Hermeneutic understanding and the liberal aims of education
This thesis attempts to adapt Hans-Georg Gadamer's conception of hermeneutic understanding such that it may be of service in the conceptualisation and promotion of liberal educational aims. The thesis takes as its starting point an account of the liberal aims of education which can be summarised as an attempt to transpose the political liberalism of John Stuart Mill into practical educational aims. The argument is made that, in the context of late modernity, these aims are in need of renewal and reinterpretation. In particular, traditional conceptions of the liberal educational aim of personal autonomy based on a model of informed desire satisfaction are argued to be inadequate. Whilst the model of informed desire satisfaction in general is endorsed, criticism is brought to bear on the attendant account of the cognitive requirements for living a liberally conceived flourishing life. Specifically it is argued that the information needed for living a flourishing life cannot be adequately understood as objective knowledge. Rather, knowledge of oneself, of others, and of the institutions and practices of one's society, is argued to be better described as a form of social scientific understanding. Furthermore, this understanding is argued to be hermeneutical in character. Following from the tradition of hermeneutic phenomenology pioneered by Heidegger and developed by Gadamer, an attempt is made to formulate a version of hermeneutic understanding that is philosophically acceptable and of potential practical value in the articulation and promotion of liberal aims of education. In response to the structures and processes associated with the practical and critical conception of hermeneutic understanding generated, some key liberal educational aims are rethought. Consideration is given to the means of promoting hermeneutic understanding in learners as a contribution to the fulfilment of these aims.