Learning, Participation and After Virtue

What makes a good person? This is an old and important question.  Philosophers and theologians through the years have sought an answer including Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kierkegaard, Newman, Nietzsche and others. Alasdair MacIntyre provides a useful analysis of the history of thinking on this question and the current state of moral philosophy in his books After Virtue (1984) and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988). MacIntyre argues that a full understanding of moral philosophy today is constrained by failure to appreciate historical context. He proposes a disquieting scenario to illustrate what he deems the state of affairs today. Imagine, he suggests, through some terrible catastrophe all the scientists in the world were wiped out and with them the thinking and practice they engaged in. Some time later, when people seek to revive science they would only be partly successful; they would have to rely on clues from remnants of documentation, pieces of laboratory apparatus and a scattering of folk ideas. The practice of science would be gone. Although MacIntyre uses this vista to illustrate how, he believes, we have lost the way (and means) of moral philosophy, he is also making a point about ‘practice’. Human activities directed and sustained toward Read More …

MOOCs – Promise and Opportunity

In case you don’t know by now, MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course and they are causing an upheaval in higher education worldwide. We should be careful when describing something as a ‘game changer’ but perhaps this is one instance where it is appropriate and warranted. In essence MOOCs are online courses that are generally free of charge and delivered on a range of topics from prestigious universities and colleges. MOOCs are made available through various platforms or providers – the big providers are Coursera, EdX, Udacity and ClevrU. A clance through any of these sites will give you a sense of the range and quality of courses on offer. The numbers taking some of these courses are staggering – class sizes in the tens of thousands are not unusual. However, completion rates are modest enough with an average of about 20% – a good interactive source on completion rates is found here at Katy Jordan’s site. The big question is why a prestigious institution like Harvard, Stanford University and MIT would want to offer courses free-of-charge and risk destroying a valuable source of future revenue? The answer may lie in a new emphasis on the provision of quality Read More …