only the parents, important as that influence is. Hashimzade and Della Giusta (2011) have modelled the relationship between the intergenerational values of immigrant families and the values of their schools, in order to determine the optimal outcomes. They have concluded that in a society of heterogeneous communities, better social outcomes are created when schools focus on inclusivity in order to avoid alienation. Attempts by schools to create homogeneity of values increases alienation and worsens social outcomes. If there is a gradual convergence of values between the immigrant community and the host society, there is a measured improvement in social and economic outcomes, initiated in part by higher educational outcomes.

Conclusion

I would expect that much of what has been studied in terms of intergenerational transmission of values would be of some relevance to transmission in institutions such as schools, particularly in terms of the key relationship between teacher and pupil, which while not commonly as close as that of parent and child, has some of the features of that relationship (Riley, 2010; Pianta, 1994; Bowlby, 1969), but also of some, though diminishing, relevance to other social organisations in which there are social bonds of authority and dependence. Clearly, though, on the basis of the research, transmission of values within institutions is going to be dependent upon a number of variables such as age and gender, personal relationship and the quality the institutional culture, education (both in terms of level achieved and receptivity to new ideas), cultural background, and even – apparently – which values are being transmitted.

There do seem to be two noticeable omissions. Although Schönpflug mentions the mechanism of transmission, which he (after Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman) states has two stages – awareness and acceptance – there is no attempt to describe or model this mechanism. The other is that values are not assigned any role in this process. My intuition is that these omissions are connected. As long as values are seen as a black box problem there is a limit to the extent that the transmission of values can be modelled.

Although the theories emerging from evolutionary psychology do provide relatively simple models of transmission, they are predominantly focused upon the interaction between transmitter and receiver and, therefore, in the larger social context they will be considered as part of the mechanism, i.e. an aspect of transmission rather than as a complete model. In the second part of this article I will turn to several other theories which address aspects of transmission and consider some theoretical models of social transmission.

References

Barni, D., Ranieri, S., Scabini, E. and Rosnati, R. (2011). Value transmission in the family: Do adolescents accept the values their parents want to transmit? Journal of Moral Education, vol. 40, no. 1, pp.105-121.

Bowlby, J. (1969). Attachment (vol. 1 of Attachment and loss). New York: Basic Books.

Buss, D. (2015). Evolutionary psychology: the new science of the mind (Fifth Edition). Oxford: Routledge.

Boyd, R. and Richerson, P. (1985). Culture and the evolutionary process. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Cavalli-Sforza, L. L. (1993). How are values transmitted? In M. Hechter, L. Nadel and R. E. Michod (Eds.), The origin of values. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, pp. 305-318.

Cavalli-Sforza, L. and M. Feldman. (1981). Cultural transmission and evolution: A quantitative approach. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Grusec, J. E. and Goodnow, J. J. (1994). Impact of parental discipline methods on the child’s internalization of values: A reconceptualization of current points of view. Developmental Psychology, vol. 30, pp. 4-19.

Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon Books.

Hashimzade, N. and Della Giusta, M. (2011). Schooling and intergenerational transmission of values. University of Reading. [Online] Available at: http://www.thearda.com/asrec/archive.

Lumsden, C. and E. Wilson. 1981. Genes, mind and culture: The coevolutionary process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

McElreath, R. and Henrich, J. (2007). Dual inheritance theory: The evolution of human cultural capacities and cultural evolution. In R. Dunbar and L. Barrett, (Eds.), Oxford handbook of evolutionary psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 555-570.

Pianta, R. C. (1994). Patterns of relationships between children and kindergarten teachers. Journal of School Psychology, vol. 32, issue 1, pp. 15-31.

Riley, P. (2010). Attachment theory and the teacher-student relationship: A practical guide for teachers, teacher educators and school leaders. London: Routledge

Schönpflug, U. (2001a). Intergenerational transmission of values: The role of transmission belts. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 174–185.

Schönpflug, U. (2001b). Introduction. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, vol. 32, no. 2, pp. 131-134.

Whitbeck, L. B. and Gecas, V. (1988). Value attribution and value transmission between parents and children. Journal of Marriage & the Family, vol. 50, pp. 829–840.

 

 

Self-transcendence and the multiplicity of value-worlds in the evolution of modernity

transcendence

Abstract

The dizzying rate of change today is bringing a focus on fundamental values that is bypassing the traditional concerns of epistemology within philosophy and the historical and political issue of the religious/secular divide. This focus points to an emerging view of social evolution driven by a transcendent view of individual identity.

