Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Centrality of Humanities Education in Rational Justification: Especially in Multiculturalist Perspective

Ken Westphal.

The key issues confronting the assessment and justification of our principles and practices in any multicultural context, however local or global, are epitomized by Sextus Empiricus’ Dilemma of the Criterion. This dilemma also formulates the key problems with standard ‘deductivist’ and ‘foundationalist’ accounts of justification: Because these accounts treat justification in terms of deriving a conclusion from some privileged set of first principles or premises, they cannot account for the justification of those first principles or premises themselves. At this level, dogmatism, question-begging (petitio principii), infinite regress, mere assumption, or vicious circularity–precisely the problems posed by the Dilemma of the Criterion–are rife. I contend that only a pragmatic account of justification can solve the Dilemma of the Criterion. The pragmatic account of justification I advocate is consistent with realism about the objects of empirical knowledge and about truth regarding empirical claims about such objects. In this pragmatic account of justification, constructive self-criticism and constructive mutual criticism play central, complementary roles. Constructive criticism requires a bevy of intellectual skills and abilities, which may be summed up as ‘mature judgment’. I explicate ‘mature judgment’, and show that it forms the most fundamental aim of the Renaissance ideal of a liberal education, and that exercising mature judgment is central to any and to all our rational activities throughout our lives, whether in research, public office, professional assignments, or one’s personal life. I argue that the centrality of mature judgment in rational justification shows that both education and philosophy of education are central, not only to social or political philosophy, but also to theory of knowledge. I further argue that, precisely in the context of global multiculturalism, and in the context of the growing cultural influence of technology, engineering, and the social and natural sciences, mature judgment and the liberal education that develops it gain increasing significance and urgency. This conclusion also entails that the central concern in humanities education cannot simply be the taught content, but the critical and self-critical ways in which it is taught.


Ken Westphal  (United States)
Professorial Fellow
University of East Anglia

Kenneth R. Westphal’s research focuses on Kant and Hegel, and is informed by historical and contemporary philosophy, both ‘analytic’ and ‘continental’; it embraces epistemology; pragmatism; ethics, social, political, & legal philosophy; and aesthetics.

  • Sextus Empiricus
  • Philosophy of Education
  • Rational Justification
  • Pragmatism
  • Realism
  • Epistemology
  • Dilemma of the Criterion
  • Foundationalism
  • Deductivism
  • Mature Judgment
  • Humanities Education

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)