The Ethics of Teaching and Scientific Research

By Sidney Hook; Paul Kurtz et al. | Go to book overview

Objectivity and Indoctrination

Fred Baumann
Assistant Executive Secretary of UCRA

The ethical problem of distinguishing between objectivity and indoctrination in teaching rests on some presupposed, traditional arguments. Objectivity and indoctrination are names for methods; and, obviously, they are terms of praise and blame. But what is praised in the method of objectivity, and what is blamed in indoctrination?

Indoctrination evidently means teaching what is not actually known to be true as though it were known. In terms of effect, indoctrination need not be conscious. By contrast, objectivity means strictly refraining from teaching as known that which is unknown. The distinction between methods thus rests on the difference between knowledge and the appearance of knowledge, that is, opinion.

Telling the difference between knowledge and opinion is a perennial difficulty. Opinion is thought that stops short and draws conclusions prematurely. Passion, laziness, and prejudice encourage one to settle for opinion rather than knowledge. Even knowledge of only a small part, rather than knowledge of a larger part or the whole, may prove to be fundamentally defective. Thus it did not appear, prior to the Scientific Revolution, that any method could ensure the separation of knowledge from opinion unless that method was founded already on knowledge of the whole.

The introduction of politics into the university curriculum a century ago was not the first time that the problem was raised of distinguishing the teaching of knowledge from the teaching of opinion. One Renaissance university made dual appointments — e.g., hiring a Pla

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