Saturday, March 13, 2010

Towards a Philosophy of Education

Having been a teacher for some 30 years now, it is good to look back on one's career and ask questions like:  (i) What of worth did I really achieve for my pupils? (ii) What of worth did I achieve for myself? (iii) What now do I see as the goal of education, and how does that now differ from what I thought all those years ago when I set out on this career? (iv) What is education all about, anyway?  (v) where am I going from here in my career, given what I believe education to really be?  I am sure there are many other questions worth asking, too, questions which have not yet occurred to me.  However, these are my reflections at the age of 52 years with some thirty years teaching experience under my belt.


They say that a good starting point is always to define your terms.  I have often heard it said that philosophy begins in wonder and ends in wisdom.  It is surely one of the most important of human characteristics that we possess in our ability to reflect upon our own very nature, to question our very own presuppositions and hopefully prejudices.  In such a way we grow not alone in self-knowledge but in knowledge of others and of their presuppositions and prejudices, and in our knowledge of the world and all it entails.  In such a way we approach what all knowledge and wisdom must surely be about - a gaining of shared truth and wisdom as we travel along through life with our fellow human creatures, and, indeed, in these greener and more ecological times, with all our fellow creatures - animate and inanimate.

Philosophy of Education:

Years ago as a little boy of seven I was overwhelmed literally by the world of knowledge and all the wonder that it opened up to my little mind.  I can remember kneeling at a wooden chair with my textbooks open thereon and reading the magical words before me.  Then, once, I remember my mother asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I instantly replied that I wanted to be a teacher.  Somehow the wonder of knowledge had captivated my young mind.  I was always a very imaginative kid who lived very much in my imagination.  I was also very lucky to have had several wonderful primary school teachers like Mr. Murray anbd Mr Seán O'Shea in St Canice's C.B.S. on North Circular Road, Dublin, 1.  These two teachers inspired all the poor boys whom they taught.  I owe them a lot, even if they were only doing their jobs and getting by in the world, because they were superb teachers who loved both their charges and what they were doing.  To teach another human being is an act of liberation, of liberating the mind to fly in the boundless space of promise, in the boundless skies of imagination which place no hindrances or obstacles to whatever human potential should be the lot of any one individual.

Back then, my understanding of what I would be was simple, and perhaps naive, that I would be able to pass on this wonderful world of knowledge to other young minds.  And so, with such great teachers as the above two in the back of my mind, and also the wonderful secondary teachers like Br Martin Collins (Latin and Maths), Br Phil Russell (Maths), Mr Enda Kavanagh (Science), Mr Gerard Hogan (French), Mr Michael McLoughlin (English) and Mr Pat Sullivan (Irish), I went on to become a teacher.  I studied a lot of educationalists and pedagogues (the good sense of that term, not the pejorative one) at college such as Friedrich Fröbel (1782–1852, founder of the kindergarten movement) Maria Montessori (1870-1952, the first woman medical Doctor in Italy who started out to educate the "special needs" or "unhappy little ones" and the "uneducatable" in Rome. In 1896, she gave a lecture at the Educational Congress in Torino about the training of the disabled.  The promotion of education open to all, no matter what their ability or disability, became her life's task.) , Jean Piaget (1896-1980, best known to generations of teachers for his theory of cognitive development divided into respective stages and who said famously that "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual."), Jerome Bruner ( 1915- , founder of learning by discovery) and, my favourite for a long period of my life, Paulo Friere (1921-97, with his emphasis on education as empowering, liberating, "conscientizing" ("conscientization"), as being collaborative, his twin notions of the teacher-student (a teacher who learns) and the student-teacher (a learner who teaches) being quite a radical one which stood traditional roles on their head.)

So back to the four questions that I asked in my first paragraph.  (i) What of worth did I really achieve for my pupils?  Well as a teacher of Irish, I taught them the language and its structure and helped them prepare for their exams.  Many of them achieved very well in this subject and their grades in it helped them to go on to university.  A lot of them are now professionals in different callings and fields.  But, always, I believed that education was more than the mere imparting of knowledge or the filling of empty vessels.  I had always gone along with my professor of philosophy, Rev Patrick Carmody's interpretation and correct understanding of the philosophy of Paulo Freire in his attack on what he called the "banking concept of education," in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher - an equivalent metaphor to the empty vessel concept.  I believe I achieved other things for my students outside the mere communication of knowledge.  I believe that I taught them to think for themselves, to believe in themselves, to grow in self-confidence and competence, to believe that they were the shapers of the world as well asw being shaped by it.  I alsao believe that I encouraged them to be critical questioners of what they were told were the age-old truths, not mere unthinking knockers of commonly accepted methods or truths.  I also hope that I taught them to be respecters of others and of this wonderful, if at times very sad, world in which we live.

