Central European Pragmatist Forum - Bratislava, Budapest, Praha, Warszawa, Wien (www.cepf.sk)

Board of Directors

Scott L. Pratt
co-chair, USA

Lyubov Bugaeva
co-chair, Russia


James Campbell

Roberta Dreon

Lubomir Dunaj

Michael Festl

Alexander Kremer

Dorota Koczanowicz

Leszek Koczanowicz

Lee A. McBride III

Carlos Mougan

Sami Pihlstrom

John Ryder

Radim Sip

Emil Visnovsky

Christopher Voparil

Sandra Zakutna






It is by now increasingly apparent that life in the 21st century will be lived without the comfort of old certitudes. The austere convenience of Cold War peaceful co-existence, enforced by the threat of Mutual Assured Destruction, has been succeeded by the growth of violent conflicts too numerous to count, waged along lines that are ethnic, religious, territorial, and more. A world of autonomous nation states, at one time a bulwark against agents of terrorism, carriers of lethal viral strains, and the influx of conflicting cultural values, has morphed into a new global village in which intercontinental travel is routine and national borders are increasingly porous. Religious and moral certitudes based on centuries of received tradition have begun to blink in the glare of the new relativisms espoused by post-modernist cultural theories. Even environmental factors such as global warming now appear to conspire against confidence in the human future. At virtually every level of human social interaction - in politics, religion, education, technology, and commerce - change now appears to be the only constant.

Central Europe has proved to be a crucible within which many of these combustible elements have combined. The opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia during the same year, the enlargement of the European Union in 2004 to include the countries of Central Europe: such events, momentous in themselves, continue to spawn new conditions and circumstances which are still only imperfectly understood. What new forms of democratic participation will emerge within countries long accustomed to one-party rule? How will the next generation be educated, and by whom? How will cultural clashes between East and West, rich and poor, religious majorities and religious minorities be resolved?

For some, these new circumstances call for retreat into the securities of ethnic solidarity, authoritarian political or religious leadership, or absolute moral values. For others, however, including the contributors to this volume, our new century is pregnant with great potential.

It is a working premise of the Central European Pragmatist Forum and its participants that change is both unavoidable and the source of great opportunities. The Forum's participants view their work as advancing a central insights of a rich philosophical tradition in which this premise has been paramount. Their work looks backward for inspiration to the work of pragmatists such as Charles S. Peirce, William James, George Herbert Mead, F. C. S. Schiller, and John Dewey, and forward to the difficult but exciting task of applying their insights to the problems of contemporary men and women.

In the most mature public expression of this pragmatic tradition, truth is understood as a social goal, not as dogma received from sources transcendent of human experience. Far from being arbitrary or entirely a matter of convention, however, truth is also understood as objective in the sense that judgments about vital matters, whether of common sense or science, must be subjected to experimental tests in order to receive their warrant. Truths are treated not as absolute, but as tools to be utilized in the continuing efforts of human beings to manage emerging events.

Within this tradition, democracy is understood not simply as a form of government, but, more importantly, as a means of communication among individuals and groups with different, often competing, agendas. Democracy is thus treated as incapable of being exported, since the form it takes is governed by historical and cultural context. The viability of democratic institutions, or their lack thereof, will therefore depend on the energies and the commitments of individuals and the various publics that they form, and that provide avenues for their participation in the wider society.

Within this tradition, education is understood as more than the generational transmission of social values, although it may be that. It is understood instead as the cultivation of the tools of learning - of learning how to criticize and refine received values in ways that yield new insights, new ways of living, and new opportunities for the growth of individuals and communities.

Within this tradition, facts and values are treated not as separate, but as intimately intertwined. Facts are understood as facts-in-context: as selected from alternatives on the basis of interest, need, and historical and cultural background. For their part, values that fail to be informed by facts are understood to be marked by their failure to be reliable, which is to say, valuable.

Perhaps most importantly, the contributors to this volume are committed to the idea that philosophy has an important role to play within human life, and that philosophers have an obligation to address vital issues. Consequently, they have chosen to confront the future with energy and confidence. They relish engagement with the problems and potentials of a changing social environment, in all their complexity and uncertainty, because they relish the opportunities that change brings for men and women of intelligence to enlarge the meanings of human life.

Larry A. Hickman
Center for Dewey Studies
Southern Illinois University, Carbondale


Education for a Democratic Society is the third volume in the series of conference volumes of the Central European Pragmatist Forum (CEPF) published by Rodopi.1 CEPF is an association of scholars, primarily though not exclusively philosophers. They are European, largely from Central and Eastern Europe, from the United States and Canada, and one regular participant is from South Africa. They work in various fields of the history of American philosophy, social and moral philosophy, aesthetics, and political theory. The American philosophical traditions of pragmatism and naturalism have long been of interest to philosophers and others in Europe, though it has been rather a minority interest. In recent years such interest has grown in Europe, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, thus the rationale for the creation of CEPF and its conferences. This and the preceding volumes from those conferences attest to the ways in which primarily European scholars, in conversation with their North American counterparts, are thinking through the American philosophical traditions.

