Learning and Teaching in Uncertain Times: A Nietzschean Approach in Professional Higher Education

Journal of Philosophy of Education 47 (4):548-563 (2013)
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Today professionals have to deal with more uncertainties in their field than before. We live in complex and rapidly changing environments. The British philosopher Ronald Barnett adds the term ‘supercomplexity’ to highlight the fact that ‘we can no longer be sure how even to describe the world that faces us’ (Barnett, 2004). Uncertainty is, nevertheless, not a highly appreciated notion. An obvious response to uncertainty is to reduce it—or even better, to wipe it away. The assumption of this approach is that uncertainty has no advantages. This assumption is, however, not correct as several contemporary authors have argued. Rather than problematising uncertainty, I will investigate the pros and cons of embedding uncertainty in educational practice of professional higher education. In order to thoroughly explore the probabilities and challenges that uncertainty poses in education, I will dwell on the radical ideas on uncertainty of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In The Birth of Tragedy (1872) he recognises two forces: the Apollinian, that is the pursuit of order and coherence, and the Dionysian, that is the human tendency to nullify all systematisation and idealisation. Uncertainty is part of the Dionysian. I will argue that when educators take Nietzsche's plea to make room for the Dionysian to heart, they can better prepare students for an uncertain world. If, and only if, students are encouraged to deploy both tendencies—the Apollinian and the Dionysian—they can become professionals who are able to stand their ground in an uncertain and changing (professional) world
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