Workshop 2A education

Jaron Daniël Schoone – Moral Subjectivism in Secondary Education

Would you be surprised to learn that high school students think that “genocide is wrong” expresses an opinion rather than a fact? Justin McBrayer, professor of philosophy at Fort Lewis College in Colorado, claimed in an article in the New York Times that students in the USA are being taught that moral statements are opinions and not facts (McBrayer 2015). He based this claim on an exercise that one of his children brought home, the so-called fact and opinion worksheet.[1] In this worksheet students are required to categorize different statements either as a fact (a statement that is proven to be true) or as an opinion (a statement about personal beliefs and feelings). According to McBrayer students often categorize moral statements as the latter. He concludes that this leads to moral subjectivism.

As a philosophy teacher and PhD candidate I became interested in this topic since I also noticed that many of my students appear to be moral subjectivists. Furthermore, it turns out that the fact and opinion worksheet is also used in the Netherlands in classes such as Dutch language, history and social science classes.[2] In collaboration with the University of Amsterdam I created a modified version of the fact and opinion worksheet, which I used as a questionnaire.[3] In this modified version students had to first define the terms “fact” and “opinion” themselves and then had to categorize 25 statements as either a fact or an opinion. 6 of the 25 statements were moral statements such as “genocide is wrong”. The preliminary result, based on 211 respondents from 11 classes at 4 different schools, show that 94% of the students identify moral statements as opinions.

In this paper I will present the results of my empirical study and will argue that a majority of high school students are indeed moral subjectivists. I will contrast this view with views that hold that morality is objective, especially theistic views on morality such as A.C. Ewing’s theistic intuitionism (Ewing 1944, 1973), and will conclude with some suggestions on further studies of the causes and effects of moral subjectivism.


[1] For an example of this worksheet see

[2] An example would be the Dutch textbook Nieuw Nederlands (Steenbergen 2013).  An easily accessible example in Dutch can be accessed on the following website:

[3] The questionnaire is visible at the following website:


Ewing, A.C. (1944) ‘Subjectivism and Naturalism in Ethics’, Mind Vol. 53, No. 210, pp. 120-141.

Ewing, A.C. (1973) Value and Reality: The Philosophical Case for Theism, George Allen & Unwin, London.

McBrayer, J.P. (2015) Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts, New York Times, (accessed 1 december 2015).

Steenbergen, W. (ed.) (2013) Nieuw Nederlands 5de editie havo/vwo 2 leerboek, Noordhoff Uitgevers.

Opeoluwa Aiyenitaju  – Using Dooyeweerd to Explore Down-to Earth Issues Facing Teachers Using ICT.

Several studies have discussed the roles ICTs have played in repositioning education in Nigeria (Agbetuyi & Oluwatayo, 2012). Unfortunately, the present situation of ICT in education has been impaired by corruption, lack of infrastructures, brain drain, lack of political will, management attitudes (Edewor et al., 2014).

However, these are high-level issues of interest to senior managements (Ahmad et al., 2013) rather than ‘down-to-earth’ issues that are meaningful to teachers ‘on the ground’. Two lines of understanding on issues in literature have opened up: diversity of issues and overlooked/ignored issues- there is a need for a theoretical basis that enables these two views.

To find the Down-to-Earth (DTE) issues, 20 primary school teachers were interviewed (open interviews). The interviews were transcribed and analysed. When the interviewees were asked a question, they often provided extra information beyond that which answers the question. Phrases were selected that expressed meaningful issues and then separated into those that were direct answers and those that were volunteered extra information.

The phrases in both set were aspectually analysed by categorising the meaning of the phrases by reference to Dooyeweerd aspects. For example, one teacher told me that the computer affects her health (biotic aspect), I recorded the reason why it was that aspect. For ease of reference these were tabulated. Since all issues in everyday life activities are important, no issues identified were ignored.

The results of this aspectual analysis were used to create aspectual profiles. An aspectual profile is a count of the number of aspects that makes phrases meaningful. An aspectual profile was created for the questions, answers and meaningful extras. Comparing these profiles revealed that the issues teachers felt were meaningful differed from the sets the researcher felt were meaningful. For example, the formative, aesthetic and juridical aspects were of more interest to the researcher while the kinematic, physical, psychic, social and economic aspects were of more interest to the teachers.

