How to Get Students on the True Path to Knowledge

THE PATH TO HOPE by Stephane Hessel and Edgar Morin

by Jeff Madick, foreword writer for The Path to Hope (Other Press, 2012) and author of The Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present  (Vintage, 2012).

I do not necessarily believe in pluralism for its own sake. It always makes sense for students to understand opposing viewpoints, of course.  But reading the many opposing views on key intellectual issues is not always an adequate path to knowledge. Should young students be required to read the works in support of creationism, for example, to understand the pros and cons of evolutionary theory? Or all the efforts to undermine global warming theories?  At some point, one has to separate the theories that move beyond superstition, that are grounded in adequate deductive thought, and that are based on available empirical knowledge from those that do not.   

The social sciences clothe themselves in the virtues of being grounded in deductive thought and empirical knowledge, of course, and that is the problem. How can students broaden their perspectives constructively? Economics in most academic institutions has become especially uniform, if also well-disguised in scientific methodology, and has failed in so many ways that a search for broader views about economic life and how it affects social life, aspirations, true freedom, and for many outright survival, is necessary for college students.  

The Path to Hope is one of those educated and passionate alternatives to prevailing economic thought, and one of such sweep and urgency that I believe it is extremely useful for students to read it. I would recommend a glance at my own foreword to the book by the eminent ninety-somethings whose experience of modern society began with the French resistance during World War II.  

In essence, Stephane Hessel and Edgar Morin are calling for a new communitarianism.  They are also saying traditional economics has failed.  How do they justify the claim?  As I write in the foreword, they implicitly say just look around you: extreme poverty and inequality, ever more power to the wealthy, advanced economies brought down by dubious financial speculation, and all the tensions that poor economic performance conjure up, including rising ethnic bigotry. Isn’t such bigotry also behind the euro crisis? Look at the slurs that the Greeks have been subjected to.

It won’t take long to read Path to Hope, but it will inspire us all. It will open vistas for young people too entrenched in the narrow and often self-serving conventional wisdom of today’s media and the shallow values of much of today’s popular entertainment.  Above all, it should lead to more reading—of history, political philosophy, good fiction, and, let us hope, unorthodox social scientists like Hessel and Morin.

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