Scholarly article on topic 'Symbolic Approach to Education in Ethics'

Symbolic Approach to Education in Ethics Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Ekaterina Dvoretckaia, Marina Melekhina, Olga Sotnikova

Abstract Symbolic approach to education in ethics reinforces our needs for sense, imagination, feeling, spontaneity, language, intuition, and judgments. Symbolic reality expresses the core of humanity by means of the embodiment of infinitum in finite. Symbols are zipped files and our goal is to acquire the right program to unzip them properly. Hermeneutic articulation of symbols in Art, suggested by Gadamer, Cassirer and Ricoeur, were the basis of our research. Symbolic approach promotes a sensitive differentiation between Good and Bad, leads to the development of moral sensitiveness, self-identification and integrity/.

Academic research paper on topic "Symbolic Approach to Education in Ethics"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 174 (2015) 3228 - 3235

INTE 2014

Symbolic approach to education in ethics

Ekaterina Dvoretckaia*, Marina Melekhina, Olga Sotnikova

Institute of Pedagogical and Adult Education, Chernyakhovskogo str. 2, 191119 Saint-Petersburg, Russia Ukhta State Technical University, Ukhta, Komi Republic, Russia


Symbolic approach to education in ethics reinforces our needs for sense, imagination, feeling, spontaneity, language, intuition, and judgments. Symbolic reality expresses the core of humanity by means of the embodiment of infinitum in finite. Symbols are zipped files and our goal is to acquire the right program to unzip them properly. Hermeneutic articulation of symbols in Art, suggested by Gadamer, Cassirer and Ricoeur, were the basis of our research. Symbolic approach promotes a sensitive differentiation between Good and Bad, leads to the development of moral sensitiveness, self-identification and integrity/

©2015 TheAuthors. PublishedbyElsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-reviewunderresponsibilityof the SakaryaUniversity

Keywords: symbolic approach; education in ethics; symbolic reality; hermeneutic articulation; symbols in Art;

1. Introduction

Globalization and multiculturalism call for the communication. The basis of communication is sympathy, or at least empathy. But in building of a knowledge-based society we orient to leap forward cognitive capacities. The intellectual development is of an utmost importance, so feelings' development is mostly left behind. Existing contradiction between social demands and educational offers can only be solved by means of symbolical approach to the education. Revealing of a symbolic reality pegs at the development of students' sensitiveness, self-

* Corresponding author. Tel.:+7-905-209-44-35; fax: +0-000-000-0000 . E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


Peer-review under responsibility of the Sakarya University


identification and integrity, which is very important for Education in Ethics, because main ethical notion and terms are the expression of senses: sense of tolerance, righteousness, love etc.

We've elaborated the study course to develop students' moral feelings by hermeneutic articulation of symbols in Art. This course helps students 1) to address pre-understanding and forestructures; 2) by asking own questions and answering on Other's questions to check and evaluate interpretation; 3) by entering into hermeneutic circle reflect own pre-understanding and forestructures.

1. Looking for the Human identity

In contemporary multicultural world the one of the main problem is the problem of self-identity. Sliding images of mass-media, strange understanding and explanations by different cultures make hard for students to acknowledge his/her attachment to one culture or another which was common sense for traditional societies. The contemporary era of mobility is a constantly evolving process since people's values and the availability of resources are constantly changing. As the technologies of human interchange advance, we become increasingly engaged in a world with others - "a socially saturated world" (Gergen, 1991). As a result, exterior plurality of meanings intermixes with interior plurality. The postmodern fragmentation of the world correlates with "multiple identity". The decentering of the subject alternates with the movement towards the narration of the flow of consciousness. It interlaces with the deconstruction of the self (Derrida), the disappearance of the author (Foucault), and the individual as a terminal in a network of circulating images (Baudrillard). The implication of decentering of the self that has been proclaimed by psychoanalysts and philosopher for at least one hundred years concerns the problems of personal identity.