(ii) What of worth did I achieve for myself?  Well I also grew in self-knowledge as I grew in knowledge.  I remember an old Christian Brother once telling me that the best way to learn something was to teach it.  I have long believed that.  For some two years I taught French even though I had never strudied it at College.  Gerard Hogan my old French teacher suggested to the headmaster that I should teach it as I had been very good at this subject at school.  I went on later to study for a postgraduate diploma in Italian, and have become quite a resonable good language teacher.  However, the role of teacher as I have said is more than the mere imparter of knowledge.  He is also a receiver par excellence as the students over the years have taught me a lot - sheer humanity, a sense of humour, a sense of the joy in living, a sense of the glorious possibilities of the human being and above all respect, loyalty, care and love and a deep belief in the wonderful nature of human life in all its diversity.  Many of the less academically able pupils had and have wonderful outlooks on life, wonderful senses of humour and sheer love of life.

(iii) What now do I see as the goal of education, and how does that now differ from what I thought all those years ago when I set out on this career? (iv) What is education all about, anyway? (v) where am I going from here in my career, given what I believe education to really be? Well I no longer am as naive to believe that teaching is about imparting knowledge in any or all of its many dimensions.  For me it is very much about empowerment, about empowering and liberating the other, namely the pupils in our case here, to achieve their potential as human beings.  That is why I could never teach in grind schools even if they do achieve many "products" who achieve 600 points.  To my mind this is not education, just mere memory work, just techniques and strategies to remember correctly.  No, education is truly more.  It is about the formation of the human being as well as about the imparting of information. 

These thoughts were occasioned by my spending a week teaching the seriously and profoundly physically handicapped in St Michael's House school in Baldoyle.  For me this was simply mind-blowing.  Having spend 28 years in a mainstream secondary school teaching such subjects as Irish, RE, CSPE, Mathematics, French and Italian, Life Skills and some two years in Special Education teaching students on the ASD spectrum and students with Mild General Learning Disabilities I now had sampled what it is like to teach the serious and profound group of SEN children.  This was an eye-opener as this was the first time I had ever attempted to teach those who simply had no language, who were simply unspeaking and practically all wheelchair-bound.  And to think that it is only in the last 10 to 20 years trhat such children are being taught in a classroom.  Prior to this they were all in a care environment, not in an educational environment.  Now hospitals and care-institutions are giving way to special schools and a truly more enriching educational environment.

Teaching these children is education at its most powerful and liberating, both for the pupil and teacher.  That the least of human creatures should be taught is truly ennobling, is truly wonderful, is truly beautiful in the tough-love sense of thes words.  To see little children, suffering and struggling to be, struggling to learn, to reach out, to make some sense-for-them of what their twisted-body-existence is all about is nothing short of moving.  It is the assumption of Special Education that no child is uneducatable or unteachable and that despite all the limitations of our classrooms or indeed of the Educational or Health Systems that it is the teacher who makes the differencve in the tercahing situation.  That is why these least of our brothers and sisters, to use those words of Christ, are so richly deserving of our efforts and time in teaching.  Obviously, this is in no way to lessen the equally important roles of health and caring staffs such as doctors, nurses, OTs, STs, physiotherapists and a legion of ancillary care workers.  I saw all of these work as a team when helping these very special children.  To teach these children is to say: you are worthy of great respect, your feelings count, your knowledge counts even if you cannot tell me in your own words, you can learn much through all the senses, not just through speech or sight.  To sit here holding your little fingers as they attempt to count up to ten, or to form the shapes of circle, semicircle, square, reactangle or triangle is for me such a privilege.  You are teaching me humility, care and love.  It is a hard objective love, not a soft subjective squishy squashy thing that flits from here to there at whim.  No this is hard, hard, hard love that knows the pain of existence, that knows incontinence in its messiness, that knows humanity at its messiest, at its ugliest, but yet at its most sublime, at its potential to be deemed as true and real and valuable because it is the way life is, but more again, that this messiness can be and will be transformed through love and care.

