Dialogue on Peace as the Presence of Justice: Ethical Reasoning as an Essential Learning Goal of Peace Education (Part 3 of 3)

An Invitation to Peace Educators from Dale Snauwaert and Betty Reardon

Editor’s Introduction

This is the third in a three-part series dialogue between Betty Reardon and Dale Snauwaert on “Dialogue on Peace as the Presence of Justice.”  This installment includes the final exchange and concluding reflections between the authors.  The dialogue in its entirety is published via In Factis Pax, a peer-reviewed online journal of peace education and social justice.

The purpose of the dialogue, according to the authors:

“This dialogue on peace education is guided by two foundational assertions: peace as the presence of justice; and ethical reasoning as an essential learning goal of peace education. We invite peace educators everywhere to review and assess our dialogue and the challenges outlined, and to engage in similar dialogues and colloquies with colleagues who share the common goal of making education an effective instrument of peace. In this way we hope to inspire discourse on cultivating peace, human rights and the moral imperatives of justice; let us strive together to develop core learning pedagogies of ethical inquiry and moral reasoning as essentials of peace education.”

Read part 1 and part 2 in the series.

Citation: Reardon, B. & Snauwaert, D. (2022).  Dialogue on Peace as the Presence of Justice: Ethical Reasoning as an Essential Learning Goal of Peace Education. An Invitation to Peace Educators from Dale Snauwaert and Betty Reardon. In Factis Pax, 16 (2): 105-128.

Exchange 5

Snauwaert:  Yes, the necessity of developing the capacities of ethical reasoning and judgment among citizens cannot be overestimated; ethical reasoning  is integral to and essential for peace education.  To say that the society is just or unjust and thus the principles of justice that regulate it are justifiable, requires a process of offering reasons that verify the normative validity of those principles.  Educating for and about rights and duties is, therefore, central to peace education, which calls for a theoretical and practical inquiry into pedagogical approaches to the development of the capacities to assert and justify one’s rights and to understand, affirm, and enact the duties entailed in rights.

However, the principles of justice that serve as the regulating rules of institutions “must be not only verified but also validated.  It is not enough to show that if certain criteria [rules] are employed, then a thing must be said to have a certain degree of ‘goodness’ [justice]; we must also show that these criteria ought to be employed” (Baier, 1958, p. 75).  So, in ethical reasoning about the terms of social cooperation necessary for peace and justice, we need to not only consider the terms themselves, that is, principles of justice and shared political values, but also the criteria or standards of validity upon which we can assess the justifiability of those values and principles.

The judgment or claim that a principle is right or just presupposes that we have reason to affirm it, and that reason is not any reason as such but a justifiable and thus valid reason.  “We are thinking of the conditions which something must satisfy in order to be properly called a [political value and/or principle of justice] … (Baier, 1958, p. 181).”  Claims of justice thus presuppose criteria for the determination of the justifiability of reasons. It can be argued that the process of moral reasoning and judgment is one of deliberating and offering reasons that justify those claims, including claims about the justifiability of social norms and institutions (Baier, 1954, 1958; Forst, 2012; Habermas, 1990, 1996; Rawls, 1971; Rawls & Kelly, 2001; Scheffler, 1981; Singer, 2011).  As Thomas Scanlon suggests:  “If we could characterize the method of reasoning through which we arrive at judgments of right and wrong, and could explain why there is good reason to give judgments arrived at in this way the kind of importance that moral judgments are normally thought to have, then we would, I believe, have given sufficient answer to the question of the subject matter of right and wrong” (Scanlon, 1998, p. 2).

From this perspective, we can look to the nature of reasoning itself, specifically, its presuppositions, for the criteria of justification.  Moral reasoning is a form of argumentation and discourse that contains unavoidable “presuppositions,” which are the constitutive elements of reasoning in the sense that they define what reasoning is.  They are necessary conditions or predicates for the very possibility of reasoning (Brune, Stern, & Werner, 2017; Stern, 2021). Presuppositions are analogous to the primary rules of a game that define what the game is, such that those rules are necessary conditions for the very possibility of playing the game.  You cannot play a game of chess, for example, without knowing and accepting the rules that define chess.  The presuppositions of moral reasoning are logically necessary if one is to engage in the practice of moral reasoning (Habermas, 1990, 1993; Kant, 1991 [1797]; May, 2015; Peters, 1966; Watt, 1975).

