Values and Knowledge

Values and Knowledge

Values and Knowledge

Values and Knowledge

Synopsis

The chapters in this book emerged from a set of concerns with values and developments articulated by the editors in the 23rd Annual Symposium of the Jean Piaget Society in 1993, with guidance from the Society's Board of Directors.

Excerpt

David Hume pointed out long ago that values are simultaneously the easiest and the most difficult topic on which to reach agreement. He noted that everyone everywhere agrees that we should strive for good and avoid evil. That is the easy part. The difficult part is knowing what is good and what is evil. And what about those gray areas in between? Hume's truism still resonates for us, both concerning the politics of values and concerning our psychological or pedagogical theories of the role of valuation in development.

Whenever values are discussed at a general or abstract level, there is a tendency for deceptive agreement. For example, many in the United States had taken it for granted that the values of tolerance and respect for the rights of individuals were widely agreed to be a basic tenet of American life. Yet in the last few years, attempts to implement this set of values as an organizing principle for social studies education have met with considerable resistance from many Americans in any number of school districts across the country. Tolerance in general is one principle, it would seem, but specific kinds of tolerance -- toward non-Christians, or non-heterosexuals, for example -- are perceived as something else again. This political fact may be uncomfortable and distressing, but we must reach beyond our discomfort to see the psychological truth revealed by such phenomena.

This psychological truth has profound consequences. To state it simply -- no doubt oversimply -- we must come to understand that the "values" animating human behavior and thought are not only abstractions that are applied, with varying degrees of success, to different situations; values are also partic-

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