Paul Hirst’s essay, ‘Liberal education and the nature of knowledge’ (1965) was written within an educational and philosophical tradition which linked what we mean by education to the nature and division of knowledge. Roughly speaking, the argument was as follows. ‘Education’ picks out a range of activities which have this in common: they aim to help people acquire, through learning, mental qualities which are considered to be worthwhile, and any characterisation of these worthwhile qualities must be spelt out in terms of the different ways in which we make sense of experience. An understanding therefore of educational activities involves insights both from ethics and from the philosophy of knowledge. On the one hand, ‘education’ is an evaluative term (it picks out those activities which are judged to be worthwhile) and, on the other, it picks out a specific sort of worthwhileness—namely, the improvement of the mind through the greater capacity to think, to reason and to understand.
It follows that the liberally educated person is one who, thus initiated into the different forms of understanding, has developed a ‘cognitive perspective’; who has acquired the different concepts, mastered the different modes of enquiry and internalised the different standards of judgement whereby true propositions are distinguished from false, valid arguments from invalid, and correct judgements from erroneous ones. The description of education as liberal simply emphasises this cognitive dimension—the liberation from ignorance, the capacity thus engendered for participating in a broad range of knowledge-based activities, and the empowerment that arises from the insights into different ways of understanding.
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Publication information: Book title: Beyond Liberal Education: Essays in Honour of Paul H. Hirst. Contributors: Robin Barrow - Author, Patricia White - Author. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1993. Page number: 49.
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