Following the insight of John Rawls, we can invoke the elements of fairness as the presuppositions of moral reasoning that serve as the basic criteria for the normative justification of principles of justice (Rawls, 1971; Rawls & Kelly, 2001).  These elements of fairness serve as basic moral reasons for the justification of principles and values.  It can be argued that there are at least four criteria of fairness: equality, recognition, reciprocity, and impartiality.

Regarding equality, fairness is grounded in a recognition of and respect for the intrinsic equality of persons (Rawls, 1971; Rawls & Kelly, 2001)A foundation of moral reasoning is the normative assertion of equality, the presupposition that every human being should be considered as possessing an equal, inherent value (Kymlicka, 1990; Snauwaert, 2020).  Regarding recognition, the possibility of moral relationships between persons, and when structured politically, between citizens, is grounded in and made possible by the reciprocal recognition of each person’s equal dignity and right to freedom—recognition of persons as free and equal (Fukuyama, 1992, 2018; Honneth, 2015, 2021; Rawls, 2000; Williams, 1997; Zurn, 2015).

Furthermore, moral reasoning and justification is a demand for reasons that can be accepted by others (Forst, 2012; Habermas, 1990, 1993; Scanlon, 1998).  It constitutes a reciprocity of mutual agreement, which requires that the terms that regulate the moral and political relationship between citizens must be acceptable to all affected.  The terms must be such that no reasonable person would have grounds to reject them  (Forst, 2012; Rawls, 1993; Rawls & Freeman, 1999; Rawls & Kelly, 2001; Scanlon, 1998).  In turn, to achieve reciprocity the claim or norm must be free of the bias of exclusive self-interest; that is, it must be impartial. To gain legitimate general acceptance the moral claim or principle must be impartial, in the sense that it is good for all (Habermas, 1990).  “Bare-faced appeal to self-interest will not do” (Singer, 2011, p. 93).

These criteria are the presuppositions of fairness in the sense that they shape the meaning of fairness. As mentioned above, these criteria of fairness are analogous to the basic rules of a game, for as the basic rules of a game define the game and form the basis of its secondary rules. The criteria of fairness define the standards for the justification of principles of justice, including rights (Snauwaert, under review).  For example, a right to freedom of conscience is justifiable because it applies equally to all, recognizes each person as free and equal, is not met with reasonable rejection by believers and nonbelievers alike, and is impartial in that it favors no one’s particular self-interest.  On the other hand, it can be argued, for example that the principle of “separate but equal” is unjustifiable for it treats persons unequally, recognizes them as inferior, persons treated unequally have valid reason to reject the principle, and it serves the self-interests of a particular social group and not the common good.

As outlined previously, in this dialogue we hope to inspire discourse on cultivating peace, human rights and the moral imperatives of justice, and to develop ideas for pedagogies of ethical inquiry and moral reasoning as essentials of peace education.  Above we have shown how the presuppositions of the elements of fairness, when applied to moral reasoning, can provide essential standards of validity for principles of justice. Developing these capacities of moral reasoning and judgement among citizens is fundamental to the goals and pedagogy of peace education.  Educating about rights, duties, and developing capacities to discern, assert and justify one’s rights while working to understand and create the social and political cooperation necessary for peace and justice to prevail are tall orders, no doubt.

Betty, your pioneering writing and work over many decades continues to demonstrate a deep recognition and comprehension of the fundamental importance of the political in all its dimensions, including an incisive understanding of society’s political terrain.  Could you expand our dialogue by discussing the current socio-political terrain and what further capacities citizens need to develop to become politically astute, efficacious, and educated for ethical reasoning in this moment of history?

Reardon:  When you call for a “theoretical and practical inquiry” into a general pedagogy in education to understand and affirm rights and enact duties, you call for a mapping of a broader conceptual range than we have thus far considered, which also involves taking into account the political realities as the context for the process of consideration. Your call requires addressing  both the political context of the pursuit and the requisite capacities to equip individual citizens and societies to campaign for and to maintain a more just social order – if and when it is achieved.

Just as we need to translate the philosophic conceptual base for the pursuit of justice into ordinary language, familiar to the general citizenry, we need to consider the relevant socio-political terrain in which learner/citizens are to exercise agency. Today that terrain is fraught, rent by ideological divisions, conflicting values, hatred of difference, and contempt for truth, all antithetical to respect for human rights, and the enactment of duties to fulfill them; the context itself is an impediment to justice and to the ethical reasoning its achievement requires.

