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Education as a Human Sciencelocked

Education as a Human Sciencelocked

  • Philip HiggsPhilip HiggsUniversity of South Africa


The debate concerning the nature of education, and more particularly the debate as it is directed toward the discourse and logic of schooling, has customarily taken place within the social science tradition. As a result, educational research has been characterized by a modern positivist science which has tended to privilege knowledge relevant to a technocratic evaluation and control of educational relationships and achievements through a process of socialization. From the relationship between student and teacher to the relationship between school and society, the widespread acceptance of quantitative research findings and behavioristic theory reveals that the evaluation of educational issues has been tied to an understanding of reality as ideological as it is “scientific.” What should constitute a scientific inquiry that effectively counters positivist assumptions and what should characterize the inquirer’s relation to the real are still central questions within educational theory and practice in the philosophy of education.

In responding to these questions, the positioning of education in the social science tradition has given rise to the politicization of education in an ideologically directed process of socialization which, in turn, has resulted in education, including schooling, being subjected to the idiosyncratic stranglehold and abuse of ideological and cultural considerations propagated in the name of a pseudo-scientific scientism. Furthermore, the problem concerning the nature of education is more authentically situated within the human science tradition than within the social sciences. This argument is grounded on a fundamental objection to positivism and the influence that this has had on the tradition of the social sciences.


  • Educational Theories and Philosophies

Sometimes I dream that I am an astronaut. I land my spaceship on a distant planet. When I tell the children on that planet that on earth school is compulsory and that we have homework every evening, they split their sides laughing. and so I decide to stay with them for a long time, a long long time—well anyway, until the summer holidays.

On the first day back at school in September, David, aged seven and a half, comes home with the following homework: he has to learn this little story by Erhardt Dietl. In the space of one hour he can recite it in the right tone of voice without any mistakes. He has drawn the distant planet in his exercise book and the spaceship approaching it. The first thing that school makes him learn is the happiness of a world without school, with no obligations and no homework. This world only exists on another planet. It is reached in a spaceship. The story does not say whether the little dreamer had to study to learn how to pilot the spaceship. It seems just as natural as climbing onto a bicycle. Years ago my sister and I would go off with two or three little friends, on long bicycle rides into the blue Atlantic summer, with our parents’ blessing and our day’s supplies of food on our carriers.

To educate is to lead out. The moderns have stressed the efforts necessary to lead and let oneself be led out of nature toward language. But “out” is possibly not “outside.” It is no doubt within, far inside. One cannot reach it by uprooting oneself but by plunging deep within toward what is most intimate, where lies desire. The child knows a lot more than we do about this state of dependency not only in relation to adults, but to what he cherishes in himself, with or against “big people,” well or badly.

When are we educated? When we know more or less which is the far-off planet we desire, and when we do all that we can to set off for it. If adults are often tough and sad, it is because they are disappointed. They do not listen well enough to the invitation to grace which is in them. They let the spaceship rust.

They take their holidays on the Riviera or in Florida. They really need them for their work exhausts them. To carry out their work, they have to give up their desire. Yet giving it up is impossible. In each of us there is an unconquerable resistance to the serious “ends” that social life proposes, a profession, a career, success. These ends count for nothing against a bicycle ride to another planet. This does not mean that I am advocating spontaneity as a pedagogical method and I don’t believe that children are angelic. We are in debt to them and there is only one way to clear this debt, by assisting them to take off in their spaceship to the planet of their dreams.

—Spaceship (Jean-Francois Lyotard)


In the epigraph entitled Spaceship, we are provided with a parody of the existing tension between the social and humane determinants in education which play themselves out in the “unconquerable resistance to the serious ends that social life proposes” that “count nothing against a bicycle ride to another planet.”

