Troubled theory in the debate between Hirst and Carr

Journal of Philosophy of Education 42 (1):133-147 (2008)
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Abstract

When Paul Hirst and Wilfred Carr squared up to each other a few years ago on the issue of the role of philosophical theory in educational practice, it became clear that theory itself had become a troubled term. The very fact that Wilfred Carr could argue for the end of educational theory recalls Paul Feyerabend's fiery argument for the end of theory in natural science and simply deepened the attack that had already appeared in Carr and Kemmis's book, Becoming Critical (1986). In response, Hirst insisted that theory, and particularly the philosophical theory of education, should be defined as a discrete area of study in itself, governed and structured by the axioms of logic. In this way, he argued, the philosophy of education would be no different from philosophy in general (at least in its analytic formulation). Carr, on the other hand, preferred to consider educational theory as a flexible event that took its shape from the landscape explored, and hence precisely not the kind of study that Hirst supported, but one based in action research and reflective practitioner experience. This debate is as yet unresolved. In this piece I begin by making several remarks about the current context for raising the question Hirst and Carr address, and I go on to consider other possible understandings of theoria in a Greek sense before developing this idea through a reading of Aristotle. I eventually conclude that each of the protagonists in the debate has taken a step too far.

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Fiachra Long
University College, Cork