My philosophy of education, like my epistemology, begins always in wonder.  To enthrall the students with the wonder of knowledge has always been one of my strategies as a teacher.  Hence, no teacher, I believe, can truly perform his/her task without enthusiasm which is essentially a state of being enraptured by wonder.  However, what my thirty years teaching has truly taught me is that to remain young is to continue to teach with enthusiasm, but that such can only be humanly possible if and only if one remains humble and open to wisdom, even the wisdom of the weakest of our charges whom it is our privilege to teach.

Above, yet another photograph I took in the Musei Vaticani, this time of The Wave (L'Onda), by the Italian artist and sculptor Sinisca, born 1929.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Maximizing Our Potential with Rollo May 13

And so, my friends we reach the end of Dr Rollo May's wonderful little classic: Man's Search For Himself.  Existentialism, if it means anything, I think, is the struggle to live in the now, to engage with life in all of its ups and downs, in all of its vicissitudes, in all of its joys and sorrows with a certain objectivity and equanimity and then to reflect on this lived experience.  It is an attempt to engage with one's own subjectivity and reflect on it as objectively as one can.  Now that is more easily said than done.  Also this is my definition, and it is likely to fall somewhat short of a more philosophical definition.  What follows is the next paragraph is a more philosophical definition. 

There is a very wide variety of philosopcal ideologies that go to make up existentialism, and so there is no universal definition. And so it is necessary to remain open and realize that most existentialisms have a different view and form. Existentialism is a 20th century philosophy concerned with human existence, finding self, and the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. The belief that people are searching to find out who and what they are throughout life as they make choices based on their experiences, beliefs, and outlook without the help of laws, ethnic rules, or traditions.

And so Dr Rollo May was a leading psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in the existentialist school which attempts to allow the client find their own meaning, find their true Self through their own authentic choices. 

One heading in this chapter which caught my eye is aptly entitled: "Man doth not live by the clock alone."  This is so true because modern life has become a tyranny of the clock.  Industry and commerce live under its tyrannical gaze.  We rush to work and try to cram in as much activity as we can.  Our anthem seems to be "more, more, more, and still more"  However, such a notion of "filling " every moment of the day with activity, and not just any old activity, but activity geared towards making the most money will never leave him satisfied.  However, such tyranny wears the soul down.  I have often heard colleagues talk about certain aspects of teaching being "soul destroying."  After all, the soul is like a bird, and under the tyranny of time as outlined here it becomes caged and certainly songless.

But we are creatures who can open our own cage doors and fly free - all as it takes is a willingness to do so, an awareness of what it means to be caged in the first place. a willingness to embrace our own freedom.   Here are the refreshing words of Dr May: of the unique characteristics of man is that he can stand outside his present time and imagine himself ahead in the future ore back in the past... This power to look "before and after" is part of man's ability to be conscious of himself.  Plants and animals live by quantitative time: a hour, a week or a year past, and the tree has another ring on its trunk.  But time is quite a different thing for the human being; man is the time-surmounting mammal.  (May, op.cit., p. 194)
May then talks of what he terms "psychological time" which has the taste of eternity in it, if I may wax lyrical here.  This is the kind of time we experience when we are in love, when we do something very artistic, imaginative and creative.  It's as it time stands still - it is very lightness itself, unbound by temporality.  Psychological time has more to do with the meaning of the experience - bound up with the meaning-making capacity of humanity.  Another facet of "psychological time" is the magic of memory, especially good memories.  I remember once reading the great John Henry Cardinal Newman - in one of his Oxford University Sermons he said that "How a man believes is as much as mystery as how he remembers."  Here are the lyrical words of Dr. May on memory: " is not just the imprint of the past time upon us; it is the keeper of what is meaningful for our deepest hopes and fears."  (Ibid., p. 195)  Quanitative time is a poor substitute for the qualitative nature of this more psychological time.