The categorical misplacement of education is one of the consequences derived from the view that perceives education to be part of the social science tradition rather than one of the studia humanitatis in the tradition of the human sciences. Such a view of education, however, it is argued, not only represents a categorical misplacement but also subjects education to the idiosyncratic stranglehold and abuse of various political, social, economic, and ideological considerations. To redress this situation, there needs to be a paradigm shift in education theory and practice, which will perceive education as a human and not only a social science. Such a response will reveal that education, practiced in the tradition of the human sciences, is more concerned with philosophy and the individual human being than with processes of socialization and ideological propagation, and that in its endeavors it stands ready to participate in, and contribute to, creative dialogue directed at the improvement of the quality of human existence by means of the educative act as a distinctively human act. This transition in perspective will also reveal that education, practiced in the tradition of the human sciences, is not a dogma of ideological intent but rather an art that is distinguished by an open, critical stance which encourages inquiry, discussion, debate, and creative lifelong learning.

The intention in adopting such a paradigmatic perspective is not to focus on the juxtaposition of the social and the human in education as is evidenced, for example, in the analysis by Rorty (1990) of socialization and individuation where he claims that the word education covers two entirely distinct and equally necessary processes, namely, socialization and individuation. Although Rorty is thinking about formal education in this instance, it is equally appropriate for other forms of education. The view of education as initiation into worthwhile knowledge coupled with questioning and critical thinking (Peters, 1968) is compatible with this, as is the idea of primitive authority (Winch, 1991), and the paradigmatic approach with reference to socialization and problem solving (Dewey, 2008), Ranciere’s (see Biesta & Bingham, 2010; Lambert, 2012) thoughts on socialization and provocation, and those of Biesta (2015) who writes about socialization and subjectification. The argument in these positions is thast for human beings to become educated, they first need to be inducted into the store of worthwhile knowledge that society has to offer (socialization); this provides them with a basis for subsequent criticism and questioning of the very society of which they are a part (individuation).The idea, as stated by Wittgenstein (1977), is that doubt comes after belief or that the terms of later questioning make use of concepts belonging to a context in which a great deal was not questioned. To put it even more plainly, we cannot be critical beings out of nothing. Both socialization and individuation are, therefore, necessary for education.

However, the argument here is not concerned with the integration between the social and the human when it comes to education. Rather, it is to highlight the limitations and dangers of a hegemonic view of social science in relation to education which mitigates against a view of education that lays claim to the primacy of agency as the aim of education. Such a hegemonic view of social science, it is argued, results in the politicization of education and serves the interests of the state’s programs of political, social, and economic intent.

Education as a Social Science

Within the social sciences, education has generally, and more particularly as it is directed at the discourse and logic of schooling, been perceived as a process of socialization (see Bourdieu & Passeron, 1970). This is attested by Durkheim (1956, p. 70) who claims that the social sciences recognize that society can survive only if there exists among its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity, and that education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the child, from the beginning, the essential similarities that collective life demands. The social sciences, and more specifically education as a social science, do not, therefore, generally make any distinction between socialization and education. These sciences seem not to admit of anything that is of human value outside society, and so initiation into any aspect of human existence must be socialization. This emphasis on the fundamental importance of society to human existence is also voiced by Durkheim (1956, p. 76) when he states: “Man is man, in fact, only because he lives in a society.”

Becoming socialized is, therefore, the process of being fitted into a complex social environment and in this process a certain limited set from the indeterminately large range of human potentialities is actualized. The limited set is that shared by other members of society into which the individual person is being initiated. The initiation of children by adults into society, in this general sense, is what Durkheim (1956, p. 71) calls education when he argues: “Education consists of a methodical socialisation of the young generation.”

It is thus evident that the view of education as a process of socialization is firmly entrenched in social science research, which Winch (1990, pp. 1–6) maintains is meant to provide us with an interpretative understanding of the sense of social actions and practices, so that we may, in the words of Parsons (1951, p. 51), acquire a proper relation to society and its ideological infrastructure. Jubber (1983, p. 62), in considering the nature of the social sciences, believes that the social sciences in their concern with processes of socialization are not autonomous social practices but products of the society of which they form a part; that is, social science research is to a large extent determined by the ideological persuasion of the society in which it is conducted.

In recent times, the notion of education as a social science has been articulated in Marxist and neo-Marxist paradigms as evidenced in the many pronouncements of critical pedagogy whose origins can be traced to the Frankfurt school which is most closely associated with the work of Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Jurgen Habermas.