With that terrain in mind, I propose three additional concepts to the taxonomy we have thus far established: integrity, accountability, and audacity. These concepts pertain in all political contexts but demand particular attention in the design of a relevant pedagogy in our present situation. Audacity, the propensity to take bold risks, often connotes lack of civility or rudeness. However, even while seeking more civility in political discourse, the present moral/ethical necessity to break through silent acquiescence to blatant injustice and painfully evident authoritarianism running rampant over the institutions charged with delivering justice, demand nothing less than “speaking truth to power.”  In this reference to moral/ethical, as noted, I invoke a complementarity such as that of responsibility/duty.  To me, the two concepts are not synonymous, so much as providing a kind of synergy of distinct but related, equally essential efforts toward a common purpose, i.e., making sound personal and political value judgments so as to apply normatively consistent values to all realms of the justice problematic.

I would designate the three concepts I am adding to this glossary for education for ethical reasoning as capacities, human abilities to be developed through intentional learning. They are, as well, what Douglas Sloan has referred to as qualities (Sloan, 1983, 1997), i.e., individual personal characteristics to be brought forth as learners do the inner work of reflecting on what they truly believe to be just responses to actual cases of rights violations and/or to particular claims to rights.

I put forth these conceptual pairs within the also/and mode of thinking, previously advocated, believing that mode to hold some promise of mending the fissures, dividing a society deeply wounded by political bifurcation. The ideological and normative differences among us compound the difficulties of assuring rights and enacting duties, and thus impede justice. While steadfast values commitment would be a desired developmental goal, we must recognize that personal political values are in as much need of reflective review as are public norms and legal standards. The three concepts and their complements, outlined below are integral to that review.

Integrity/reflexivity is a synergic conceptual pair that most clearly manifests the imperative of reflective review. Integrity, connoting wholeness of person wherein one’s behaviors are consistent with her articulated values, is the quality most lacking in present leadership and too many of their followers. Craven behavior, guided by narrow and exclusionary interests, totally antithetical to the principles of the universality of human rights, govern both discourse and policy making. An aura of anti-reflective, self-righteousness prevails on both sides of this polarized society, ungrounded moral certainties propel us toward greater and greater national disasters, consigning more and more to conditions under which their most fundamental rights are denied.

The spirit of open inquiry is moribund. Consideration that there may be flaws in one’s values or the thinking which produced them is seen as weakness, or worse, compromising with the “other side.” Authentic integrity cannot be sustained without being subject to regular reflective examination to assess personal values in terms of how they affect one’s views on current public issues and controversies. Reflexivity helps to maintain integrity by enabling us to regularly shed the light of reality on our inner-most values and how they affect our relationships, behaviors, and stances on issues of justice. The political efficacy of agents quite likely depends on both elements of this pair of complementary concepts. Integrity calls us to hold ourselves to the same standards as those to which we hold our political opponents. Regular reflective examination of our own morality and ethics may help make that possible.

Whereas I assert that integrity is most relevant to the person, the individual citizen, clearly, I also assert that it pertains to individuals in public positions, especially positions in the institutions intended to protect human rights and to defend and/or dispense justice. Beyond that accountability is especially important for those who hold public positions.  Paring it with its complement, compliance makes it more possible for public servants to fulfill the duties that accrue to the offices they hold.

The conceptual pair of accountability/compliance describes complementary behaviors that are important in assigning and accepting responsibility for fulfillment of duties as functionaries of public institutions. In its full sense these behaviors are likely to be evident in officials who also have personal integrity as well a strong sense of civic responsibility and a commitment to the public they serve. Such is not always the case, yet public servants can serve adequately in light of accountability and compliance as they fulfill the basic civic functions assigned. This conceptual pair assures the possibility that justice can be dispensed, even in the absence of civil servants lacking the preferred qualities of personal morality and integrity. Indeed, compliance with public norms and legal standards can be a limited but sufficient basis of a reasonably fair society, one that might well be advanced to a more robust condition of justice, when elements of the society mobilize for it. Mobilizations arise out of growing public justification of claims or growing consciousness of an injustice. They have been effective in achieving compliance and sometimes have exacted accountability.