For example, Lacan and Arend share a conviction that the decentering of the self seeks a concept of identity that avoids two possible but equally unacceptable perspectives: a biological or developmental account that ignores the hermeneutical dimension of identity on the one hand, and on the other, a "phenomenological" account of the Husserlian or Sartrean variety that elevates to a foundational status of freedom and autonomy of intentional subject. In particular, both Lacan's concept of a subject of the unconsciousness that emerges through "the discourse of the other", and Arend's concept of the "disclosure of the agent in speech and action" theorize the inherent variability and incalculability of identities formed through concrete discursive interaction.

Nowadays it is difficult to identify him/herself not only by means of "Blood brother", but also by the self-denotation to a reference group. But on the other hand, it is very important to acknowledge him/herself as a human being. So the understanding of what does it mean to be a human becomes the most significant for everybody. The grasp of this meaning is possible by familiarizing with classical exemplars of human culture. We could recognize it by the ever-increasing interest and quantity of people going to museums, theaters and philharmonics. Not only Hermitage and Mariinsky theater's statistics witness it, but also Louvre's and Metropolitan Museum's as well.

The underground of this traction to the Art we could find in Lacan's theory. In his famous "Mirror Stages" Lacan proved that slink (or aborted) human child learns how to control his/her body, hands and legs and how to possess wholeness by looking on his/her parents and other adults, copying their acts. In an analogical sense, we assume that understanding of what does it mean to be a human could be grasped by examples classicized in Art. It could be Fine Art images, literature as well as theatrical images. The best or classical embodiment of humanity in Art's images gives us ideal embodiment of infinite in finite. Statement of this is possible in symbols. Symbols are zipped files and our goal is to acquire the right program to unzip them properly. Hermeneutic articulation of symbols in Art, suggested by Gadamer, Cassirer and Ricoeur were the basis of our research.

Aesthetic experience as an endless infusion of humanity advances diacritical values that tend to open oneself to the world in other ways. All art is symbolic. Symbolic approach to education in Ethics reinforces our needs for sense, imagination, feeling, spontaneity, language, intuition, and judgments. Externalizing and expressing awareness and values as an integral part of what makes us human leads to increasing a moral sensitiveness. "Art makes visible the cognitive life of the senses, and the imagination" (Abbs, 2003). The visibility of the senses with emotional and strong-willed concentration is represented by symbols. But we should unarchive archived files of symbolic reality in our unconsciousness by hermeneutic approach.

Ricoeur's hermeneutics as "the art of deciphering indirect meaning" originates and culminates in the thesis

that human existence is itself a mode of interpret ation. Ricoeur's hermeneutic arc summarizes the major movements that comprise the act of interpretation: an initial act of understanding, the moment of explanation, and the moment of appropriation. It is the hermeneutic arc that prevents an appropriation from becoming a subjective interpretation. The hermeneutic gesture of genuine openness can play a vital role in promoting the culture of friendship in a globalized and yet profoundly divided and critically differentiated human society. In the spirit of the recognition of the outsider, of the singularly irreplaceable other, hermeneutics can effectively advocate for conflicting interpretations, which do not need to lead to conflicts but rather to responsible action of the capable human beings (l'homme capable) being in-between, that is of that space and time where human desire "takes hold".

2. Paradigm Shift in Education

The search for new approaches in Education is dictated by modern changes in thinking paradigm and in education itself. Today's students belong to the "Shift generation" and personify the change of the paradigm of thought themselves. We convince that main features of the paradigm shift reflect contradiction between rationality and visuality. We can't appeal to rationality, logicality, memory, which were the main characteristics of the knowledge-based paradigm of Education. Shift generation appeals to visualization, associative and allegoric thinking. It helps them to match unmatchable, and not only logically deduce one thing from another. The knowledge-based paradigm of Education is being replaced with communicative paradigm. Social challenges urge forward students not only obtain some knowledge, but to learn how to work in a team, to have their communicative abilities developed. Development of communicative abilities is necessary to survive in indefinite state, which is common for our fast-changing world. For that, it is necessary to be able to develop the ability to grasp the wholeness of the Other and to interpret it. Our study course aims exactly at the development of these abilities.

