ethical neutrality

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ETHICAL NEUTRALITY

In what follows, when we use the term “evaluation” we will mean, where nothing else is implied or expressly stated, practical value-judgments as to the unsatisfactory or satisfactory character of phenomena subject to our influence. The problem involved in the “freedom” of a given discipline from evaluations of this kind, i.e., the validity and the meaning of this logical principle, is by no means identical with the question which is to be discussed shortly, namely, whether in teaching one should or should not declare one’s acceptance of practical evaluations, regardless of whether they are based on ethical principles, cultural ideals or a philosophical outlook. This question cannot be settled scientifically. It is itself entirely a question of practical evaluation, and cannot therefore be definitively resolved. With reference to this issue, a wide variety of views are held, of which we shall only mention the two extremes. At one pole we find (a) the standpoint that there is validity in the distinction between purely logically deducible and purely empirical statements of fact on the one hand, and practical, ethical or philosophical evaluations on the other, but that, nevertheless – or, perhaps, even on that account- both classes of problems properly belong in the university. At the other pole we encounter (b) the proposition that even when the distinction cannot be made in a logically complete manner, it is nevertheless desirable that the assertion of practical evaluations should be avoided as much as possible in teaching. This second point of view seems to me to be untenable. Particularly untenable is the distinction which is rather often made in our field between evaluations linked with the positions of “political parties” and other sorts of evaluations. This distinction cannot be reasonably made: it obscures the practical implications of the evaluations which are suggested to the audience. Once the assertion of evaluations in university lectures is admitted, the contention that the university teacher should be entirely devoid of “passion” and that he should avoid all subjects which threaten to bring emotion into controversies is a narrow-minded, bureaucratic opinion which every teacher of independent spirit must reject. Of those scholars who believed that they should not renounce the assertion of practical evaluations in empirical discussions, the most passionate of them – such as Treitschke and, in his own way, Mommsen- were the most tolerable. As a result of their intensely emotional tone, their audiences were enabled to discount the influence of their evaluations in whatever distortion of the facts occurred. Thus, the audiences did for themselves what the lecturers could not do because of their temperaments. The effect on the minds of the students was to produce the same depth of moral feeling which, in my opinion, the proponents of the assertion of practical evaluations in teaching want to assure – but without the audience being confused as to the logical distinctiveness of the different types of propositions. This confusion must of necessity occur whenever both the exposition of empirical facts and the exhortation to espouse a particular evaluative standpoint on important issues are done with the same cool dispassionateness. The first point of view (a) is acceptable, and can indeed be acceptable from the standpoint of its own proponents, only when the teacher sees it as his unconditional duty – in every single case, even to the point where it involves the danger of making his lecture less stimulating – to make absolutely clear to his audience, and especially to himself, which of his statements are statements of logically deduced or empirically observed facts and which are statements of practical evaluation. Once one has granted the disjunction between the two spheres, it seems to me that doing this is an imperative requirement of intellectual honesty. It is the absolutely minimal...
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