In one of the recent posts we saw that Averill believed that ethics or moral domain in psychology can be derived from focusing on emotions, will, motivation , ethics and virtue; while the mental domain in psychology and philosophy evolved by studies of epistemology. Today I wish to focus on one way of how we come to know i.e. a theory of epistemology and how a staged theory for the same has been proposed by Perry in a student education domain.
The Perry scheme is a model for understanding how college students “come to know, the theories and beliefs they hold about knowing, and the manner in which such epistemological premises are a part of and an influence on the cognitive processes of thinking and reasoning”.
Perry has split his analysis of how college students “come to know” into nine position further grouped into 4 stages, but I will treat all of them as stages only and try to fit them in my eight stage model by trying to draw parallels with Selman’s role-taking or perspective taking stages. I’ll be using material extensively from Wikipedia and this page about Perry’s scheme.
- Stage 1: Dualism/Received Knowledge:There are right/wrong answers, engraved on Golden Tablets in the sky, known to Authorities.Basic Duality:All problems are solvable; Therefore, the student’s task is to learn the Right Solutions.The authorities know: e.g. “the tutor knows what is right and wrong”. Contrast this with the undifferentiated perspective of Selman, the first stage. In it “one attributes one’s or protagonist perspective to everyone else’s. One may have a concept of perspective or Theory-of-mind but may suffer from an inability to attribute any other perspective to anyone else distinct from one’s own”. The underlying theme in both the cases is that there is only one reality- one perspective-mine; one knowledge or right answer- my authority’s.
- stage 2: Full Dualism: Some Authorities (literature, philosophy) disagree; others (science, math) agree. Therefore, there are Right Solutions, but some teachers’ views of the Tablets are obscured. Therefore, student’s task is to learn the Right Solutions and ignore the others! The true authorities are right, the others are frauds “e.g my tutor knows what is right and wrong but others don’t”. Contrast this with second stage of Selman that of social-informational perspective taking: It is a stage “whereby one comes to realize that not only there exits a perspective, but that it can be different for different persons. Nevertheless, despite the realization that the perspectives can differ ( based on say the different information that each may have) the preponderant tendency is to consider one’s perspective as valid and by exchanging information attempts to make others perspective inline with one’s own.”. the underlying theme in both cases is that there is one reality, but there can be two views of it; my view or my authority’s view is , of course, the correct one.
- Satge 3: Multiplicity/Subjective Knowledge: There are conflicting answers;therefore, students must trust their “inner voices”, not external Authority.Early Multiplicity:There are 2 kinds of problems:those whose solutions we know and those whose solutions we don’t know yet (thus, a kind of dualism). Student’s task is to learn how to find the Right Solutions.There are some uncertainties and the authorities are working on them to find the truth “e.g my tutors don’t know, but somebody out there is trying to find out”. Contrast this with Selman;’s third stage that of self-reflective perspective taking. It “marks the first empathetic perspective taking whereby one sees, thinks and feels from other person’s perspectives using first person. This is literally stepping in someone else’s shoes and truly seeing as if the situation concerned oneself. This not just a logical realization that someone can have a different perspective but also realizing that that perspective can be equally valid given the other person’s unique situation. Thus one thinks and feels like the other person and can both suffer and enjoy the outcomes of situations as they unfold from the other person’s perspective. The emphasis is on understanding. And empathy.” The underlying theme here I believe is understanding that instead of just right and wrong answers / solutions, there are different approaches to solve the problems which are indeed solvable. Also the theme is to feel from inside the authority, to understand how authority is gained- and know how to find the answer rather than just what is the right answer. While the first two stages focused on what is the right answer, after realizing that there may not be a right answer, the focus changes to how to find the right answer. this is akin to finding that there is no one valkid perspective and thus changing focus to how one feels in other persons shoes and having his/her different perspective.
- stage 4: Late Multiplicity: Most problems are of the second kind(we don’t know solution yet); therefore, everyone has a right to their own opinion; or some problems are unsolvable; therefore, it doesn’t matter which (if any) solution you choose. Student’s task is to shoot the bull.(Most freshman are at this position, which is a kind of relativism)At this point, some students become alienated, and either retreat to an earlier (“safer”) position (“I think I’ll study math, not literature, because there are clear answers and not as much uncertainty”) or else escape (drop out) (“I can’t stand college; all they want is right answers” or else “I can’t stand college; no one gives you the right answers”.) (a)Everyone has right to their own opinion “e.g different tutors think different things” (b) The authorities don’t want the right answers. They want us to think in certain way “e.g there is an answer that the tutors want and we have to find it”. Contrast this with the fourth ‘third-party or bystander stage‘ . In it “one has decentred in the emotional/cognitive personal sense and can see a situation not only from first and second person perspectives of interacting parties, but also from that of a neutral bystander. This includes the ability to keep multiple perspectives in mind at the same time. One does not see from this perspective and then from the other – one looks at the entire big picture or view and understands that different people are having different perspectives.” The underlying theme is that of relativism and that there are as many solutions/perspectives and right answers as there are people involved. My tutor/authority doesn’t want the absolute right answer (as there are none) but a certain type of answer that he considers is right and neutral and thinks that the answer doesn’t necessarily stem and is embedded in his own perspective. Thus, the right answer, if any, is taken by consensus, and can be different form my own or my tutors own perspectives/ beliefs about the right solution.