Critical pedagogy, which has also been referred to as “the new sociology of education,” emphasizes the theme of democratic schooling and empowerment, because education, in the practice of schooling, is directed at replacing those with power with those who are viewed as powerless. This might well also be called “the social engineering view of education in the role of schooling,” as schools are functionally related to society. The function of schooling is to contribute to, maintain, or undermine society, while schools are also seen as potentially powerful instruments to be used in achieving prescribed social ends. In terms of such a view, education, in the practice of schooling, is deliberately manipulated to maximize economic, social, and political efficiency. This means that education, in this instance, is fundamentally informed by political expediency and societal needs determined by the dominant or ruling group and its ideology in society, and that individuals are constrained and molded by the sui generis of this particular social reality. In this sense, education as a social science represents the knowledge of a particular social group that perceives the task of education as enabling individuals to focus upon, and relate to, the social and cultural elements that underpin the ideological infrastructure of their society. The persons that education should realize in individuals are, consequently, not the persons that nature has made them but rather the persons as society in terms of the dominant group wishes them to be.

Such a narrow utilitarian view of education as a process of socialization not only depersonalizes the education discourse but also does not account for the possibility of the learner participating critically in the learning interaction, in that it emphasizes the maintenance of particular social and cultural norms in order to provide the necessary homogeneity for social survival and political domination. Insofar as education is associated with this process of socialization, it can be said that education as a social science represents as much an expression of a people’s ideology as it does a defense of that ideology. In this sense, education theory and practice, as well as social science research, is always a political act when it constitutes an assertion of group interests in maintaining relations of domination and power. As a result, the possibilities of education as a social science are at best limited, and at worst mystifying in regard to the very human condition that education intends to illuminate.

Consequently, a shift in scientific orientation is argued for in claiming that education is more authentically situated in the human sciences rather than only within the tradition of the social sciences. This is because the nature of education as a distinctively human activity transcends the bounds of particular social and cultural definitions enunciated in ideologically founded social, political, and economic systems, in that education is primarily concerned with the notion of agency and those human values descriptive of the human condition. In this sense, education as a human science seeks to liberate the consciousness of people into considering the possibilities of their human condition. This is not to deny the significance of social and cultural values in human existence or to negate the particularity of real individuals, for human values are captured and expressed in human particularity, while the individual person represents the archimedes point for all endeavors concerned with education. Rather, the intention is to emphasize that it is the vital nature of being human as revealed in the individual person and not the ideological and political aspirations of dominant factions in society that indicates the primary concern of education as a human science.

Education as a Human Science

The human science tradition calls for fidelity to human experience in the realm of scientific endeavor while the purpose of human science research is a moral one: to humanize everyday life by producing scientific knowledge that is relevant to the individual person instead of being purely theoretical. This essentially human orientation accords with the stated objective of the human sciences that Taylor (1985, p. 11) enunciates as the deepening of our understanding of what it is to live a human life. Such knowledge is empirical because it is gained through disciplined descriptions and interpretations of human experience (see Mollenhauer, 2013).

Education as a human science calls for fidelity to human experience in education. This means that education should be dealt with in words, with feeling, and from a human perspective. Such a human perspective defies a purely empirical science of education and undermines any a priori commitment to education as evidenced in forms of naive realism and certain normative views about human nature and education. In the human science of education there are no governing equations, no unifying principles or theories, no experiments that remain invariant under given transformational rules. Rather, each of us perceives education from our own individual human perspective, and from that vantage we confer meaning on it. The sum of this communal subjectivity, which cannot be ignored in any objective analysis of education, is the concern of education as a human science.

In its scientific orientation as human science, education is, therefore, taken up with the problem of interpreting and describing the nature of education as a distinctively human act. In doing so, education as a human science serves the cause of education by submitting society’s educational systems, institutions, policies, goals, and value systems to constant critical review to safeguard human values. Such a concern for human values stands in marked opposition to any form of ideological domination or assertion of group interests directed at maintaining such relations by means of a process of socialization. In this respect, education as a human science takes on a distinctively anti-ideological stance and stands in marked contrast to those endeavors of the social sciences which have been directed at the politicization of education.

