A Debate on Sciences Wars and Phronesis

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In this chapter, Flyvbjerg (2001) attempts to explain the concept of 'phronesis'. There is, however, a significant point that has to be taken into consideration. The chapter might not be fully explicit when read in isolation from the other chapters of the book. In fact, the debate about the Science Wars is a complex one and it may be important to firstly understand the background on which this debate lies.

Aristotle advocated value-rationality, whereby actions were guided by a moral sense, religion or tradition. The approach was more ideographic and subjective; each case was seen as unique and there was no generalization from one case to another. Later, 'Enlightenment' came to defy this ideographic approach. It promoted rational understanding as a way to derive understanding of the world.Social thinkers like Durkheim & Marx, who can be considered as the principal architects of modern social science, believed that actions should be looked at with objectivity and with a nomothetic approach. In fact, a scientific approach, whereby it was possible to generalize from one case to another, was what modern society required. Hence instrumental rationality took the dominant position in both science and society. (Flyvberg, 2001).

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Eventually, post-modernist social thinkers like Max Weber and Habermas attempted to abandon the Enlightenment heritage by trying to strike a middle way between the ideographic and nomothetic approaches. Yet, positivism and the scientific ideal continued to dominate. Today, social sciences are hence compelled, in vain, to succeed as epistemic sciences. This explains Flyvbjerg's argument that for social science to find its focus and for a balance between instrumental rationality and value rationality to be re-established, it should practice 'phronesis'.

Flyvbjerg uses the Aristotelian concept of 'episteme', 'techne' and 'phronesis' to argue his point. 'Episteme' is aligned to natural science and hence represents scientific knowledge. It is rule-bound, hence universal, predictive and context-independent (Flyvbjerg 2001). On the other hand, 'phronesis' is aligned to social science. It is defined as 'prudence' or 'practical wisdom' (Flyvbjerg, 2001, p. 56). It involves value rationality, that is, reasoning about 'things that are good or bad for man" - as a point of departure for action' (Flyvbjerg, 2001, p.57). Gadamer (1960) and Schuchman(1980) also focus on rationality, perception, insight or ethics when defining 'phronesis'. 'Phronesis' is intuitive, context-based and not governed by predictable and universal rules (Flyvbjerg, 2001). Instead, 'phronetic' action is guided by consideration, judgment, choice and experience. It is partially on these features of 'phronesis' that I wish to rely while discussing issues relating 'phronesis' to Education.

From a socio-constructivist point of view, education can be considered as a social activity between social actors in socially constructed situations (Moore, 2000). Learning can also be described as 'participation in a community of practice' (Lave and Wenger, 1991) where individuals interact and participate in common activities. Given its social scientific nature, my argument here is that 'phronesis' may be closely related to the practice of Education. Teaching and learning cannot be viewed as predictable as it is influenced by a number of variables: context, experience and so on. Contextual factors influencing education can be both tactile and non-tactile: the infrastructure of the classroom, cultural setting, the students' behaviour, the teacher's practical knowledge, set of values and so on. Flyvbjerg's (2001) idea of the 'particular' is also significant here. All students do not adopt the same learning style or pace. In fact, teachers are often faced with students from very different backgrounds-social, economic, ethical and religious and this influences their readiness to learn (Gardner et al, 2003) and hence have to attend to them individually. The teacher's practical knowledge as well as the knowledge acquired by students can be constructed by 'the complexity of the personal, social and cultural world' (Atkinson, 2000, p.323) in which they operate. These experiences inform their thinking process and this consequently affects pedagogy, both consciously and unconsciously.

Ethical and moral issues arise when teachers take the responsibility of aspects of the lives of students on the grounds of superior knowledge or expertise and this is even more significant as students are often below the age of consent (Gardner et al,2003). In fact, teaching is a 'moral craft' where the moral and ethical nature of teaching is not merely through the formal practice of moral education, but also through the questions teachers ask themselves in their everyday classroom situation (Tom ,1984). For example, does the teacher actively examine his/her own beliefs, desires, choices and possible actions when planning activities for the class? Hence, in principle, 'value rationality' has to be exercised by teachers and other stakeholders in Education. Nevertheless, there exist contradictory views regarding the 'value rationality'in the practice of education.