The ethical education of a new generation should respond to the challenges of the collapse of rationality, to the challenges of a deconstructed and decentralized subject in a fragmentary contemporary world, and to the plurality of Goods. Challenges and calls for elaborating new contents and methods of Education in Ethics make root of the young generation which is called a Shift generation. Allegorical thinking is more character for them than rational, critical reflection. Regular shift from one point to another is a core of contemporary students' world view and demands interactive ways of teaching and hermeneutic approach to understanding of contents. Symbolic approach to Education in Ethics was elaborated on the basis and with accordance of Paradigm shift. Its distinguishing features reside in Universalism vs. Pluralism; Rational vs. Visual;

Analogical thinking vs. Allegorical thinking; Reflection vs. Hermeneutical articulation.

New content of ethical education is better to look at symbolic reality because the "symbol invites us to think, calls for an interpretation, precisely because it says more than it says and because it never ceases to speak to us" (Ricoeur, 2005).

Gallagher (1992) notes that hermeneutics has not been widely discussed or adopted in the field of education. We agree that a hermeneutic approach (a) seeks understanding rather than explanation; (b) acknowledges the situated location of interpretation; (c) recognizes the role of language and historicity in interpretation; (d) views inquiry as conversation; and (e) is comfortable with ambiguity. According to Gadamer an understanding is reached within a fusion of horizons. For Gadamer (1996) "Part of real understanding is that we regain the concepts of a historical past in such a way that they also include our own comprehension of them" (Gadamer, 1996)

3. The hidden power of the symbolic reality

Symbolic reality is fused into what Geertz calls the "really real," which is created by "...the imbuing of a certain complex of symbols—of the metaphysics they formulate and the style of life which they recommend—with a persuasive authority which, from an analytic point of view is the essence of religious perspective"(Geertz, 1973). These symbol systems make the ethos intellectually reasonable by being shown for representing a way of life adapted to the worldview, and to make the worldview emotionally convincing by being presented as an image well-suited to accommodate such a way of life. Such value of symbolic reality is very important for multicultural education. George F. McLean underlines that "we create and live in terms of symbols that are more inclusive than concepts and more physical than ideas, yet more exalted than sensation" (McLean, 2005). Symbols are the intermediary between the world internal and the world external, between inner and external reality of human being as a person. As Florensky wrote, symbols are the organs of our contact with reality. Symbols are openings that have pierced through in our subjectivity. Symbol is an integral and indivisible quality and the person can bear within him/herself this quality. Symbol is a trace of sacred being in ordinary life. As Umberto Eco mentioned in "Symbol", "Any symbol is an enigma". Florensky defined a symbol as

"Being, when it's more than itself, - this is the basic definition of a symbol. The symbol is something that reveals, through itself, that which is not itself, that which is more than itself, - and yet something that essentially announces itself through this symbol. Let's unfold this formal definition: a symbol is that essence which fuses or mingles its energy with the energy of a more valuable essence. The symbol thereby carries within itself this more valuable essence (translated by Penny Burt), (Florenski, 1990).

This more valuable essence which symbols introduce involves externalizing and expressing one's awareness and values as an integral part of what makes us human. So the intimate contact with symbolic reality promotes the integrity (wholeness) of a person because the only integrated person could act morally.

Moral act bases not only on reason, but also on feeling. In this case it's necessary to teach ethics by interconnection of Good and Beauty. It will lead to development and maturity of feelings. The cultural sphere of representing sensations and feelings is Art. Sensations and feelings as concrete acts of human being are archived in Symbols. Art symbols help us to unzip zip files of symbolic reality in our unconsciousness.

According to Jung, unconsciousness influences all our experiences and behaviors, most especially the emotional ones, but we only know about it indirectly, by looking at those influences. Jung suggested that we possess collective unconsciousness. It is the reservoir of our experiences as a species, a kind of knowledge we are all born with. Contents of the collective unconscious are called archetypes. Jung also called them dominants, imagos, mythological or primordial images, and a few other names, but archetypes seem to have won out over these. An archetype is an unlearned tendency to experience things in a certain way. It acts as an "organizing principle" on the things we see or do. Umberto Eco describes Jung's collective unconsciousness as symbolic reality:

"The contents of the collective unconsciousness are the archetypes, archaic types, universal images, representations collectives: lunar, solar, vegetal, metereological representation, more comprehensible in myths, more evident in dreams and visions. Jung is explicit in saying that these symbols are neither mere signs (he uses the Greek technical word semeia) nor allegories. They are genuine symbols precisely because they are ambiguous, full of half-glimpsed meanings and in the last resorts inexhaustible. They are paradoxical because they are contradictory. If the archetypes are indescribable and infinitely interpretable, their experience cannot be but amorphous, undetermined, and unarticulated. Symbols are empty and full of meaning at the same time." (Eco, 1996).