The obfuscating effects of practices of socialization immerse individuals in ideological and political concerns suffused with historically specific values enunciated in final or absolute statements of beliefs and answers. The notions of finality and a sense of the absolute are characteristics of a positivist view of knowledge. Such a view claims that an objective, scientific-rational approach to the world is the sole means of acquiring knowledge. According to this view, elements such as commitment, imagination, and values are considered significantly less important or ignored altogether. Such a positivist model of scientific rationality, which emphasizes that the minimum requirements for the scientific character of all research are logical consistency, objectivity, verification, and absolute freedom from all values, represents a belief in a type of scientific rationality that can best be described as a pseudo-scientific scientism.

In its scientific orientation, however, education as a human science runs counter to this form of scientism with its emphasis on value neutrality and the construction of empirical theories of social behavior and development with their normative presuppositions. Such empirical theories and their accompanying analyses direct scientists to look for regularities as the only acceptable basis for describing social phenomena, including education. They also require scientists to believe that there is no reason in principle why human actions should not be viewed and explained in just the same way as natural events which respond to patterns of fixed determination. In attempting to describe the sameness, while not denying the differences that are encountered in human reality, education’s scientific orientation must not, however, be confused with these positivistic inclinations in their many varied forms of fixed rationality, objectivism, determinism, subjectivism, and final answers. As a human science, education is critical of all forms of absolutism and moral smugness in the sense that one has an unquestionable hold on what is really or essentially true and right. The human science, education, recognizes that human reality is a complex dialectic of open possibilities, while education scientists, as human scientists, are aware of the human qualities of objective reality which have been emphasized at great length in the literature on the sociology of knowledge. According to this literature, our access to reality is inevitably conditioned by local beliefs about what is to count as knowledge. In other words, it is argued that our concepts and attitudes are shaped by historical circumstances. Furthermore, it is also argued that the explanation of human behavior and the explanation of natural events are logically distinct undertakings, and that the positivist contention that all successful explanations must conform to the same deductive model is fundamentally misconceived. As a result, a case is made for the development of a hermeneutic approach to the human sciences, an approach that will do justice to the claim that the explanation of human action should always include, and ever perhaps take the form of, an attempt to recover and interpret the meaning of human action from the point of view of the agents performing them.

In adopting such an interpretative approach in its descriptive endeavors, education as a human science recognizes the limits of human ability to arrive at absolute truth. There is an awareness in its scientific practice that reality cannot be described without making choices between alternative categories, models, and strategies. It is also acknowledged that these choices are influenced by values inherent in human experience, and that whenever choices are made, the responsibility for those choices must be accepted. The scientific practice of education as a human science, consequently, tends to bring some humility with it in recognizing that the search for truth cannot be undertaken by rational or technological means only because truth is encountered in the dynamic nature of human reality and existence. This means that even though, knowledge is attained by conceptual means, we should recognize that those very same concepts are themselves rooted in intersubjective biographies.

In its practice as a human science, education is, therefore, concerned with a way of living more than with a method of knowing. This means that education as a human science, in seeking for an ever-increasing verisimilitude in its study of the nature of education, seeks to be validated by being lived. The word nature should, however, not be mystified. By nature, is not meant some mysterious entity or discovery, nor some ultimate core or residue of meaning. Rather, the term nature may be understood as a linguistic construction, a description. In this instance, a good description that constitutes the nature of some phenomenon is construed in such a way that the structure of a lived experience is revealed to us in such a fashion that we can grasp the nature and significance of this experience in a hitherto unseen way. Education as a human science, in its inquiry into the nature of education—a lived experience—is, therefore, not unlike an artist’s endeavor, a creative attempt to somehow capture a certain phenomenon of human reality (in this case education) in a linguistic description that is both holistic and analytical, evocative and precise, unique and universal, powerful and sensitive. In this sense, the description of education by education as a human science attempts to resonate with our lived experience of education, which in turn implies that a good description of education is collected by lived experience and recollects lived experience—is validated by lived experience and validates lived experience. This means that education as a human science endeavors to validate its epistemology existentially because it is maintained that a real understanding of education can only be accomplished by actively doing it, that is, living it in experience.