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On one hand, there is a belief that

'phronesis is not a cognitive capacity that one has at one's disposal but is, rather, very closely bound up with the kind of person that one is'

(Dunne, 1993, p. 273)

Therefore, if we consider a 'phronetic' classroom situation, 'phronesis' cannot be demonstrated or measured separately from the teacher as there seems to be a reciprocal relationship between phronesis and the teacher's honest character (Dunne, 1993).

On the other hand, another standpoint is that

'there need be no logical link between a teacher's morality and the 'goodness' of the product of teaching'.

(Kristjansson, 2005, p.470)

Kristjansson(2005) uses the example of a normally immoral maths teacher who could nonetheless be a good maths teacher till he does not treat his students immorally. In light of these conflicting views, can we consider phronesis as being 'a sense of the ethically practical'? (Flyvbjerg, 2001, p.57).

Consequently, a third interpretation would be that

'The meaning of any ethical principle must be understood and interpreted in relation to a particular situation and within a particular practice'.

(Kristjansson, 2005, p. 465)

Hence, the argument is that our actions are not strictly guided by any general ethical principle, but can be adapted, in a practical way, to varying contexts, negotiating ambiguity and uncertainty and particularity of the situation. For example, in a society where different ethnic groups coexist, ethnic conflicts can arise from conflicting differences of beliefs, practices, values and rationalities (Lukes, 2000). Foundationalism, which deals with central values that can be universally grounded, and relativism, where it is believed that a set of values is as good as another, could be both rejected in favour of contextualism or situational ethics. Situational ethics in pedagogy does not suggest a normless situation but instead means that attitudes will not be based on idiosyncratic morality or personal preferences of teachers but on a common view shared among teachers and students in a given situation in which they operate (Schram and Catherino, 2006). From this optic, pedagogy seems more of a 'phronesis', rather than a science, of teaching and learning.

Relying on my previous arguments that education is context-based and is guided by value rationality, I would reiterate my conviction that theorization, generalization, decontextualisation, codification and prediction of the product and process of teaching and learning is not feasible. Instead, pedagogy produces delimited, contextualized, even local knowledge that helps students and teachers within particular contexts (Schram and Catherino, 2006). As far as prediction is concerned, if what is meant by predicative social science is the ability to generate rules governing a social practice, then prediction in social science is possible. However, it might be difficult to predict specific rules that govern the 'expert behaviour' within that practice. (Falk et al, 2009). For example, a teacher can explain what the content of a lesson is, but he/she will not be able to describe the rules that students need to follow to become 'experts' in the domain.

Likewise, it would be unwise to consider pedagogy as solely a practical endeavour. Flyvbjerg(2001) uses the Dreyfus scale to demonstrate how learners require a set of recommended, context-independent rules at the early stages of learning before they eventually use their experience and knowledge acquired for more intuitive learning (Flyvbjerg, 2001). Therefore, pedagogy requires some basic theory in the form of 'episteme'. It also requires 'techne' in the form of development of specific skills and techniques to be successful (Orton, 1997). Teaching thus rests on all three of the Aristotelian intellectual virtues. Consequently,can we conclude that 'praxis' is what relates best to pedagogy?

'Praxis' is best understood with its comparison with 'poiesis'. Aristotle defines two kinds of action, 'poiesis' and 'praxis'. 'Poiesis' refers to an action undertaken to produce a particular product and is linked to 'techne' while praxis is concerned with producing something which is 'morally good' (Hiller, 2005). This supports Flyvbjerg's(2001) claim that 'phronesis' could be considered as 'just a higher form of techne' (Flyvbjerg 2001, p.58). Critical pedagogists have looked at 'praxis' as being

'an on-going process of moving between text or theory, application, evaluative reflection, and back to theory'

(Boyce, 1996, p. 2)

Hence, there is a reflective dimension to the action which can eventually transform the theory that informed it initially (Hiller, 2005). As a result, this confirms that education is best defined as a combination of 'episteme', 'techne' and 'phronesis' where 'episteme' is represented by theory; 'techne' characterized by the production of knowledge or transmission of specific skills and 'phronesis' symbolized by the moral nature of reflection at each stage.