The research continues but the following advantages of using Dooyeweerd aspect for text analysis has been identified:

  1. Whereas standard text analysis such as Gioia methodology finds a single theme in each phrase, Dooyeweerd (1995) can find multiple themes. For example: this phrase shows these aspects
  • “Sometimes we are entertained as opposed to be actively involved in the learning.”
  • Aesthetic; Analytic
  • This should help to open up diversity of DTE issues.
  1. Using Dooyeweerd aspects stimulates new ideas.
  • For example: “The use of ICT sometimes varies because they are quiet young”
  • Dooyeweerd: Brings out the formative aspect on ‘use’
  • Stimulating Thought: Why can’t there be suitable ICT tools?
  • Dooyeweerd helps look beyond the limitation ‘they are quiet young’
  1. Even the seemly trivial issues, Dooyeweerd can give meanings and ensure they are not overlooked.
  2. It is widely acknowledged that the researcher’s bias can affect the results (Klein& Myers, 1999). Comparing aspectual profiles enables the analyst not only to show that bias exists but to explore the nature of that bias.

Ahmad, H., Basden, A. 2013. Down-to-Earth Issues in Information System Use. Proceedings of the Pacific Area Conference on Information Systems (PACIS). Paper 191.

Agbetuyi, P. A. & Oluwatayo, J. A. (2012). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Nigerian Educational System. In Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences. Vol. 3 (3) September.

Dooyeweerd, H. (1955). A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (Vol. I-IV). Jordan Station, Ontario.: Paideia Press (1975 edition). (Cited in Basden, 2008)

Edewor, P. A., lmhonopi , D. & Urim, U. M. (2014). ICTs and sustainable development of higher education in Nigeria: Rewriting the ugly narrative. Journal of Educational and Social Research, Vol. 4, No. I. (Italy). Global Impact Factor: 0.507.

Klein, H. K. and Myers, M. D. (1999). A Set of Principles for Conducting and Evaluating Interpretive Field Studies in Information Systems. MIS Quarterly, 23 (1), 67-94.

Klein & Myers, 1999

Dr. Bram de Muynck – Can we Teach to be a ‘Brother’s Keeper’? How Imagination can Contribute to Knowledge of the Unknown Other.

Due to growing diversity in populations and streams of refugees, the current upcoming generation is challenged to deal with the ‘unknown other’. Educating about diversity, however, is at risk because of the political debates on interculturality and about the acceptance of strangers. On the one hand, opinions of students are somehow directed by parents. Teachers, feeling the critical eyes of parents looking over their shoulders, tend to behave very reluctantly towards issues of diversity and religion. On the other hand schools are addressed by society to work on dealing with the unknown other. The need for vision and action is emphasised in education from primary education to higher education. Another factor that stresses the need of attention for openness and tolerance is the fact that modern education aims mainly for efficient transmission of specific goals. These goals are promoted by governments and boards of schools who aim to reach high places on ranking lists. Schools need to challenge the trend of ‘performativity’ (so called in recent studies in philosophy of education called). Schools should refrain from performativity by emphasizing freedom and openness(Biesta, 2011, Biesta, 2013).In this paper I am using the Christian notions of ‘visiting’ and ‘hospitability’ to explain what is needed in teaching/learning formats. Promoting imagination of the biography of the unknown other is needed to get a sense of otherness. With help of a few examples, and with reference to Edith Stein, Hanna Arendt, Carl Rogers, David Smith (2009) and others I claim that a proper insight in ‘empathy’ (Rogers, 1976) and ‘identification’ (Bandura, 1986) could help to underpin strategies in education. My contention is that the use of narratives should be promoted in education in order to encourage ‘brother’s keeping’.


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory.Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Biesta, G. (2010). Good education in an age of measurement. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.

Biesta, G. (2013).The beautiful risk of education, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder Colora­do.

Rogers, C.R. (1976),Mens worden. De visie van een psychotherapeut op persoonlijke groei. Utrecht: Erven J. Bijleveld.

Smith, D.I. (2009). Learning from the stranger. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.