In adopting what van Manen (1990, p. ix) calls “a lived experience” orientation in its scientific endeavors, education always questions the way we experience the world in our attempt to know the world in which we live as human beings. And since to know the world is profoundly to be active in the world in a certain way, the act of research in education represents the intentional act of attaching ourselves to the world, of becoming more fully part of it, or better, of becoming the world. Research in education, therefore, questions the world’s very secrets and intimacies which are constitutive of the world, and which bring the world as world into being for us and in us. This means that research in education is a caring act: it wants to know that which is most essential to being. In this respect, education as a human science emphasizes that ontology has relevance for human beings, independent of their epistemological paradigms. Such an ontology is directed at the quality of human existence. To care is to serve and to share our being with the ones we love. We desire to truly know our loved ones’ very nature. Binswanger (1963, p. 173) has shown that the reverse is true as well. We can only understand something or someone for whom we care. In this sense of how we come to know a human being, the words of Goethe (1963, p. 83) are especially valid: “One learns to know only what one loves, and the deeper and fuller the knowledge is to be, the more powerful and vivid must be the love, indeed the passion.”

Similarly, Buytendijk (1947, p. 1) makes the claim that love is foundational for all knowing of human existence. For education as a human science, knowing is, therefore, not merely a purely cognitive act but a feature of being, an act of love. This is epitomized in that attitude of being which reveals that when you love a person, you want to know what contributes to the good of that person. The quality of a person’s existence is of primary concern to research in education while the enhancement and enrichment of that existence by means of education is seen to be its essential task as a human science.

In terms of the relationship between theory and practice, the lived experience orientation of education’s scientific endeavor has distinct implications for the way in which the notions of theory and research are to be related to the practice of living in education. In contrast to the more positivistic and behavioral science, education as a human science does not see theory as something that stands before practice to inform it or prescribe it. Rather, theory enlightens or edifies practice. Practice (living) always comes first and theory comes later as a result of reflection on action for, as Schleiermacher (1964, pp. 40–41) argues, “the integrity of praxis does not depend on theory, but praxis can become more aware of itself by means of theory.”

In and of itself, theory does not control praxis, for the theory of any science of education always comes later because of the action. This would mean that education as a human science is not primarily concerned with the theoretical issue of solving conceptual problems or with an investigation of the grammar of thought which is pursued with a view to finding out what is true of that grammar. The implication here is that one does not study the human act of education itself but only the language or vocabulary of education. Rather than being concerned with this philosophical problem at such a theoretical level, education as a human science directs its attention to those problems of lived human experience encountered in the act of education. In this essentially human orientation, education as a human science is existentially concerned with the problem—what is the nature of the human activity referred to as education? Consequently, education as a human activity is not viewed as an abstract concept in need of analysis but as a distinctively human act in need of description. This is not to deny that there is a connection between our concepts about education and our education reality. Rather, it is to argue that our understanding of education reality depends not primarily on the concepts that we have about education but on our lived experience of education. Such a lived experience of education will be translated by means of our concepts into a description of education which in turn will reveal those human values descriptive of the human condition.

In this descriptive endeavor, the issue of language or, to be more precise, discourse, is not ignored by education as a human science, for it is the responsibility of this human science, as indeed it is with all the human sciences, to continually question its own discourse. As a science of education, it cannot accept its own discourse as a datum, a transparency, a tool, in short, a metalanguage. Education as a human science, therefore, constantly interrogates itself as to the place from which it speaks, an interrogation without which any science or ideological critique would be highly questionable. For education as a human science there exists no extraterritoriality for the subject or, for the education scientist regarding his or her discourse. In other words, education as a human science, as indeed is the case with all the human sciences, knows no site of security or certainty, and in this it must acknowledge itself as writing a discourse on education.