The nature of social evolution

If there is one universal truth it is that we do not see or experience the world as it is, but only as we believe it to be on the basis of the ideas and values we have accepted. While this is true of the physical ‘world’ (universe) in which we live, it is true in a qualitatively different and more meaningful sense of the social ‘world’ (society) that we inhabit, in that we are not merely interpreters of social reality but, equally, creators of it.

Today it is commonplace to argue from a perspective of cultural relativism that the social form prevalent in the West – variously characterised as ‘open’ (Popper, 1945), ‘secular’ or ‘liberal democratic’ – is merely one form of society emerging in the world, neither intrinsically better or worse than others such as Islamic theocratic, Chinese Confucian/Communist or Russian authoritarian. While the geographical labelling of this form of society is linked to its historical origins in Western Europe and the pre-eminence of the United States as an economic, military and cultural power during most of the past 100 years, not only is it not limited to those ‘European’ cultures, but it contains the essential ingredients of a universal social form, that for convenience can be termed modernity.

I would like to burnish a perspective on modernity, first broached by Hegel, but popularised by Francis Fukuyama (1992), that the prominence of rationalism and emergence of liberal democracy in the eighteenth century represented the beginning of a new stage in history. Perhaps prematurely, Fukuyama announced the fall of communism as the ‘End of History’, a judgement that has not fared well in the ensuing years of resurgent nationalism, socialism and Islamism. In this period the pessimistic realpolitik of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilisations’ (1993) has held sway and postmodernism has come to dominate intellectual discourse in many fields. From the broader sweep of history the emergence of modernity goes back further than the eighteenth century, back in fact to the Renaissance of the fourteenth century. In the Renaissance a social and cultural paradigm was set in motion that has endured for six centuries and has transformed the life of humans beyond recognition. Some of the characteristics of this paradigm are:

  • The development of personal freedoms and rights
  • The development of scientific knowledge, scientific methodology and critical tradition
  • The dissolution of traditional power structures and the emancipation of millions of humans from a life of slavery or serfdom
  • Technological advancement and progress towards ending the great scourges of mankind: poverty, disease and famine
  • Wealth creation through density and complexity of economic activity
  • Universal education and social welfare

Some or all of these appeared in pre-modern societies, but never all together and never integrated so systemically that they constitute a type of ‘universal replicator’ (von Neumann, 1966; Dawkins, 1989; Deutsch, 2010). If modernity is considered as a project, it is an as yet unfinished project. Despite the immense progress, problems of great magnitude remain to be solved; moreover problems yet to be imagined or discovered wait in the future. The nature of modernity is not that it finally resolves all problems, but that it contains the mechanism by which all problems are in principle solvable. While the prospect of unending social evolution through problem solving may not be how we imagine the future, nor chime with the widespread pessimism about mankind’s future from many quarters today, imagine what a society in which such progress had come to a halt would entail, as the interlinking of all the aspects of modernity described above started to unravel.

Constructing value-worlds

One persistent critique of the West – and by implication of modernity – from its external socio-political competitors and from its internal critics, particularly religious groups, is that it permits and even encourages deviant morality and anti-social lifestyles. This criticism comes from an older and simpler paradigm of human sociality that is gradually being replaced.

While the cultures of the West are characterised as individual-based, its critics typically come from politically or religiously collective cultures. However, collective cultures are an integral part of modernity also, but the relationship between the individual and the collective is different in a number of important aspects. All collectives are characterised by adherence to a set of common ideas and common values – what we could call common beliefs. As a result all members of a collective tend to share a similar worldview, a common moral outlook, communal practices, a social interaction, and so on. Such a collective experience can be represented abstractly and very simply by a closed circle, delineating the world ‘inside’ from the world ‘outside’. In pre-modern, anti-modern and closed collective forms, the life of the individual, and even the society, tend to be subsumed within a single such boundary. What characterises the life in modernity is not the absence of these collective forms, but their multiplicity in our social institutions and our simultaneous and rather more tentative belonging, which mitigates both the naturally closed nature of such institutions and the exclusivity of belonging. While closed societies are marked by stasis – the desire to remain unchanging – a state of dynamic equilibrium between the collective and the individual is a feature of open societies.

The closed nature of such value-worlds is not something that has generally been recognised in enlightenment thinking, with its emphasis on freedom, the individual and rationality. Values, though, exist in shared experience and therefore have an emotive and collective dimension as well as a rational and individual dimension. It is impossible for an individual to live in any society and not be subsumed into a value-world; the difference in an open society is the multiple belonging, freedom of association, and (depending on the individual) degree of reflexivity of the belonging. In a real sense individual construct their own value-world – or value matrix – through such multiple belonging.