However, the past must never become a mere escape from engaging in the present.  Likewise, the future must never become a mere hope or wish that things will be better then than they are now. In both cases the human being is attempting to escape the inevitability of mortality, of death, the final blow to temporality which is essentially extinction.  Hence we can understand what C.G. Jung meant when he said that a person is afraid of growing old to the entent that he is not really living now.  Hence it follows that the best way to meet the anxiety of growing old and dying is to make sure that at the moment one is fully alive.  Once again awareness is all.  The secret is to learn to live now, in the now, here and now.  I cannot say "now" often enough.  The worse sense of living in the future is thge vain hope that things will be put aright, that all wrongs will be corrected in the next world, and this misconception is what Marx meant by saying that religion was the "opium of the people."  This is religion at its worst, in its worst conception.

Once again May is succinct: "For psychologically speaking the present moment is all we have." (Ibid., p. 200)  He is also interesting in his reflections on eternity which, he says,

is not a given quantity of time: it transcends time.  Eternity is the qualitative significance of time.  One does not have to identify the experience of listening to music with the theological meaning of eternity to realise that in music - or in love, or in any work that proceeds from one's inner integrity - that the "eternal" is a way of relating to life, not a succession of "tomorrows." (Ibid., p. 203)
And the practical implication of all that Rollo May has written here in this little classic is, along with the aim of all existential therapy that it is every human's goal to live each moment with freedom, honesty, integrity, authenticity and finally with responsibility.  No easy task, indeed, but one rooted in meaning and in meaning-making.

Above the foot of a Roman legionary or soldier. It is all that remains of an ancient statue. Once again this is a picture I took in the Vaticam Museum.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Maximizing Our Potential with Rollo May 12

Rollo May continues chapter 7 on courage by taking what at first sight seems to be a detour - he now begins to talk about love, that most abused of concepts, that most abused of words.  This word, to my mind, has been so used and abused that it is almost impossible to say what it means at all.  I remember once learning the Prologue to Chaucer's wonderful Canterbury Tales, and therein we read of the Prioress who was consumed by her appearance and proper manners or etiquette of the highest order.  She wore a gold medal around her neck on which were emblazoned the words "amor vincit omnia," and Chaucer leads us to suspect that she may indeed have been unfaithful to her vow of chastity, that this "amor" mentioned here could well have been of the earthy kind rather than of the divine kind. 

What is love?  Is it Eros, Philia, Storge or Agape - the four loves written of by C.S. Lewis, a book I read years ago when I was studying theology. (See this link if you wish to know more about each of them, according to Lewis: The Four Loves )  That book states the theory at any rate.  Now, what does May say?  Most human relationships, he avers, spring from a mixture of motives and include a combination of different feelings.  His description of Eros love is clear and precise:

One is Eros - the sexual drive toward the other, which is part of the individual's need to fulfill himself.  Two and a half millennia ago Plato pictured "eros" as the drive of each individual to unite with the complement to himself - the drive to find the other half of the original "androgyne," the mythical being who was both man and woman. (May, op.cit., p. 180)

He goes on to point out that what our society really lacks is an experience of community, which, when it exists, is the haven where real love can exist.

May maintains that real love is involved in the very soul of the individual - he or she must learn that to love the self is essentially the goal of integration, of self-integration, of self-realization, call this reality what youy wish.  It is only then that one can reach out and love others.  Then he makes the following interesting statements about love:

Love, as we have said, is generally confused with dependence: but, in point of fact, you can love only in proportion to your capacity for independence.  Harry Stack Sullivan has made the startling statement that a child cannot learn 'to love anybody before he is pre-adolescent...' That is to say, until this age the capacity for awareness and affirmation of other persons has not matured enough for love. (Ibid., p. 185)
True love is union and in the act of its consummation is experienced as such.  Such a union, May argues, is a true ecstasy where each person leaves the stasis of the self and unites into a consummation that is a true oneness of the 'we.'

Real truth is not a function of the intellect alone, nor is it some abstract reality that exists somewhere "out there" or "up there" or "beyond," akin to Bertrand Russell's idea of God as a teapot orbiting the sun.  Rather real truth is experienced by and in the "thinking-feeling-acting unity" that is the human being.  In the words of Berdyaev we make our respective truths our own "from within" and we discover and tell our beliefs or truths on our very pulses.  (See ibid., p.191)  And somehow our loves are inseparably interwoven with them.

Above another picture I took in the Musei Vaticani. This is a foot from an ancient statue - shadows of Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley here, no?