Human Science and the Deconstruction of Education

Much of present-day educational discourse is, however, vulnerable to an ideologically driven educational practice which emphasizes that persons be educated for the maintenance and development of politically and sociologically determined functions, as well as for the promotion of the economy (Higgs, 2006). In such a context, education becomes the handmaiden of the state, and, at the same time, serves the state’s programs of political, sociological, and economic intent. In this instance, educational discourse which poses fundamental questions has, as Aronowitz (2001, p. ii) notes, virtually disappeared from the mainstream literature. As a result, present-day educational discourse no longer sees the need to interrogate the givens of education, or the political, social, and economic contexts in which education functions. Nearly all educational discourse is reduced to what Aronowitz (2001, pp. xvi–xvii) describes as the application of “technologies of managing consent, where teaching is increasingly a function of training for test taking.” All this can be regarded as an aberration of education, as the mystification of education in the service of dominant ideologies that see education as a process of information transfer (mainly of a scientific, technical, and legislative kind), and, in turn, aim to ensure conformity to political, social, and economically acceptable norms.

Thus, it can be concluded that what is needed today is an awakening or a return to education. In short, present-day educational discourse must rethink itself. The philosophical challenge of rethinking education, of deconstructing education, does not consist of changing, replacing, or abandoning education. On the contrary, to deconstruct is first and foremost to undo a construction with infinite patience, to take apart a system in order to understand all its mechanisms, to exhibit all its foundations, and to reconstruct on new bases. To be sure, it is a matter of transforming our relation to education, to reflect on the conditions of such a transformation, and to give ourselves the theoretical and practical means to do so. In this regard, the reflections of Derrida (1978) on deconstruction and related concepts such as différance, justice, the other, and responsibility can provide a powerful paradigm to develop a greater awareness of the issues at stake in education; for texts suggest new ways of thinking about education and of assuming responsibility in education in relation to the other and in the name of justice.

I would therefore suggest that in rethinking education in terms of Derridian reflections, we should address several questions: How can we educate the other as other? In which space can education be realized? How can we let the other be as the other in the educational encounter? What and whose knowledge should be transmitted in the educational encounter? How can we know in the educational encounter? What form of instruction should mark the educational encounter? What is the nature of an educational encounter? What is the place of language in the educational encounter? All these questions, I believe, are constitutive of at least two challenges that Derrida’s works hold for educators. On the one hand, educators should deconstruct the ideological influences that imprison educational discourse and in so doing allow the nature of education to unfold and speak for itself; on the other hand, educators should affirm education, and attempt to determine what it can and should do today in our society, in the face of new forms of knowledge in general and the advances of technology. In other words, too often trapped within the walls of a dominant political ideology, or social practices and beliefs, education should be allowed to think for itself, expose itself, teach itself. This constitutes the Derridian imperative in its program of deconstruction with its concern for justice, the other, and responsible action, which in its concern echoes concern for education as a human science.

Furthermore, as a mode of mind for experiencing ideas, deconstruction can significantly change the nature of educational discourse. Regarding instructional messages as language means considering them in the context of the Western philosophical tradition, from Plato to Rousseau to Kant, where all communication media are representations of how people think. It is a logocentric tradition that valorizes speech over writing. Derrida’s program of deconstruction refutes the assumption that spoken language, the most abstract of communication media, can be accepted as the closest representation of thought. For Derrida it is a nonneutral medium shaped by ideology and preconceived bias. No way of communicating, whether in speech or writing, is direct. No way of communicating is unequivocally better for obtaining a convergence of minds than any other. It is a fallacy to think of thought as language because language is intractable. In this mode, education deconstructs like language and differently from language. For as Standish (2001, pp. 77–97) argues, in education, learners always go beyond fixed meanings, beyond curriculum objectives, beyond aims, in fact beyond the stable authority of the teacher. This “going beyond” for Standish is far from being a threat to meaning and a hence a threat to education. Rather, Standish (2001, p. 95) argues that it is the very condition for education, because education only exists, only comes into presence, as a result of the necessary disruption of the learner. The anxious preoccupation with clarity, control, and containment runs the risk of stifling what is most important in education, namely, the “going beyond” in the establishment of the singularity of the individual.