- stage 5: Relativism/Procedural Knowledge: There are disciplinary reasoning methods: Connected knowledge: empathetic (why do you believe X?; what does this poem say to me?) vs. Separated knowledge: “objective analysis” (what techniques can I use to analyze this poem?) Contextual Relativism: All proposed solutions are supported by reasons; i.e., must be viewed in context & relative to support. Some solutions are better than others, depending on context. Student’s task is to learn to evaluate solutions. Everything is relative but not equally valid “e.g there are no right and wrong answers, it depends on the situation, but some answers might be better than others”. contrast this with Selman’s fifth stage that of societal perspective. In it “one realizes that the neutral third party perspective is not really neutral but influenced by the societal and cultural context in which the bystander lives and is reflective of those values. One realizes that one can have different neutral perspectives on a situation, each of which would be colored by the values that are dear to the social and cultural context in which the situation occurs and which dictate what a neutral perspective is. One may realize that some values are desirable and others are not and that the perspective that is informed by desirable values is more preferable.” the underlying theme in both cases is to move away from decontextualized value-free equality of all perspectives/ solutions to a contextual and value-laden evaluation of relatively better/ more valid perspectives/ answers given a particular context.
- The sixth stage: “Pre-Commitment“: Student sees the necessity of: making choices and committing to a solution. You have to make your own decisions “e.g what is important is not what the tutor thinks but what I think”. I had not delineated any stages of Selman beyond the fifth stage for the perspective taking, but if I have to venture it may be akin to choosing a particular value-laden way of looking at things irrespective of the given context. It would be akin to choosing your attitude to life no matter what you have been served. To paraphrase Victor Frankl , your own unique attitude/ perspective is one thing no one can take away from you. you can always choose how to see things , not objectively as per a some gold standard, but subjectively , but a subjectivity that is informed and grounded in a prior commitment. For eg., you can choose to be positive (have a positive attitude) and focus on the silver linings in the clouds. The underlying theme would be existential theme- that of creating your own meaning- your own perspective, your own right solution/ answer. Nothing is given. You are . The problems are. You have to construct and create your own answers and meaning. You are free and can exercise choice as to commit to a way of life, a perspective, a solution, an answer- something that leads to coherence for you and your life.
- Satge 7 : Commitment/Constructed Knowledge: Integration of knowledge learned from others with personal experience and reflection. Commitment: Student makes a commitment. Challenges to Commitment: Student experiences implications of commitment. Student explores issues of responsibility. First commitment “e.g for this particular topic I think that….”; Several Commitments “e.g for these topics I think that….”. I have collapsed stages 7 and 8 of Perry into one stage . The corresponding Selman’s stage would be measuring, aligning and integrating one’s chosen perspective with those of ones con-specifics and bringing things in harmony. The underlying theme I believe is on communicating with others regarding ones committed answers and either modifying ones perspective or trying to modify others perspectives/ solutions/answers as per one’s committed solution/ perspective/answer. On not only is and has chosen a right answer/perspective, one is also forced to convince others of the rightness of ones perspective and ones solution/answer. With great commitment, comes great responsibility.
- stage 8: “Post-Commitment”: Student realizes commitment is an ongoing, unfolding, evolving activity. Believe own values, respect others, be ready to learn “e.g I know what I believe in and what I think is valid, others may think differently and I’m prepared to reconsider my views”. stage 8 of Selman may have been a step away from proselytizing tone of seventh stage and more of (in)tolerance of equally strongly committed views by others. The ingroup/outgroup dynamic is at play and while some groups of people may adhere to our shared committed solutions/ beliefs/ perspectives; other groups may have other solutions/ beliefs/ perspectives and we can perhaps mutually agree to disagree at worst, if not to learn from the different committed views and enhance and deepen our view of reality, at best. The underlying theme being that of tolerance for others who ware equally committed to their view/ solution and may be correct in a way in their own right.
Phew! This post was a handful. Hope you like it and like my theorizing and dogged attempt to fit everything in a eight fold developmental model.