This volume presents selected conference papers of the CEPF meeting held at the University of Potsdam, Germany, in June 2004. The CEPF Potsdam meeting was focused on the discussion of pragmatist educational theory, its philosophical foundations, and its consequences for social, political, and educational reconstruction.

The first CEPF conference, held under the auspices of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Stara Lesna, Slovakia in 2000, and the second meeting at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland in 2002, were devoted to the themes "Pragmatism and Values" and "Deconstruction and Reconstruction" respectively, and to a more general outlook on pragmatist philosophy in its internal differentiation and its various ramifications. The third meeting at Potsdam was focused on the specific topic of education. The Executive Board of the CEPF and the organizers of the conference considered this focus on education not only theoretically promising and philosophically rewarding, but to be of urgent relevance to contemporary democratic societies.

The editors have organized the conference papers in four sections: I -Education and Democracy; II - Education and Values; III - Education and Social Reconstruction; IV - Education and the Self. Each section consists of papers that elaborate various aspects of the topics. The final paper in the collection is a special contribution from the conference's Keynote Speaker, John Lachs. Some of the papers deal directly with education and its relation to democracy, while others address questions and issues that have a bearing on the understanding and problems of education. The most influential of the classical pragmatist philosophers in the work of the contributors is John Dewey, but the papers collected here also draw on the neopragmatists Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam, as well as others, from Jacques Derrida to Paolo Freire. Along the way many of the more sustained philosophical issues are examined: community, criticism, citizenship, individuality and individualism, oppression, experience, ethical and aesthetic values, and individual and social development, all within the context of as ongoing assessment of the means and ends of education.

The papers in Section I, Education and Democracy, concentrate on the foundations of Pragmatist educational theory. At the same time all the papers provide not only analyses of pragmatist, primarily Deweyan, educational theory, but engage in comparative studies of Dewey and Derrida, of Dewey and Rawls, of Dewey and Rorty, and of Dewey and Freire. Don Morse concentrates on the necessity to instill habits of criticism as the "road to [the] release" of creative activity. He argues that such criticism finds an illustration in Derrida's concept of deconstruction, especially in light of the centrality of "experience" for both Derrida and Dewey. Carlos Mougan Rivero is concerned above all with citizenship. Dewey's concept of democracy, he argues, "supplies the grounding for the development of a theory of citizenship education...." This, he maintains, is especially true given the "moral meaning" Dewey gives to democracy.

Alexander Kremer is interested in the implications for education and democracy of Richard Rorty's writings, above all in the context of the traditional questions "Who am I as an individual?" and "Who am I as a human being?" With these concerns in mind, Kremer asks the question whether democracy requires its own form of education. The answer he gives is "yes and no": "yes" in so far as democratic society, for example in Rorty's vision, has needs that other forms of social life do not, and "no" because education cannot be wholly unique since it must address the more ongoing character of what it means to be a human being. Jane Skinner, for her part, has a more social concern, one that deals with the social problems generated by the disparate distribution of wealth and the exacerbating contemporary process of economic globalization. She explores Dewey's approach to education and democracy in comparison to Paulo Freire's, and argues that both have an understanding of the nature of education that takes seriously the problems of social oppression, though Freire can add something that liberal approaches, including Dewey's, typically lack. In this respect they offer preferable alternatives to much of contemporary education and schooling, which in neither form nor content pays serious attention to this prominent feature of contemporary life.

Section II, Education and Values, is devoted to two different sets of values: two papers address the bearings of pragmatist thinking on moral and political philosophy, while two papers deal with questions of aesthetics. Sami Pihlstrom's paper deals with pragmatic moral realism through Putnam and the Wittgensteinian tradition. Dirk Jorke's paper reads Dewey against the background of current debates between communitarianism and liberalism. Dewey, he argues, offers a model of community that goes beyond standard liberal and communitarian conceptions. Education is, then, one of the necessary means by which such community is accomplished and sustained.

Lyubov Bugaeva traces the stunning similarities between Dewey's aesthetics as developed in Art as Experience and the theoretical views of the leading Russian Constructivists of the 1920s, especially Ilya Erenburg and El Lissitzky. Among other common traits, art is in both traditions didactic, and didactic in similar ways. Bugaeva's paper suggests the interesting question how it is that these two disparate traditions turned out to be so similar in detail, especially since one is forged in a social revolution and the other, while perhaps revolutionary in implications, is interested more in reconstruction than in revolution. In her chapter, Krystyna Wilkoszewska demonstrates the remarkable relevance of Dewey's non-contemplative understanding of art for reflecting on the interactivist turn in contemporary fine arts. She is interested in the importance of understanding the aesthetic dimension of the pragmatist, especially Deweyan, concept of experience. In so far as education, as Wilkoszewska puts it, "penetrates all spheres of life," the aesthetic dimension of experience is no less pertinent for education than for any other social process.