Concluding Remarks

A human science perspective assumes that individual lived human experience lies at the heart of all knowledge pertaining to the nature of human existence. It also recognizes that there is always an element of the ineffable to human existence which is more complex than the result of any singular description. Nonetheless, human existence needs knowledge, reflection, and thought to make itself knowable to itself, including its complex and ultimately mysterious nature. It is a naive rationalism that believes that the phenomenon of human existence can be made intellectually crystal-clear or theoretically perfectly transparent. That is why a human science, such as education, that tries to do justice to the full range of human experience cannot operate with a concept of rationality that is restricted to a formal intellectualistic interpretation of human reason. Likewise, the language of a human science such as education cannot be censured to permit only a form of discourse that tries to capture human experience in deadening abstract concepts, or in logical systems that flatten rather than deepen our understanding of human existence. Much of social science produces forms of knowledge which fixate existence by riveting it to the terms and grammar of forms of scientific theorizing that congeal the living meaning out of human existence—until human existence has become unrecognizable to itself in the demise of those human values that constitute its reality.

Human values are of primary significance to education as a human science, but in the present form of their historically concrete realization, they have suffered culturally based political, social, economic, and technological distortion. Such ideological distortions have revealed themselves in endeavors of education as a social science, and to redress this situation there needs to be a paradigmatic shift in focus in regard to the nature of an educational endeavor. In other words, there is a fundamental need to rethink education. Such a response will reveal that as a human science, education is more concerned with philosophy and the individual human being than with processes of socialization and ideological propagation, and that in its scientific endeavors it stands ready to participate in, and contribute to, creative dialogue directed at the improvement of the quality of human existence by means of the educative act as a distinctively human act. In this way, education as a human science also reveals that in its concern with personal transformation, it is not a dogma of ideological intent but rather an art that is distinguished by an open, critical educational philosophy which encourages inquiry, discussion, debate, and creative lifelong learning.

Human science should, however, not be conceived as a theory or a philosophy that can subsequently be applied to education. Rather, human science provides a way to think again, and afresh, more strictly and more radically about the concern that has been central to the project of education at least since the Enlightenment. The relationship between human science and education, to put it differently, is not an accidental relationship. Insofar as education exceeds politicization, enculturation, and socialization, it is precisely concerned with going beyond in the exercise of agency in individual existence. If education is as Arendt (1968, p. 196) claims “where we decide whether to love our children enough not . . . to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us,” then there is every need to think again and again about what this might mean for those who have the courage to educate. Although human science will not provide a clear-cut answer to this question, it might well help us better understand what it means to raise this question today.

Further Reading

  • Barritt, L. S. (1986). Human science and the human image. Phenomenology & Pedagogy, 4(3), 14–21.
  • Iheriohanma, E. B. J. (2013). Science and the scientific nature of research in the social sciences. Studies in Sociology of Science, 4(2), 19–30.
  • Ingold, T. (1999). Human nature and science. Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, 24(4), 250–254.
  • Ingthorsson, R. D. (2013). The natural vs. human sciences: Myth, methodology, and ontology. Discusiones Filosoficas, 22(1), 13–29.
  • Pompa, L., & Fisch, M. H. (1976). Human nature and the concept of a human science. Social Research: An International Quarterly, 43(3), 434–449.
  • Taylor, C. (1985). Human agency and language: Philosophical papers I. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
  • Urry, J., Dingwall, R., Gough, I., Ormerod, P., Massey, D., Scott, J., & Thrift, N. (2007). What is “social” about social science? Twenty-first Century Society: Journal of the Academy of Social Sciences, 2(1), 95–119.
  • Usher, R., & Edwards, R. (2003). Postmodernism and education: Different voices, different worlds. London, UK: Routledge.


  • Arendt, H. (1968). Between past and future: Eight exercises in political thought. London, UK: Penguin Books.
  • Aronowitz, S. (2001). The knowledge factory: Dismantling the corporate university and creating true higher learning. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
  • Biesta, G. J. J. (2010). Good education in an age of measurement: Ethics, politics, democracy. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.
  • Biesta, G. J. J. (2015). Beyond learning: Democratic education for a human future. London: Routledge.
  • Biesta, G. J. J., & Bingham, C. (Eds.). (with Ranciere, J.). (2010). Jacques Ranciere: Education, truth, emancipation. London, UK: Continuum.
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