Maximizing Our Potential with Rollo May 11

Chapter 11 of Rollo May's book is entitled Courage, the Virtue of Maturity. This is an excellent title. As one gets older, and hopefully more mature, the easier it is to be authentic, or at least it should be. This growing maturity brings personal growth with it. It becomes easier to say "no," to be able to know what one likes and dislikes, to be able to not feel obliged to join this group or that, to say X or Y, to do A or B, to decide not to get annoyed when R or S play power games or mind games. We learn that we can decide what our attitudes are going to be. I have decided not to let A annoy me about person B or this or that problem. In other words we can always decide how we are going to feel about certain issues.

Returning to Rollo May's words: "Courage is the basic value for everyone as long as he continues to grow, or move ahead. It is, as Ellen Glascow remarks, 'the only lasting virtue.'" (May, op.cit., p. 168) We need courage to many things: courage to face the day, to face others, "to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet" as T.S. Eliot put it in his wonderful poem The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. We also need courage to face ourselves. As soon as the courage in dealing with one's self is achieved, "one can with much greater equanimity meet the threats of the external situation." (Ibid., 169) May goes on to define courage as "the capacity to meet the anxiety which arises as one achieves freedom." (Ibid., p. 169) Because authenticity is so important in any relationships, and so is courage. It takes real courage to be authentic and real courage, then, is the basis of all creative relationships. I remember hearing a priest of my aquaintance quip once: "If you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything!" How true this quip really is. Let us return to Dr. May's insightful words on creativity and courage: of the reasons creative activity takes so much courage is that nto create stands for becoming free from the ties to the infantile past, breaking the old in order that the new can be born... Every act of genuine creativity means achieving a higher level of self-awareness and personal freedom, and that, as we have seen in the Promethean and Adam myths, may involve considerable inner conflict. (May, op.cit., p. 172)
May goes on to state that every subsequent act of courage is a new birth for the person - the constant birthing of the self.  At each of these transitional periods or steps of growth, it is as if the person suffers anew the pangs of his own birth,  He goes on to argue that at then end of the day all courage is essentially moral courage.

Narcissism - The opposite Pole to Courage

May defines narcissism as the compulsive need to be praised, to be liked, and that for this base reason people give up their courage.  After all, it will take great courage to be authentic, to be your real and true self, to be able to say honestly what you think about issue A, B or C, real courage to say "no" to a person and to cease being "fawning" in one's behaviour, either towards colleauges or bosses.  Indeed, both vanity and narcissism undermines one's courage because then "one fights on someone else's convictions, not one's own." (Ibid., p. 177)

Insight into God

I have felt for the past 12 years since I gave up all practice of religion that God is more of a psychological projection of humankind's needs than actually a being existing in some outer space or inner space or beyond space realm.  To this extent, I can heartily agree with May where he contends that God is quite simply a metaphor for my inner self or for my very centre of personhood or the very locus of my value system:

Imagine what would have occurred if Socrates at his trial had tried to argue against his Athenian accusers on the basis of their assumptions, their laws.  All the difference in the world is made by his presuppositions, 'Men of Athens, I will obey God rather than you,' which as we have seen above, meant for him finding his guides for conduct in the inn ermost centre of himself. (Ibid., p. 179)

To be continued.

Above I have uploaded another picture I took in the Musei Vaticani Eebruary, 2010. Egyptian figureens - wouldn't Freud have loved these?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Maximizing Our Potential with Rollo May 10

In his chapter entitled The Creative Conscience Dr Rollo May argues that religion often offers refuge for neurotics. These "neurotic uses" of religion, he believes, are devices by which the individual avoids having to face his own loneliness and anxiety. Such religious neuroses seek to repress the fact that deep down in the individual the human person is basically alone - he/she must make their own choices alone, choose their own direction in life and eventually die alone.

An Insight into the Classics:

A classic, according to May, is one whose moral or ethical import is just as important today as it was when that classic was written.  Let's listen to Rollo May's own words here:

This is what the classics in literature, or ethics or any other field, should do for one.  For the essence of a classic is that it arises from such profound depths in human experience that, like the works of Isaiah,, or Oedipus, or the way of Lao-Tzu it speaks to us who live centuries later in vastly different cultures as the voice of our own experience, helping us to understand ourselves better and enriching us by releasing echoes within ourselves that we may not have known were there.  (May, op. cit., p. 156)
Our author, I believe, was a personal friend of the contemporary theologian, Paul Tillich.  Indeed, May borrowed and built upon many of the ideas put forward by Tillich.  One such borrowing undoubtedly is his contention that real religion is whatever a particular individual takes to be his/her "ultimate concern."  These are Tillich's terms, and May uses them aptly here.  Then, speaking about the nature of such an understanding of religion, he gives us a rich insight into its psychology: "The point we wish to emphasize is that psychologically religion is to be understood as a way of relating to one's existence." (Ibid., p. 158)

