Keywords Religious education · Indoctrination · Plato · Meno’s Paradox · Augustine · Memory · Eucharist
‘After all, who is so foolishly curious as to send his son to school to learn what the teacher thinks?’—Augustine of Hippo (c. 389/1995, p. 145).
* Daniel Moulin-Stożek firstname.lastname@example.org Ryan Haecker email@example.com 1 Peterhouse, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 1RD, UK 2 Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, 184 Hills Rd, Cambridge CB2 8PQ, UK
R. Haecker, D. Moulin-Stożek
Since the 1970s, philosophers of education have tended to hold religious education under suspicion as an example of indoctrination ‘par excellence’ (White 1970, p. 109).
As the claims of religion are contestable, it seems to many that compulsory religious edu- cation is questionable, and religious initiation in childhood may be morally reprehensible (Tillson 2011, 2019). Against any such suspicion, the ancient African theologian, philoso- pher, and Doctor of the Church, Saint Augustine of Hippo, casts aside the authority of the teacher and recommends a programme of education that may be more liberal precisely because it is more religious. Although ancient in provenance, this radical position repre- sents a novel turn in the philosophy of education. The possibility of religious education has been repeatedly contested by philosophers of education in the tradition of Analytic Philos- ophy of religious education (for example, see Attﬁeld 1978; Hand 2006; Hirst 1974; Mar- ples 1978), only more recently being reconsidered—and ‘reframed’—through the lens of post-secularity (Lewin 2016). Much of the scepticism about traditional forms of religious education has centred on a philosophical problem ﬁrst proposed by Paul Hirst (1974), and later examined by Michael Hand (2006). The problematic of religious education turns on the justiﬁcation of religious propositions: religious knowledge requires an assent to cer- tain ‘religious propositions’; yet, it seems, the truth criteria of such religious propositions depend on faith, are private, and, as such, are not available to public scrutiny; therefore, religious education is not justiﬁable, nor indeed, even possible. Key to this argument is the supposed ‘private language’ of religious propositions: for, following Ludwig Wittgenstein, we suppose that a private act of faith excluded any public justiﬁcation as true. Against this supposition, we may with Augustine argue that the supposedly private reserve of human subjectivity is radically open, as much to divine grace, as to public reason (Hanby 2003).
Where, for Augustine, education is only possible through an inner awareness of a divine illumination, for Hirst, religious propositions are rejected outright, neither as knowable, nor as reducible to veriﬁable propositions. Against Hirst, however, we argue that a robust education requires, not only any assemblage of veriﬁable propositions, but, rather a certain recollection of the highest ideas, which were primordially announced in our oldest myths, and continue to be performed today in the rites of our religious observances.
Analytic philosophy of education has often tended to marginalize the religious as a set of propositions that can either be publicly veriﬁed or excluded from knowledge, as from any publicly sponsored programme of education. It has rendered the ‘religious’ as a static inventory of discrete judgments rather than a living tradition of corporately recollective practices. Hirst (1966), for example, had recommended that the subject epistemes of any curriculum of religious education should be either publicly veriﬁable or dismissed as inco- herent. We may, however, wager to begin from a radically diﬀerent starting point. We sug- gest that just as history is taught according to the practice of historians, religious educa- tion should be taught according to the practice of the religious, open to a recollection, and explored by a philosophical theology of education. Such a philosophical theology of educa- tion should, we suggest, be considered diﬀerently than an exercise in theology, as it invites an engagement with theology with the methods of philosophy. At variance with the rheto- ric of most analytic philosophy of education, our approach retains a more liberal openness of education to the religious. And rather than attempting to analyse religious into secular propositions, it instead seeks to critique this secular mode of exclusion. Theology is a sui generis discipline that gestures to God as its supreme object. Religious education may, in a similar way, raise some of the greatest questions for education. Given its distinct form of knowledge, Hirst and others reject religious education on account of its supposed lack of objectivity. Were the religious, in this way, to be analysable into ordinary propositions, the discipline of theology would appear as but an inessential supplement to the secular, as also
Recollecting the Religious: Augustine in Answer to Meno’s…
to any secularizing philosophy of education. The religious would, on this view, be thought to add nothing of any essential importance to the secular. Yet, we may argue, it is precisely on account of this presumption that the philosophy of education has tended to silence the problematic voices of religion in education. To listen to theology may, more radically, call us to reconsider, not only how religious education may be possible, but also and especially how theology can be shown to make the most decisive contribution to the philosophy of education. We wish, for this purpose, to invite a Christian theological investigation into an essential problematic of the philosophy of education. We recommend a novel approach to the philosophy of education that will be better equipped to answer to the most forgotten questions of religious education—the questions of theology.
