Worthwhile Content

Worthwhile content in education is what students ought to learn.

With respect to types of knowing, teachers ought to select the best of culture and lead students to:

What ought to be learned is a central question in philosophical educology. See also worthwhile education for everyone: we2

If we are going to determine what is worthwhile, we must have justifiable criteria for making such judgments.  Reasoned argument is paramount for such justification.  Rationality is required.

Reasoned argument for criteria should not be based on what is, but rather on what ought to be.  Reasoned argument for justifying criteria should not rely solely on empirical evidence, for to do so would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy. For example, it does not make sense to argue that murder of human beings is worthwhile, based on the empirical fact that murders do occur. 

The ultimate criteria for making such judgments must be based on initial principles that are justified by means other than empirical evidence.  As examples,

  • In Plato's Republic, Socrates put forth the fundamental principles of truth, goodness, and beauty in seeking an answer to "What is justice?"

  • Immanuel Kant (1785) reasoned that justice should be determined by the categorical imperative:  “Act as though the maxim of your action were to become, through your will, a universal law of nature.” (p. 24)

  • Elizabeth Steiner (2009) reasoned that these criteria are essential: 

    The justification of the principles of universality (impartiality), autonomy (liberty), and humanity (rational benevolence) resides in the intuition of rationality as the essential characteristic of humanness. (Section 13.5, italics added).

    Steiner concluded that, on the meta-ethical level:

    The principles of impartiality, liberty, and rational benevolence must be true if there is to be moral discourse at all, i.e., moral discourse of which the principles are examples is impossible without presupposing the principles. (Section 13.5.1)

In summary, justification of criteria for determining worthwhile education and worthwhile content must be through reasoned argument from initial principles—i.e., through rationality—not from empirical fact.