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The concept of 'praxis' in education challenges the uneasy relationship that often exist between theory and practice within educational systems whereby many teachers believe that there is too much focus on theory and not enough on their actual practice (Hiller,2005). I personally believe this arises from not fully understanding what 'theory' means in the field of education. In my opinion, their idea of theory is framed by the Aristotle's concept of 'theoria' which refers to 'knowledge of things which are necessary, that cannot be otherwise than they are' (Kristjansson, 2005, p. 461-462). In Education, theory does not consist of only 'formal theories' which have been publicly examined but also includes 'informal theories' which grows of our practices. These theories are hence 'practice-confined and perspectivist' (Kristjansson, 2005, p. 457) and are often informed unconsciously, by formal theories (Hiller,2005). Rajagopalan(1988) sums up, in a very objective way, how educationalists should consider theory . He argues that teachers should escape domination of theory and get conscious that these cannot be used as a general rule for successful teaching. They should instead understand that theories are useful only when they have been critically examined and contextualized. This gives rise to 'new', context-based theories which, in my opinion, require some sort of validation and this often comes through educational research. However, can we look at such research from a scientific perspective?

In scientific research, actions are studied as they exist objectively in reality, understanding is derived from the study and this forms the 'formal theory'. This theory is then applied to the real world of practice as a general rule to yield predictable results (Schram and Catherino, 2006, p. 420) However, education is governed by tacit rather than general rules and involves human behaviour which cannot be explained by universal laws(Flyvbjerg, 2001). Scientific theory will also not be able to predict how teachers and students will behave in situations where context is very important. Hence, teachers can start thinking of using context-based, 'phronetic' research to improve education (Fenstermacher,1986)

'Phronetic' educational research would suggest that practitioners 'focus on the minutiae and practices that make up the basic concerns of life' (Flyvbjerg, 2001, p.63). Together with examining issues related to the classroom teaching, 'phronetic' educational research can also investigate the social dimensions of pedagogy within the institutional and moral contexts of teaching (Noel, 1993). In such situations, the problem-driven research can replace the method driven research as researchers employ those methods which best suit a given problematic (Schram and Catherino, 2006). Hence, there is a need to integrate more context-sensitive research such as case studies and action researches and not be limited by acceptable scientific research .In educational research, case studies, that is, 'the study of multiple cases for statistical validity' (Gunder, 2010, p. 38) is often used as it generates practical knowledge grounded in contextual experiences(Flyvbjerg, 2001). Teachers often conduct case studies within their classroom context in order to attend to issues regarding their own practice and difficulties of their students.

'Phronetic' educational research encourages researchers to 'get close to people and phenomena they study' (Flyvbjerg, 2001, p. 63) and helps teachers to understand their students' thinking processes (Green ,1976). Phronetic educational research is hence dialogical and collaborative ,i.e, it occurs through interaction between investigators, and their subjects(Flyvberg, 2001). Such research is achieved through 'action research' which also aims at empowering practitioners to improve their practice through analytic self-reflection (Kristjansson,2005, p. 459). I am of the opinion that poignantly pertinent forms of knowledge can emerge from on-going enriching dialogue between teacher- researchers and policy makers, resulting in emancipation, improvement of practice and collective social transformation.

Flyvbjerg (2001) argues that in depth context-based research can be very effective in questioning assumptions and constraining researchers to revisit their hypotheses. These researches enable practitioners to develop advanced understanding of situations which cannot be gained by rule-bound generalizations. Unlike scientific research, whereby knowledge produced is based on tested theories, 'phronetic' social research's validity is based on interpretation (Schram and Catherino, 2006). The results of such research may be confirmed, revised or even invalidated overtime. In fact, the results are open for testing in relation to other interpretations. A new interpretation can appear to explain better a given phenomenon in a given context, and therefore this new interpretation will replace the one until it is too replaced by a yet better one (Schram and Catherino, 2006).

As a matter of fact, even natural scientists claim that their findings are short-term, conditional, and even subject to rejection (Schram and Catherino, 2006). If what is meant by prediction is the ability of researchers to make reasonable good probability estimates and produce realistic predictions, then even social scientists can meet such criteria (Schram and Catherino, 2006). Although Ferrara argues that the development of a 'theory of judgment' has not yet been developed (Flyvbjerg, 2001), I would still wish to believe that 'good judgment' in relation to critical theory could be the solution to validate social science as a 'science' and hence transcend the malaise of the Scientific Wars. 'Good judgment' is a matter of understanding when, where and how universal rules are applicable, modified or even rejected in specific situations (Thiele,2002). Such discernment is significant to pedagogical research, privileging further reflection, collaboration and dialogue within the 'community of practice' (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Ultimately, this could precipitating social, political and cultural transformations.