Symbols are able to reproduce plurality through singularity. From the one side, symbols create differentiation of the world of actions and form cognitive space of the world. Cognitive space correlates with the space of actions. Rich cognitive space is full of differentiation and symbols. Plurality of symbols as a designation of the differentiated actions set richness and variety of processes and activities in the world and universe. The appeal to symbolic reality allows us to overcome personal boundaries. In Bakhtin's words, person as "organic unity" is capable of "transcending itself that is, exceeding its own boundaries" (Bakhtin, 1986). A "transcending of self' is the activity of "creation". This personal activity translates belief into reality. And this closely resembles what we have called "the sacrifice of self'.

The process of ethical behavior one can see as a creating act on the lower planes models and schemes, and on the higher planes these are symbols. Symbols contain convoluted time of the concrete activity. Symbols are powerful because of potentiality of certain activity. Human activity is impossible without emotions and feelings. In accordance with this symbols fill with the potentiality of activity expressed in emotional, strong-willed

concentration. The goal of this expression is not the energies themselves - physical, occult, etc. - as registered from the outside, but rather the meaning which they introduce into the world. By these means the identification is attained, so as the self-sufficiency of the activity which necessary for the identification of the given detached process. This process could help a student to identify her/himself and to obtain integrity through a moral act.

Follow Florenski, we can suppose that eluding of symbols based on the difference between openness and safeness. It is very important, because this is a tact or a tune. Tact of "basing" and of "based" keeps this distinction in harmony. Essence and existence are intact. Here we can distinguish the inner Logos that is dividing the totality of existence from the revealed Logos. This process preforms all the hues and directions of spiritual movements which might arise, and each appearance of the spirit, the newest, most unexpected, and the most uniquely-individual. One can touch a single representation that has passed and interrelate with another representation, which is coming and which is kindred to the first in the unity of symbolical content. Symbolism allows people to communicate beyond the limits of language.

We constructed a new study course to develop a basis for doing ethics in a diverse cultural context. This course emanates out of interpretive phenomenology. This is interactive course because of common experiences that belong together and co-occur and provide a new language for students and teachers. Symbolic reality discovers for us the rear opportunity to articulate the basic concepts of ethics such as Good and Evil. Hermeneutic articulation of symbols in Art builds up students' ability to form fine differentiation between good and evil. Visual sensation is best suitable for it. According to Aristotle, auditory sensations are memory condition, but visual sensations are giving most differences.

4. Hermeneutic articulation of Moral symbols in Art

Symbolic approach to Education in Ethics is based on phenomenological hermeneutic analysis about the symbolic interaction of artworks and an aesthetic and values philosophy toward a holistic approach to curriculum development. The purpose of this study is to conduct a deep interpretation of Symbols in Art for making universal inferences about aesthetic and values education and symbolic interaction in teaching multiculturalism. This study course presents a method for teaching sensitivity and ethics to students as citizens in the diverse global society. This phenomenological hermeneutic study includes not only interpretation of Symbols in Art but also a representation of a method of reasoning process that is both aesthetic and ethical.

Effective moral reasoning is not an exclusively cognitive matter, and depends crucially upon the proper development of affective capacities and sensibilities. This is equivalent to Aristotle who insisted that moral engagement with others is not primarily a matter of treating the Others equally in accordance with some impartial rule, but of developing sensitive appreciation of their circumstances and such appreciation involves the cultivation of appropriately ordered feeling. Aristotle who better shows us what this really requires in terms of the development of capacities to feel what the Others feel. Still, the key point of present concern is that Aristotelian moral virtue seems implicated in the cultivation of something like aesthetic sensibilities—specifically attachments to something beyond ourselves—as well as capacities for evaluative reason and judgment. Such cultivation appears to point towards the sort of change in ourselves.