The Problems of Religious Education
We may begin by considering the distinction between ‘confessional’ and ‘non-confes- sional’ religious education. The former is educating for faith within a given tradition, the latter a multi-faith approach that seeks to educate ‘about’ the facts of religions. Hirst had early held the concept of education to be of the ‘nature of knowledge itself’ for which the beliefs of a non-confessional religious education shared a ‘distinctive logical structure’; but later changed his mind and argued, to the contrary, that the propositions of such a non-con- fessional religious education could have no unique logical form of meaning, knowledge, or belief that could ever be corroborated by evidence or argument that may be open to public scrutiny. Hand (2006) subsequently argued against Hirst, that, although religion may be a unique form of knowledge, religious propositions can be analysed to show that their mean- ings do not diﬀer in epistemological type from ordinary propositions. He argues that ‘reli- gious propositions can be distributed without remainder’ (p. 93) to non-religious proposi- tions, about gods with ‘minds and bodies’ (p. 118) which can be evaluated according to the same criteria of secular reason. Hand can, accordingly, conclude that religious education is possible. Yet, with this argument, he also appears to have tacitly assimilated religious to secular propositions, for which the religious is rendered as but a species of secular reason.
We may, however, start to question this dichotomy of confessional and non-confes- sional religious education on the basis that all education is in a certain sense confessional.
Thompson (2004) for example, has argued that the eﬀorts of ‘non-confessional’ religious education have merely served to promote the religious positions implicit in any given over-arching frame, such as radical pluralism for example. We also observe that theol- ogy, Christian or otherwise, is, as Augustine suggests, not necessarily ‘confessional’ in the problematic sense of religious indoctrination. We leave to another occasion the question of which educational and theological methods may or may not be justiﬁed within a soci- ety of plural religious beliefs. For the purposes of this argument, it suﬃces for us to sug- gest that the divorce of theology from religious education has resulted in its crisis and the philosophy of education has exerted a strong inﬂuence upon this. In the latter half of the twentieth century, as we have seen, inﬂuential philosophers of education in the analytic tra- dition had pursued a largely positivist appraisal of religious belief in educational curricula.
Under such scrutiny, religious belief began to appear essentially problematic for secular education: for, it seemed, that if there is no objective religious knowledge, any attempt at religious education should either be preserved privately within one or another particular tradition where claims to knowledge are those that may be mediated by ‘culture’, or be merely an exercise in studying anthropological summaries of the various beliefs, rituals,
R. Haecker, D. Moulin-Stożek
institutions or ‘worldviews’ that may here and there be collected like a cabinet of idle curi- osities from around the world. On this view ‘confessional’ religious education may appear as little more than an indoctrination into an inherited melange of ultimately meaningless propositions that should be banished from public life. Yet such a ‘non-confessional’ reli- gious education would also tend to ignore the interior role of religious knowledge in per- sonal formation and marginalise adherents of religious and secular worldviews within its hegemonic framework. It erects a colonial ontology in the classroom under the guise of a conceited neutrality that may be problematic for both the religious and the secular alike as it preserves in some distorted forms, a vague commitment to the value of ‘religion’ as an anthropological category.
