University of Oulu

Katariina Holma, The rejection of rational autonomy as an educational ideal? In search of a philosophical justification for radical change in Paul Hirst’s thinking, Journal of Philosophy of Education, Volume 57, Issue 1, February 2023, Pages 135–148,

The rejection of rational autonomy as an educational ideal? : in search of a philosophical justification for radical change in Paul Hirst’s thinking

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Author: Holma, Katariina1
Organizations: 1Faculty of Education and Psychology, Values, Ideologies and Social Contexts of Education–Research Unit, University of Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: John Wiley & Sons, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-10-03


In Paul Hirst’s later writings, he states that his earlier idea that ‘a good life is one of rational autonomy is both inadequate and mistaken’. Instead of rational autonomy, he argues that the main constituent of the good life is the satisfaction of needs and interests in relevant social practices; therefore, the main aim of education should be initiation into social practices. I concur with Hirst regarding the problematic nature of views that take the individual, rational, autonomous moral subject as their educational starting point. Furthermore, like Hirst, I see that the problematic separation of moral thinking and action is embedded in these views. However, I disagree with Hirst regarding the justification of Aristotelian theory, on which he bases his new account. Instead, I defend a pragmatist justification for what I see as the most important dimension of Hirst’s later shift in thinking in his moral theory. Utilizing resources from such pragmatists as Charles S. Peirce, John Dewey, Israel Scheffler, and Nicholas Rescher, I outline an account in which there is no dichotomy between theoretical and practical reason: both reason and emotion belong to nature and work in collaboration, and moral thinking and action can be learned and improved in responsible social practices.

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Series: Journal of philosophy of education. The journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain
ISSN: 0309-8249
ISSN-E: 1467-9752
ISSN-L: 0309-8249
Volume: 57
Issue: 1
Pages: 135 - 148
DOI: 10.1093/jopedu/qhad012
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 516 Educational sciences
611 Philosophy
Funding: This work has been supported by the Academy of Finland through a research project Theory and Practice of Learning in Civil Society, decision no. 316100.
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 316100
Detailed Information: 316100 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © The Author(s) 2023. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.