The centrality of Wonder:

I was brought up on a philosophy of wonder.  Who was it said, "philosophy begins in wonder and ends in wisdom" ?  I find that Aristotle said the first clause in this sentence, that philosophy begins in wonder.  I cannot find who added the second part.  I am also quite taken by the following quotation from the philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead: "Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains." Then I also was enthralled by the works, both poems and prose, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who recounts somewhere that when he was a young lad his father used to bring him out along the lanes in the darkness to look at the night sky.  He said that his mind became "habituated to the vast."  I also fell in love with this phrase - the sheer wonder of the vast and being overwhelmed by it.  I also remember the words of Kavanagh as a very young poet who proclaimed that "the little window" of his bedroom "let in the stars."  These were undoubtedly the stars of wonder where all philosophy begins.  Let us return to the words of Dr Rollo May here:

When one is able to relate creatively to the wisdom of his fathers in the ethical and religious tradition he finds that he discovers anew his capacity to wonder.  It is self-evident that the capacity for active, responsive wonder has been largely absent in modern society.  This is one side of the vacuity and emptiness which so many peoiple feel in our period. (Ibid., p. 158)
Then May quotes the famous lines from Immanuel Kant: "Two things incline the heart to wonder, the moral law within and the starry night above."  (Quoted ibid., p. 158)  Now the capacity to wonder is not the sole province of religion.  It is also the the province of all creative artists, as well as scientists at their most creative.  May continues to argue that those "who take a rigid view either of religious or scientific truth become more dogmatic and lose the capacity to wonder..." (Ibid.,  158)  Wonder, then, is the absolute opposite to cynicism, and is indeed a function of what one holds to be of ultimate meaning and value in life.  Wonder, May argues, is also akin to humility.  He then goes on to relate all of this to conscience:

We wish thus to emphasise the positive aspects of conscience - conscience as the individual's method of tapping wisdom and insight within himself, conscience as an "opening up," a guide to enlarged experience. (Ibid., p. 161)
The human being values all the things he holds dear in life - love for his family and children, love for knowledge and wisdom and all the values bestowed upon him by his culture.  May points out that what we really value are all those things we experience as related to our activities in life, and certainly not a verbal discussion of them. (See ibid., p. 163).  He quotes the Zarathustra of Nietzsche that man should really be called "the valuator,"  and by valuing things we are in fact creating them.

Finally, in this chapter, May has some insightful things to say about art:

A picture is never beautiful if it is not honest, and to the extent that it is honest, that is, represents the immediate, deep and original perceptions and experience of the artist, it will have at least the beginnings of beauty. (Ibid., 167)

To be continued

Sopra ho messo un'altra foto che ho presa nei musei vaticani, febbraio, 2010.

Maximizing Our Potential with Rollo May 9

May calls chapter six of his book The Creative Conscience.  In other words this chapter is about ethics and morality.  I have long been of the opinion that ethics - or a code of right and proper behaviour - is something that has grown and evolved.  When I listen to contemporary debate about whatever ethical issue is the topic of the day on the broadcast media or in the print media I am always quite struck by the lack of awareness of many, who should know otherwise, who are content to use a present understanding of ethics, in its now evolved understanding, and are equally happy to read this evolved understanding back into any particular period in our history as human animals on this "blessed piece of earth" we call our home.  This is indeed a travesty, because this evolved understanding, apparently not too obviously, could not have pertained at previous periods of history.  One hears such comments: "murder was always murder", "rape was always rape" etc.  However, these two statements from an evolutionary or developmetal understanding of ethics, to my mind, are patently untrue.  When human animals first came out from the caves it was simply survival of the fittest and "murder" was just the killing of a threatening opponent.  Even when human animals began to live together in communities which would later develop into civilizations on the banks of the great rivers of the world, they had a very basic understanding ethics.  Rules needed to be set down so that people could live togther in some harmony.  And these rules evolved into a moral and/or ethical code.