The deep interconnection between Aesthetics and Ethics was ordained by Kant in his famous § 59 of The Critique of Judgment. In Of Beauty as the symbol of Morality Kant argues that a true ideal of the beauty of the human forms in the "expression of the moral:" "if we combine that with the later doctrine of aesthetic ideas and of beauty as the symbol of morality, then we can see that the doctrine of the ideal of beauty also prepares a place for the essence of art." (Kant, 1952). If we understand a work of art as the consummation of the symbolic representation of life expression of aesthetic and moral sensations archived within Symbols in Art we could conclude follow Kant that "The beautiful is the symbol of the morally good" and the transition from sensory attractiveness to habitual moral interest could happened "without too violent a leap." (Kant, 1952). Symbolic approach to Education in Ethics is elaborated to teach values and ethics for students from different ethnic nationalities and groups and to accustom students to live together in the global community.

Gadamer's hermeneutics offers a flexibility that can help students to develop by artworks' interpretation and analysis a guide to transform contemporary education. Hermeneutic articulation of Symbols in Art focuses on developing of students' abilities to become more aware of and refine their prejudices, experience pulled up short moments, and be more open to a dialogue between one's own understandings and those of others, it would better prepare them for negotiating the diverse realities in their future communities. Gadamer's hermeneutics can enhance our openness toward Others and can lead students to get beyond the defensive stance they are exhibiting. According to Gadamer, we "remain open to the meaning of the other person or text." It could help students "overcome" their prejudices. Hermeneutic circle entails a dialogue between parts and whole. This unique peculiarity of Gadamer's hermeneutics allows reaching integrity of a multiple identity person while practicing dialogical interconnection between parts and whole trough hermeneutic articulation of symbols in an artwork.

Art is especially well suited to provide this kind of knowledge by acquaintance precisely because it so effective at arousing the emotional responses characteristic of an ethical perspective. Emotionally laden acquaintance with symbols in Art is central to core concern for symbolic approach to education. The aesthetic relevance of imaginative and affective engagement with artworks determines the first question of hermeneutic analysis of an artwork: What do you feel?

The articulation of the feeling or sensation allows students to grasp the inherent meaning of the artwork. Students are able to answer for the question and articulate what act or a state of a soul (for example, in still life) is described in this artwork. Ussualy, it is a moral act or a moral sensation, or a state of a soul. Artworks possess aesthetical meritorious in so far as it possess an aesthetically relevant ethical merit. Its representing includes indicating what is represented. And we can say, as with Hegel, that this is the "appearing" of the idea. It appears, meaningfully and visibly. Hence what is symbolized is undoubtedly in need of representation.

Students not only judge from their point of view, but they should discover the position of the author. They should get her/his message. Their prejustice is based on sensitive differentiation between good and bad. Practical reiteration in a recognition of this differentiation leads to development of the moral sensitivity. To verify own prejustice students ought to answer the question: By using which symbols the artist is explaining his/her position? The answer on this question requires careful consideration of symbols and its interconnection in the artwork. We discover through a work of art to what extent we know and recognize something outside and inside of us. Students are taught to avoid partiality and aspire to fullness and completeness in pictures' hermeneutic interpretation. An individual limitation of understanding from a point of a view what is close to one's own sphere of ideas in the interpreting of a main idea and its valuation is not enough. The variations possible in hermeneutic analysis are not free and arbitrary. In fact they are all subject to the supreme criterion of "right" representation.

Gadamer underlines that Greek understanding of this process truly represents an aesthetical comprehension. "Theoria is a true participation, not something active but something passive (pathos), namely being totally involved in and carried away by what one sees." (Gadamer, 2004).

The distance is necessary for scrutinizing the picture. It makes possible a genuine and comprehensive participation in what is presented before us. We recognize ourselves in this presentation. According to Gadamer, it is possible, because "a spectator's ecstatic self-forgetfulness corresponds to his continuity with himself." (Gadamer, 2004). Precisely that in which one loses oneself as a spectator demands that one grasp the continuity of meaning. As an artwork is nevertheless self-identical in every moment so also "a spectator stands is both one of self-forgetfulness and of mediation with himself. What rends him from himself at the same time gives him back the whole of his being." (Gadamer, 2004).

