Higher Education, Knowledge For Its Own Sake, and an African Moral Theory

Studies in Philosophy and Education 28 (6):517-536 (2009)
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I seek to answer the question of whether publicly funded higher education ought to aim intrinsically to promote certain kinds of ‘‘blue-sky’’ knowledge, knowledge that is unlikely to result in ‘‘tangible’’ or ‘‘concrete’’ social benefits such as health, wealth and liberty. I approach this question in light of an African moral theory, which contrasts with dominant Western philosophies and has not yet been applied to pedagogical issues. According to this communitarian theory, grounded on salient sub-Saharan beliefs and practices, actions are right insofar as they respect relationships in which people both share a way of life, or identify with one another, and care for others’ quality of life, or are in solidarity with each other. I argue that while considerations of identity and solidarity each provide some reason for a state university to pursue blue-sky knowledge as a final end, they do not provide conclusive reason for it to do so. I abstain from drawing any further conclusion about whether this provides reason to reject the Afro-communitarian moral theory or the intuition that blue-sky knowledge is a proper final end of public higher education. I do point out, however, that the dominant Western moral theories on the face of it do no better than the African one at accounting for this intuition.

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Thaddeus Metz
University of Pretoria


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