Now, friends, if you happen to have stayed with my discussion of this hobby horse, then you are indeed singularly patient.  The Ten Commandments or The Decalogue, call that moral code what you wish, did not always exist.  This codified ethical system emerged at a certain point in the history of humankind.  That moral or ethical truths have always existed in some rarified metaphysical domain from beyond or before time I have long ceased to believe.  That we have ever-growing and ever-developing insights into ethics or morals I thoroughly accept.  Now back to Dr. Rollo May.

Once again, to my mind, May is wonderfully clear and insightful, and bear in mind that he wrote this wonderful little classic in 1953.  His opening words of this chapter are clear and precise:

Man is the "ethical animal" - ethical in potentiality even if, unfortunately, not in actuality.  His capacity for ethical judgement - like freedom, reason and other unique characteristics of the human being - is based upon his consciousness of himself. (May, op.cit., 130)
Again all of this is about the development of an inner moral sense, an inner ethical sense, in the human being.  In other words the outward evolutionary development of ethics is mirrored in the personal growth of an inner ethical or moral sense in the human animal.

Human beings as they grow learn to develop a sense of empathy for their fellows.  As May succinctly puts it, "he can feel himself into someone else's needs and desires, can imagine himself in the other's place, and to make his choices with a view to the good of his fellows as well as himself." (Ibid., 131)

However, May points out that when times of transition occur - when humankind is lost, and both economically and morally on its knees - we are at risk of descending into the abyss.  He refers here to the growth of totalitarianism of either the right (fascism) or of the left (communism).  Indeed, we are all aware of the atrocities committed by the régimes of Hitler and of Stalin respectively.   It is through and from these transition periods, born of sheer suffering, that humankind's ethical insights have grown.  It is no wonder that it was only in 1948, in the wake of Hitler's and Stalin's gross crimes, that the UN Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated.  Our awareness and insights into the rights of all human beings had at last reached a powerful point in its evolution.  Indeed, it was some years later, after much more suffering and corresponding insights that the Declaration Rights of The Child was promulgated.  I believe, and sincerely believe, that we as a species are slow learners.  In all of this, I have not even referrred to racism and the campaigns for civil rights by different ethnic groups all over our sad, if at times wonderful, world.  Let me return here to Dr May's insightful words once again:

Man is an ethical animal : but his achievement of ethical awareness is not easy.  He does not grow into ethical judgement as simply as the flower grows toward the sun.  Indeeed, like freedom and the other aspects of man's consciousness of self, ethical awareness is gained only at the price of inner conflict and anxiety.  (Ibid., 134)
In the growth of an ethical self-awareness May quotes the examples of the mythic figures of Adam (Judaism) and Prometheus (Ancient Greeks), both of whom suffered for their ethical insights at the hands of those in power - the gods.  In like manner we all suffer for our growing self-awareness in our struggle with those in power in our lives - our parents, our teachers etc.

Ethics becomes unquestioning obedience in ages of conformity and only becomes the pursuit of justice and other ideals in an age of authenticity and courage.  May mentions the likes of Jesus Christ and Socrates, both of whom met tragic deaths because they were seen as threats to the status quo, to the accepted comfortable traditions of what was socially declared right and wrong.  These very ethical men stood out against and indeed condemned the status quo for its narrow ethical understanding.  He also refers to Spinoza, the "God-intoxicated philosopher" who was excommunicated for heresy.  May makes the interesting observation that it is simply amazing to note how often the saints of one period have been the so-called atheists of the previous period. (See, ibid., pp. 142-143)

In the growth of ethical self-awareness - as in all the aspects of trhe growth of self - between new insights and old entrenched positions or authorities, e.g., conflicts between Adam and Yahweh, Prometheus and Zeus, Oedipus and his father, Orestes and the matriarchal powers etc.  The reader can add his own examples here.

While a discussion of religion is beyond my interest here, I wish to refer on the one hand to its significance in the development of our moral and ethical sense and also to its promotion of hatred, murder and mayhem in its deluded pursuits of warped perspectives on what they declare to be truths on the other.  I wish also in  passing to refer to Freud's concern that oftentimes religion in its many shapes and forms increased humankind's dependency and kept the individual infantile.  May admits that some forms of religion does makes for good mental health while there are many forms that do destabilise and derange the individual. (See ibid., pp. 144-145)

To be continued

Above a picture I took in The Vatican Museum of ancient Egypian face.