 Audacity/prudence come into play in responsible civic action based on reasonable and reasoned public discourse. Audacity is generally understood to be a propensity to take bold risks. Risk taking, an essential peacemaking capacity and a personal attribute of persons of integrity, exercised in publicly challenging an injustice, has made possible most of the legal standards by which we justify claims. For the individual citizen whose conscience demands response to any of the many injustices still tolerated by societies, audacity is a liberating quality that enables her to risk retaliation by institutional authorities, governments, religions, universities, corporations, and businesses, as well as groups who believe they are benefited by that injustice.  Whistle blowers, like prisoners of conscience risk jail and/or exile, yet their “speaking truth to power” can sometimes turn the public toward justice.

None-the-less, political efficacy frequently demands that conscience be tempered by taking into account all elements that might affect an audacious, morally inspired act. So, we must educate, as well, for prudence and strategic discernment, hoping to avoid self-righteous self-sacrifice, by taking actions that are more practical within the given context.  Educating for prudent assessment of the potential consequences and efficacy of actions for justice should be included among pedagogies for development of ethical reasoning.

Previously, I recommended that justice curricula should include the historic evolution of human rights standards. As an extension of that recommendation, I suggest teaching that awakens awareness of the politics of conscience that produced the evolution. Capacities such as political discernment and qualities such as prudence and moral courage are characteristic of those who engage in a politics of conscience that have energized human rights movements. The educational goal advocated is the formation of citizens as principled and prudent risk takers, likely to be politically effective agents in the pursuit of justice.

Our present context demands all possible efforts to transcend the lack of ethics and the moral inconsistencies that plague public life.  It demands of us as persons that we act according to our fundamental inner sense of what is right; as citizens to engage in principled reasoning based on recognized norms of justice, as participants in a given political context to act on what we can ascertain to be the truth of “the facts on the ground;” and as peace educators to devise a pedagogy to prepare all citizens to do so, as well. The rights and justice pedagogy we devise must be directed toward the invocation of profound moral reflection in concert with the exigent exercise of ethical reasoning.

Fulfilling those civic and professional obligations is certainly a tall order, inevitably involving risks, some of them in the sensitive process of initiating moral reflection. The moral/ethical dissonance of the present political context suggest the need for safe learning spaces for individuals to dare to delve into that part of the self in which resides our personal morality, a sense of what is truly good and evidently right. We may not enter that space with the learner, only assure its availability. Ours is not the task of formulating personal morality. None-the-less we have a responsibility to make it possible for learners to become aware of the morality that actual guides their thinking and its origins, be they religion, family, ideology or personal or historic experience – and how it affects their identities and behaviors.

We have an even greater responsibility to assure the same for ourselves. As peace educators, aspiring to integrity, we should be fully aware of own personal values, assuring that no matter how strongly committed we may be to those personal values, they are not at direct play in our teaching, nor the basis on which we take positions and actions regarding public issue in general and the pursuit of justice in particular.

 Regarding pedagogical principles, first and foremost, a relevant pedagogy, in distinguishing between personal morality and public ethics, would make it clear that in a diverse society, the personal realm must not be the basis of public policy. It would demonstrate that when it is, it constitutes an egregious violation of the rights of those who hold different moral values. Still, it is to be hoped that consistency of values between personal morality and ethical principles would be consistent in persons of integrity, in clear contrast to the moral hypocrisy and ignorance of standards of justice that now characterizes our politics.  We need a pedagogy that capacitates citizens to bring sound value judgments into our political conversations.

 Preparation for making sound judgments requires opportunities for all members of any learning community to be introduced to the social norms and legal standards that should be common knowledge among the citizenries. Learners could be guided in practice to review, assess and apply these norms. Such opportunities might be introduced through communal learning exercises, and actual practice of engagement in ethical reasoning in the conduct of simulated public discourse on the justice problematic as it is manifest in current issues.

 Hands on exercises, simulations and experiential learning are the major teaching modes that I believe would be most effective in a pedagogy to develop moral reflection and ethical reasoning intended to develop capacities for political efficacy.  Elements of experiential learning and practice of the requisite reflection and reasoning are integral to the following suggestions for a pedagogy comprising inquiry, problem posing and case studies. These suggestions are very limited guidelines, offered as a starting point for a more fully developed pedagogy to be devised and elaborated by many peace educators, adapting the general approach to their own particular contexts.

 A form of inquiry especially designed for the learning of normative assessment skills and for the development of strategic planning competencies would involve more pointed and specific questions than the open-ended queries usually posed in peace education. Peace education queries are usually formulated to elicit multiple responses. In this case we seek a narrower range of responses based on the norms that are relevant to justification of claims, and appropriate to formulating strategies for their recognition and fulfillment. Questions or tasks posed in a form that calls the learner into an assessment process wherein for example the utility of particular norms might be weighed. The formation of the questions is the most significant aspect of the pedagogy.