Hence, symbolic approach to Education in Ethics promotes a sensitive differentiation between Good and Bad by students; the development of their moral sensitiveness, the self-identification and integrity. Only after answering to some questions the justified prejudice becomes productive. Usually we select some 10 min small artworks to be discussed during the lesson. Students divide into small groups for asking questions (usually 3) about the meaning and answering to question of another group. Gadamer considered the use of questions as a key to enabling a valid interpretation. According to him the understanding is not possible without the activity of questioning. Gadamer popularized questions as a means to open possibilities and to keep them open. The aim of such research using phenomenology is to construct an animating, evocative description (text) of human actions, behaviours, intentions, and experiences as we meet them in the usual life world. This productivity of knowing is based on an aesthetical involvement in scrutinizing the artwork.

For example, students are asked for hermeneutic analysis of Rembrandt's Prodigal Son. The feelings could be a compassion or suffering. This picture is devoted to articulation of Charity (Forgiveness). Rembrandt shows us the ambiguity of Charity. Charity is blind. It demonstrates by father's blindness. Charity does not depend on redemption. We cannot see the face of Prodigal Son. But we could see that charity is not absolutely good. The second main figure is the figure of oldest son. We can see the perplexity on his face. He could say as in Bible: "Behold, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed a commandment of yours, but you never gave me a goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this, your son, came, who has devoured your living with prostitutes; you killed the fattened calf for him". (Luke 15:29-30, World English Bible)

We can see his hands clenched which symbolize tension, withholding and suppression. Hands folded symbolize contemplation, passivity and contentment. Hands are very important in this picture. The hand has long been thought as a conduit of power - transforming unseen energy into the world of form. The thrilled and delicate hands of father convince us that charity is good. Rembrandt chose red color of the father's cloak and the cloak of oldest son because red color symbolizes love and blood. The naked feet represent naked soul which is ready for a transformation. The feet symbolize and represent the soul, as it serves to support the entire body and keep it upright.

Education in Ethics through Symbols in Art is a new design of ethics education content. The improving of ethical education is possible on the basis of the understanding and practical application of moral experiences through co-existing involvement in the symbolic reality on the verbal or figurative level. This course allows students to recognize the influence of unconscious on attitudes, actions, and speech. "As our response to the good is made only in concrete circumstances, our cultural tradition and our ethics as a philosophic science must be neither purely philosophical knowledge nor a simple historical accounting from the past, but we must enable our cultural tradition via our moral consciousness to help in concrete circumstances" (McLean, 2003).

The most fruitful results of ethical education appear in the understanding of the essence of ethics and in the formation of an "open moral consciousness" which is going beyond the moral standards of the existing community. As Wittgenstein mentioned, ethics is the anticipation of the universal and we should open new ethical horizons. These new ethical horizons could be open on behalf of future communities with sensitive and moral responsibility for future events in multicultural and ethnical diverse societies. The ethical person focuses on the future in an anticipation of the Good. It provides him/her an opportunity for self-determination and self-orientation with saving precise inter-subjective meaning. Such an ethical orientation of students contributes to the preservation of society by setting the orientation of the society to the right direction (the focus on the implementation of the Good). Moral Symbols in Art could be an eligible study course for future politics, teachers, doctors, etc. to develop their moral sensitiveness for correct ethical-making decisions.


The hermeneutic circle and dialogue of questioning and answering were two key strategies drawn from the hermeneutic literature that were incorporated in this research. Hermeneutic phenomenology and the interpretive narration to the description of symbols in Art find the genuine objective nature of the things. Hermeneutic phenomenology is focused on subjective experience of individuals and groups. Moreover the epistemology applied in this research is interpretive constructivism and draws from hermeneutics. In addition, within the interpretivist epistemology, a hermeneutic approach was considered the most appropriate choice for this research supporting as it does the construction of understanding from the analysis and interpretation. The moral foundations could be understood from the individual words and their combinations. Moreover, the full comprehension of the details presupposes the understanding of the whole.

So, it is suggested that nomothetic explanation (a generalized understanding of a given case) will coincide with idiographic explanation (a "full", detailed, in-depth understanding of a case).


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