Bloom and His Critics: Nietzsche, Nihilism, and the Aims of Education

Studies in Philosophy and Education 18 (6):405-434 (1999)
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The central questions raised by Allan Bloom's The Closing of theAmerican Mind are often overlooked. Among the most important ofBloom's themes is the impact of nihilism upon education. Bloom condemnsnihilism. Interestingly, we find among his critics two alternativejudgments. Richard Schacht, citing Nietzsche, asserts that nihilism,while fruitless in and of itself, is a necessary prerequisite tosomething higher. Harry Neumann, affirming the accuracy of nihilism,declares that both Bloom and Nietzsche reject nihilism out of ignoranceborn of weakness. All three philosophers understand that the purpose ofeducation emerges from one's position on nihilism. If nihilism is true,then it is senseless and cowardly to teach one's students that there aregrounds for moral judgments. On the other hand, if one believes thatthere is an objective higher and lower in moral matters, then one cannotat the same time consistently endorse nihilism or the atheism upon whichit rests. There is reason to believe that a consistent nihilism isimpossible and hence that the concept is bankrupt. But then something istrue, and there are grounds for moral judgment. Education must respondaccordingly. But even Bloom with his emphasis on the Great Books fallsshort of what is required. An education which aims to defeat nihilismmust, at the very least, hold out the promise that through thecultivation of reason one may indeed arrive at the truth



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