 Problem posing, a process in which morals and ethics are the determining factors, would involve reading the political context in which a moral or ethical decision is to be made. A review of interests at play, who holds them, how they affect the possibilities for the efficacy of any action considered and identifying commonalities among contentious factions, are examples that could establish context to begin problem posing as a learning process. A harm inflicted or a claim being made would be identified, and elements of the context be integrated into the problematic to address with strategies for resolution in the form of remedy for the harm or fulfillment of the claim. It should be acknowledged that some of the strategies proposed might well require audacity, and prudence certainly should be factored into the actions considered. The risk factor is further reason for assuring awareness of political realities.

 Case studies, human experiences as the curricular content of the pedagogy, could be similar to the stories that we recount as history. For decades, cases have been employed as devices to teach moral decision-making, and in teaching human rights law. Cases can be based on the substance/content of claims, taking the form of narratives to which, the learners can more easily relate than to the abstractions of a “docket case”. They might also be drawn from media accounts of un-remedied harms or disputed human rights claims.  The actual suffering of a person or persons can ignite the flame of conscience and personal moral conviction that I see as the first stage of this learning process. Inspired by a feeling for the human experience, learners are motivated to research and formulate claims or plan campaigns, as they apply established norms and standards, and engage in practice ethical reasoning to justify them and conceptualize potential action strategies.

It should be noted that, while we as educators cannot responsibly suggest or guide learners to action, neither can we restrain it when ethical reasoning, validation of facts and a practical reading of political context impel them to act as responsible citizens, the very roles for which we educate. Responsibilities of citizenship are often upon us before our school diplomas and university degrees have been bestowed.

Concluding Reflections

 Reardon: I (Reardon) hold no idealized view of the probability of rapid or widespread practice of what I propose. I really do not expect most peace educators to immediately engage in such hands-on kind of education for justice through rigorous values analysis and exigent assessment of relevant strategies, some of which are likely to entail personal and professional risks for educators and learners as they do for activists.

But I do honestly believe that such education and the learning it strives to develop is practically possible. I fervently hope some few will try it, and that in time, it will be emulated by others. It is from our collective beliefs and hopes that the whole of human rights emerged, and thus, I expect our aspirations for a just and peaceful world society will continue. I extend my thanks to the philosophers whose original queries and insights produced all human rights movements, and in particular to peace philosopher, Dale Snauwaert, who initiated this dialogue.

 Snauwaert: Thank you, Professor Reardon, for this stimulating dialogue on justice, human rights, and peace education.  Over many years you have been a rich source of insight and inspiration to me, and for many others. The pedagogical framework that you outline in this dialogue is one, along with Dewey and Freire, that I have adopted as my basic orientation, an orientation that I understand as process-oriented and inquiry-based.   By stipulating what each citizen is due and what, in turn, each citizen owes to each other, justice refers to the normative political principles and values that the members of a society have mutually agreed to and affirmed as the basis of the nonviolent resolution of inevitable conflict between them.

As discussed above, the principles of justice can be articulated in terms of rights and duties, and in turn, define rights as justified claims that invoke specific duties held by both individual citizens and the officers of the basic institutions of society. The establishment and enactment of justice is thereby the animating principle of political power (Arendt, 1963, 1970; Muller, 2014).  Power is dialogical; it is based in the free public exchange of ideas that lead to reciprocal agreement.  Violence is its opposite; it is the failure of political power and justice.

 If we conceive justice in this way, what follows is a conception of the citizen as an agent, and not merely a recipient, of justice.  As an agent of justice, the citizen is empowered to engage in public discourse and judgment; to do so the citizen must have the developed capacity to engage in a range of judgments and actions, as we outlined in this dialogue.  These capacities cannot be merely transmitted to citizens.  The capacities for ethical inquiry, moral reasoning, and judgment (ethical reasoning broadly defined) can be developed only through exercise and practice (Rodowick, 2021).  What follows is a process-oriented, inquiry-based pedagogy that we have explored in this dialogue.  Its’ employment is essential for the development of students’ capacity to engage in ethical inquiry, moral reasoning, and judgment; in turn these capacities are necessary for the protection and realization of human rights as urgent matters of justice. The educational cultivation of these capabilities is of singular importance (Snauwaert, under review).

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