The papers in Section III, Education and Social Reconstruction, examine the significance of pragmatist thinking for bringing about deliberate change in the state, society, and education, as well as for exercising political power within "thin" and "thick" democracies. James Campbell examines the principal contribution social pragmatists, principally Dewey, but also George Mead and James Tufts, made in developing the intrinsic, inseparable relationship between education, school, and democracy. As the title of his paper suggests, Campbell is concerned with the central role of education for democratic social reconstruction. As he puts it, "education and democracy [are] virtually synonymous." This fact has implications for the form and content of education, as well as for the structure and organization of educational institutions themselves. Gert-Riidiger Wegmarshaus stresses Dewey's notion of democracy as a way of life. He illustrates the bearing of such a view of democracy on education through the discussion of an educational program under way in Germany called "Learning and Living Democracy." The program aims at actively teaching democracy in schools by establishing close and strong working connections among the students, teachers, neighborhoods and local communities.

John Ryder discusses both logical and practical limitations of the sustainability of a democracy that is based on the pragmatist principles of open inquiry, experimentation, and the pooling and sharing of experience vis-a-vis the growing danger of anti-democratic behavior and religious fundamentalist beliefs. He explores the question whether the methods of social reconstruction developed within the pragmatist tradition can reasonably be expected to achieve their own ends. The focus is on the problem of promoting certain democratic social ends without having recourse to the non-democratic, and therefore non-pragmatist, practices of manipulative social engineering. In other words, is the "thick" democracy of pragmatism and the forms of education it promotes in fact possible? Michael Eldridge develops the concept of "intellectualizing practice" to address the potential problems Ryder has raised, and in so doing expresses a less skeptical attitude towards the possibility of participative democracy, even under hegemonic and rather militarist policy approaches as currently demonstrated by the Bush administration. The commitments and practices that constitute pragmatism are indeed capable of addressing social problems, including that of large scale dissent, even if such problems are not solvable entirely, i.e. even if a "thick democracy" is not achievable in a given context. Thus, rather than "thick democracy" we may well be content with "pragmatism lite."

Section IV, Education and the Self, consists of papers that deal in various ways with the individual. Richard Hart is directly concerned with an understanding of education that can properly address the needs of individual persons. Education in its most meaningful sense is a cooperative interaction of persons engaged in a mutual process of development. In defense of this view and its implications he appeals to Dewey, as well as to Socrates and Martin Buber. Thus understood, many contemporary forms of schooling, including the current uses of instructional technologies, fall well short, indeed dangerously short, of appropriate educational ideals. Erin McKenna is also interested in the person, and like Jorke she explores Dewey's ideas in relation to liberalism and commumtarianism, in this case in relation to the general concept of individualism. Education is to be understood in part in this context, i.e. as a component of the process of the development of the individual and of the community.

Vincent Colapietro is interested in the concept of growth and with the role of education in fostering growth. In the process of examining this question he invites us to rethink the assumption commonly made, and one certainly relevant to education, that immaturity represents a lack. Rather, he advises that we consider immaturity in its experiential richness, and that we develop an understanding of growth and education accordingly. Kathleen Wallace's contribution takes up the question of the autonomy of what she refers to as the interactional, plurally constituted self. Autonomy, she argues, is enabled through reflexive communication, a concept that itself draws from the work of Josiah Royce and Justus Buchler. Though not generally thought of as classical pragmatists, Wallace points out that Royce and Buchler both made clear that they drew heavily from the pragmatist tradition, especially from Peirce, James, and Dewey. If autonomy is an important goal of individual development,

Wallace argues, then education is to be understood in part as a process that contributes to its achievement.

The final paper in the volume is a contribution by John Lachs, who gave the Keynote Address at the Potsdam conference. Lachs argues that education too often is focused on learning about the actual, and thereby leaves little room for exploring possibilities. This is particularly bothersome in relation to social improvement and the criticism of institutions, for only by envisaging the possible can we move toward the better. Further, talking about possibilities is ineffective without taking steps to enact them. This imposes a huge responsibility on teachers: they must have the courage to show their students by their actions what is necessary to convert possibilities into actualites. If this is taken as a standard of good teaching, many of us fail.

Taken together, the papers collected in this volume provide a glimpse into ways that Europeans are taking up pragmatist and neopragmatist themes, and the potential of an ongoing conversation between European and North American specialists. The Central European Pragmatist Forum will continue to hold its biannual conferences to foster this conversation. The editors would like to thank all the participants in the Potsdam meeting for contributing to an atmosphere of serious intellectual engagement and collegial conversation. The editors would also like to thank Larry Hickman for contributing the Forward to this volume; James Campbell for his invaluable assistance in preparing some of the papers for publication; and John Shook, general editor of the Studies in Pragmatism and Values special series, for his ongoing support and editorial assistance.

John Ryder, Gert-Riidiger Wegmarshaus


1. John Ryder and Emil Visnovsky, eds., Pragmatism and Values: The Central European Pragmatist Forum, Volume One (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2004); John Ryder and Krystyna Wilkoszewska, eds., Deconstruction and Reconstruction: The Central European Pragmatist Forum, Volume Two (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 2004).

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