We may, on the contrary, stage a critique of the secular neutrality of religious studies. It has been previously argued by the Cambridge School of Radical Orthodoxy that the anar- chic plurality of postmodern narratives admits, not only of a subtraction of the religious, but, decisively, of a performative elision of this secular narrative, in favour of a post-sec- ular alternative, which may creatively extend beyond theology to philosophy, as well as to the philosophy of education (see Milbank et al. 1998). Simon Oliver (2008) has, for this purpose, previously argued that the relegation of theology to religious studies, and of religious education to the most marginal of the humanities, has resulted from a series of increasingly untenable philosophical dualisms—between public and private belief, as well as between faith and reason. He contends, with William Cavanaugh, that the public–pri- vate duality is the product of a narrative of the Wars of Religion that had been made for the purpose of legitimizing the secular autonomy of the modern nation state. And he fur- ther contends, following St Anselm of Canterbury, that the faith-reason duality can also be elided by appealing to a faith that is incipiently rational in its desire to know that which is true. With this double-elision of all such secular dualities, Oliver thus recommends a post- secular position for the philosophy of education, which may dispense with the presumption of any secular starting point for education. It announces a theoretical rupture with secular philosophies of education. And, as educationists, the ancestral practice of the religious may continue to reverberate in philosophies of education.
We may return, from this rupture of the post-secular, to the central questions of theol- ogy. We may ask: How is learning possible? How may we move from a position of not- knowing to a position of knowing? and, were it possible, how could we in knowing also know that of which we do not know? We shall consider Plato’s Meno paradox for the pur- pose of reframing the question of the possibility of religious education. In asking how it is possible to come to know that which is not in some sense already known, Meno’s Paradox will raise what is perhaps the most originary question of the possibility of inquiry. In ques- tioning the possibility of inquiry, it raises a problem of fundamental importance for the philosophy of education. With Augustine, we shall suggest a recollection of the possibil- ity of learning that is centered on the practice of religion, especially as it may even today be recollected in the studies of religious education: ﬁrst, we introduce Meno’s Paradox as an essential problematic for the philosophy of education; second, we read Augustine’s reﬂections on memory and time to reconstruct a novel answer, in which the ‘mansions of memory’ are held in reserve for the creative ‘making’ of new knowledge; and third, we argue, with Augustine, that such a creative making of new knowledge can be corporately recollected in the liturgical rite of the Eucharist. We argue, in conclusion, that the essen- tial problematic of Meno’s Paradox can be answered, not by predicating the ‘religious’ of education, but, more radically, by founding any programme of education on the practice of religion.
Recollecting the Religious: Augustine in Answer to Meno’s…
Meno’s Paradox of Inquiry
To explore the possibility of inquiry, learning and teaching, Plato presents Meno’s Paradox (Plato c.380BCE/1994). In the Meno dialogue, Plato asks us to suppose that knowledge is either known or unknown: if known, then a search is not necessary; and if not known, then a search is not possible (80d-e). Since we do not search for what is known, but only for what is unknown; we may only start to search for what is not known. Yet, if we search for what is not known, and we can only discover that which in some sense is already known, then, it seems, we can never discover anything that we do not in some sense already know.
Socrates objects that this ‘trick argument’ is framed by a sophistic dichotomy between knowing and not-knowing, which, with its exclusive negation of a tertium quid intermedi- ary, renders impossible any discovery of knowledge (80e). What is needed is something novel to emerge from the analysis of any inquiry; something not previously assumed of those who begin to search—else the search would be needless from the very beginning.
An answer to Meno’s Paradox may thus require an analysis of the possibility of learning, in which the ignorance with which the search for knowledge begins is determinative of the discovery in which knowledge may yet be found.
Socrates pursues an answer to the second lemma, that if knowledge is not-known then it can never come to be known, and argues, to the contrary, that knowledge must, in some sense already be known if it can come to be known in any discovery. Yet if one knows before one learns, and all learning occurs during life, then one must in some sense fore- know before one has learnt anything in life; before our entire life of learning; and, as he suggests, even before we were born. For this reason, Socrates asks us to entertain the ancient religious belief of the poets, priests, and philosophers that the soul is immortal; has been born before; and has learned all that can be known (81a-e). To illustrate this theory in practice, Socrates cross-examines a child with no previous knowledge of mathematics, and without oﬀering any answers, observes as he intuitively solves a series of geometric problems (82b-85b). Plato suggests: ‘the soul, since it is immortal and has been born many times, and has seen all things both here and in the other world, has learned everything that is’ (81c).