There seems to be a paradox, though, in claiming that such closed value-worlds exist in an open society. The answer to this can be illustrated by looking in particular at the relationship between the ideas of religion and secularity and our assumption of their conflicting nature.

Throughout history – or to be precise religious history, for it is only an intellectual issue for religion – religion has been seen in opposition to the secular realm. Without delving into the detail of this, the divide has had more to do with the struggle for political power in society than competing paradigms of reality, which is religion’s theological interpretation. Following Jesus’ ruling on the ownership of the denarius, the terms ‘religion’ and ‘secularity’ have come to imply a sharp distinction between two ways of seeing the world, at least equal in status. However, this is not true: there is actually no such a thing as secularity. The opposition is a false one. Kant referred to such oppositions as ‘antinomies’ and considered them as arising as artefacts from the process of conceptualising reality. There is, in fact, in the West at least, only modernity, and from the perspective of modernity there is a multiplicity of value-worlds. In the pre-modern paradigm there is only the perspective of each closed worldview; there is for each collective only one inner and one outer world. In the midst of modernity this must result in a form of cultural schizophrenia, kept at bay by self-deception or (in extreme cases) acts of violence. In reality, even the most devout must eventually acknowledge the multiplicity of power centres and value-worlds. They rely on modernity for their medicine, their transport, the technology they use to broadcast their message, and, in most cases, their jobs and their education, and at some point must accept the dissonance between their ideology and reality.

Religions are already mostly integrated into modernity and this process will continue, embracing even those parts of the world where religious institutions still hold sway. There are, though, two important riders to this statement: the first is that although religions will continue to appear, grow, decline and disappear, religion itself will never disappear because it is fundamental to some aspects of human nature, something that even evolutionary psychology recognises, and it will adapt to individual and collective needs of every age; secondly, religion would only ever come to dominate human culture again though the catastrophic failure of the project of modernity and the collapse of civilisation as we know it.

There will always be those who are strongly committed to a religious view and who populate religious institutions. Likewise there will always be some who are indifferent or even hostile to religion. But most people lie along a spectrum, and the life of these individuals will be marked by phases of spirituality and worldly concerns. Some of the factors affecting people’s attitudes and their location along the spectrum include genetic traits, family upbringing, peer group, specific historical and events, personal circumstances and stage of life.

Resolving value-relativism

If the world contains a multiplicity of worldviews all justified in their own terms and co-existing within society, is it possible – and if so, how is it possible – to discriminate between truth and falsity, between the morally good and the morally evil and between the coarse and the refined?

There are two possible answers to that, one of which – a Spenserian form of social evolution, that is, ‘the survival of the fittest’ – is the less palatable option. In the first place there is no indication that social evolution takes place in this manner at all. Evolution in the Darwinian sense (rather than as a type of guided or teleological evolution) guarantees no favourable outcomes. History teaches that in fact many good things have disappeared beyond human reach. Secondly, such a view provides no guidance as to the intrinsic qualities sought in the present among the myriad competing claims of the contemporary world.

The second solution, though, points to more promising resolution of the dilemma. The view of modernity outlines above is most compatible with a view of human nature that I term transcendent individualism (1). If the history of modernity up to the present has been to validate the individual beyond the collective, the future will validate the individual who is in the process of self-transcendence. That does not mean reabsorbing the individual into the collective; it means that on the basis of individual freedom, the individual will enter into a process of self-improvement socially, morally, spiritually, physically and intellectually. Like many aspects of modernity, this idea is gradually taking shape but is not yet fully formed. Nor, I suspect, will it ever be, because like modernity itself human nature can only truly emerge in the process of meeting and overcoming challenges, of which there will be no end.

Note

1. The term ‘transcendent individualism’ is not original, although I have interpreted it in my own way. It reflects some of the concerns of the transcendentalists of the nineteenth century, such as Emerson and Thoreau, although they saw it predominantly in aesthetic and mystical terms, whereas I would include aspects of physical self-improvement and social transcendence that counter the tendencies towards self-indulgence and inconsiderate behaviour that blight highly individualistic cultures.

References

Richard Dawkins (1989). The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
David Deutsch (2010). The Beginning of Infinity: explanations that transform the world. London: Allen Lane.
Francis Fukuyama (1992). The End of History and the Last Man. London: Penguin.
Samuel Huntington (1993). The Clash of Civilisations. Foreign Affairs; Summer 1993; 72, 3.
John von Neumann (1966). The Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata. A.W. Burks (ed.). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Karl Popper (1945). The Open Society and its Enemies. London: Routledge.