Humane Education and Humanistic Philosophy: Toward a New Curriculum

By Thomas, Sydney Carroll; Beirne, Piers | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Humane Education and Humanistic Philosophy: Toward a New Curriculum


Thomas, Sydney Carroll, Beirne, Piers, Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development


The authors argue that humane education should be an integral part of humanistic philosophy. They outline 2 key components of a humane education: (a) an understanding of the sociological and psychological dimensions of animal abuse and (b) the cultivation of empathy for nonhuman animals.

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The Greatness of a Nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way that its animals are treated.

--Gandhi

The special issue of The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development on Character Education (Hayes & Hagedorn, 2000), although timely and very welcome, we believe was deficient in at least one important respect. This was its lack of attention to the important role of humane education in a well-rounded humanistic philosophy. The cultivation of empathy with our fellow creatures and the understanding of how humans often abuse them are, and must be, essential ingredients of a properly humanistic philosophy. The virtual exclusion of humane education from the disciplines that study and foster character education and development for children is unfortunate because, as Gandhi pointed out, respect for nonhuman animals is a sine qua non of a civilized society.

In this article, we offer a preliminary account of two key components of a humane education. The first is an understanding of the sociological and psychological dimensions of animal abuse. The presentation of animal abuse here focuses largely on its occurrence with other forms of family violence. The second is the need for a cultivation of empathy for nonhuman animals (henceforth, animals). Empathy for animals is not only beneficial in its own right (i.e., for animals' well-being) but also because an informed interaction with animals can aid healthy character development in children.

Much of the contemporary literature on animal advocacy draws its inspiration from the writings of a small group of moral philosophers. The erstwhile goal of these philosophers has been the deconstruction of practices that promote the satisfaction of human interests at the expense of those of animals. Largely through the vehicles of utilitarianism (Singer, 1975) and liberal rights theory (Regan, 1983), they have attempted to create a discourse that might better describe and more justly govern human relationships with animals. These two basic philosophical frameworks can be distinguished from each other by their respective answers to a number of difficult questions about animal welfare and animal rights, about the nature of the "good" society, and about the role of a responsible citizenry within it. How do animals differ from humans? Are the interests of animals in avoiding pain of the same sort as those of humans? Are the grounds for not abusing animals the same as those for not abusing humans?

To the founding statements of utilitarianism and liberal rights theory must now be added the pioneering contributions of feminist philosophers and philosophers of science (Adams & Donovan, 1995; Donovan & Adams, 1996; Haraway, 1989; Noske, 1997). Indeed, feminist theorists such as Adams and Donovan (1995) have argued passionately that utilitarianism and liberal rights theory are fundamentally flawed in their reverence for science. Scientific rationalism leads not to a politics of humaneness but to a masculinist one of exclusion. The feminist perspective(s) on animals and animal advocacy is especially helpful. Whereas utilitarianism has stressed the importance of a rational calculus of pain and pleasure, feminist scholars stress the importance of commonalities with animals. These commonalities include common sources of oppression and the need for humans to have an emotional bonding with animals. Whereas liberal rights theory argues in abstract terms for abstract rights and equality, feminism instead stresses the cardinal importance of developing an ethic of compassion and care. …

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