Some commentators have suggested Meno’s Paradox is not really a paradox at all, insisting it rests on a mere equivocation. John Dewey claimed that the ‘Greek dilemma’ overlooked the possibility of hypothesis, conjecture and tentative knowledge in the pur- suit of science (Dewey 1916). Following Wittgenstein (1958), philosophers of education in the analytic tradition have argued that we may come to know new things through the veriﬁcation of propositions by publicly available evidence, and through the logical anal- ysis of those propositions and those which may be known a priori, such as in the case of mathematics. The example in the Meno of the child solving the geometric problems may perhaps accord well with a Hirstian conception of education as the acquisition of knowledge in learning the application of logically coherent propositions. And according to Hand, it also presents a paradigmatic example of how philosophy should be con- ducted: conceptual analysis is possible by coming to a new understanding of what was previously unconsidered through the ‘disciplined scrutiny of the meanings of words, of the ways in which words are logically connected’ (Hand 2001, p. 71). Plato’s doctrine of recollection will serve as a useful metaphor to understand how recollection may make explicit certain answers to philosophical questions that had otherwise been only latent in our understanding. Yet, for Hand, such a recollection cannot be more than an empty metaphor. In a stricter sense it would require having known and having come to know
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in a previous life, and, as such, provides no real explanation of the process of knowing.
Furthermore, it is unnecessary because philosophical knowledge only requires thinking through the logical application of the language we already know. As such, we would argue that it neglects to attend to the gravity of this paradox of inquiry as a concern of the philosophy of religious education.
Augustine rejected Plato’s solution to the Meno Paradox. He also would have rejected Hand’s. He dismissed Socrates’ dialogue with the child for it made no sense to argue learning mathematics was possible because everyone had been a geometer in a previ- ous life (King 1998). Given Augustine’s own theory of learning this lack of attention is unsurprising. For Augustine, learning does not principally occur in the process of our eﬀorts to verify the truth of propositions, or even by a corresponding reference to any fact of external reality. Such demands for veriﬁcation have arisen from a conspicuously modern predicament, in which the proposition is rendered as the atomic ground of truth, and the external world has been held apart from the originary source of divine creation.
Rather, he insists, it occurs through a process of inner reﬂection, or of divine illumina- tion. Philosophy is, for Augustine, not, therefore, a project of analysing language, words, and signs. Otherwise we would forever be trapped at the superﬁcial level of mere words which do not teach us. Philosophy must, moreover, move beyond the evident meaning of words to their interior meanings. This is of critical importance to our argument. For if the claims of religion were not based on a knowable reality independent of the teacher, religious education really would be impossible. The sentence that follows the quotation of Augustine introduced at the beginning of this article indicates this view: When teachers have explained by means of words … those who are called ‘stu- dents’ consider within themselves whether truths have been stated. They do so by looking upon the inner Truth, according to their abilities Augustine (c.389/1995, p. 145).
The relevance of Augustine’s theory to contemporary philosophy of language has long been established. For example, King (1998) and Matthews (2003) have shown how as it eludes a Wittgensteinian externalist account of language, it anticipates the prob- lem of meaning Searle identiﬁes in the well-known ‘Chinese room argument’. Our con- cern at present, however, is to consider how Augustine would solve the Meno paradox when applied to the more speciﬁc problem of religious education. This is especially relevant given the distinct nature of religious knowledge in Augustine’s philosophy.
We pursue such a solution by recommending a novel turn in Augustinian scholarship to consider how Augustine’s famous Confessions (c.400/2012) can be read in anticipa- tion of an answer to Meno’s Paradox. Examining the Confessions will allow us to give a rich account of how religious education may be possible, including how the acquisition of religious knowledge may be mediated by aﬀect and memory, among other things.
Although theological in its method and conclusions, Augustine’s answer is rigorously philosophical in its method, and, for this very reason, serves as a useful example of how theology can engage with philosophy, as well as with the philosophy of religious