The problem of the anthropological foundation of moral education has taken on new urgency due to the rapid development of science and technology in modern society. Technological development has now become universal, not only socially as the main focus of economic and political decisions in all countries, but philosophically as the consciously or unconsciously accepted destiny of contemporary world history. Martin Heidegger is right, especially regarding this scientific and technological era, when he reads Geschichte as Geschick, and says that metaphysics, as the essence of technology, is the necessary destiny of the West and the condition of its domination over the whole world.1 With the universal extension of technological civilization, it has become evident that, not only Western, but non-Western countries have begun to be determined by this common destiny. In occupying themselves with the development of science and technology, they are now carried along by the whirlwind of occidentalization, which sometimes unfortunately is seen as a form of domination by the West. Deeper reflection shows that in reality it is the process of rationalization of the world's history, accelerated by rapid technological development.

In this rapid and universal shaping of the world by science and technology, moral education has the essential task of assuring humankind of its own humanity and thereby rendering it capable of being the master rather than the slave of science and technology. The meaning of the term "moral" will be clarified in relation to another term "ethical" below. For now it is sufficient to point out that the term "education" is understood here not merely in its strict sense as an institutionalized process of teaching and learning, but especially in its broad sense as the formation of persons, either by themselves or with the help of others, towards the full realization of their human nature. This is similar to the notion of Bildung in the Hegelian sense of a process toward the universal. Moral education is a kind of practical Bildung or way of promoting the full realization of the universal in oneself, namely, one's humanity. "Promotion to the universal," as Gadamer has said, "is not something that is limited to theoretical Bildung and does not mean only a theoretical attitude in contrast to a practical one, but covers the essential determination of human rationality as a whole. It is the universal nature of human Bildung to constitute itself as a universal rational being."2

Therefore, as the process of realization of universal education it must be based in human nature as well as in the metaphysical structure of reality. As the Confucian classic, the Doctrine of the Mean,3 affirmed, "What Heaven imparts to man is called human nature. To follow our nature is called the way (Tao). Cultivating the way is called education." This means that education has also a metaphysical basis, though here our principal concern is only the anthropological foundation of moral education.

Let us now distinguish the term "moral" from another relevant term, "ethical." Although both terms sometimes have the same usage,4 their specific meanings are distinguished in both Western and Chinese philosophy. Following Kant, German philosophers have often distinguished Ethik and Moral. For Schelling, the "moral" directs the individual and demands a personal response, whereas "ethics" directs society and protects the person. For Hegel, "moral" is concerned more with subjective intentions, while "ethics" concerns more the Sittlichkeit or objective spirit as manifested in the family, civil society and the state. In Chinese philosophy Tao Te is distinguished from, though related to, Lun Li. Tao Te refers to what The Great Learning calls "making the will sincere," "rectifying the mind" and "cultivating personal lives." On the other hand, Lun Li refers to what the Great Learning calls "regulating the family," "bringing order to the state" and "manifesting clear character to the world."5 Or, Chuang Tzu's terms, the former represents the way to "Sageness within," whereas the latter represents the way to "Kingliness without."6

On the whole, ethics consists in the code of behavior according to which people interact one with another in a certain society; it concerns the interrelation of social actors who must realize themselves socially and historically. Morality concerns rather the subjective intention and how one realizes one's own subjectivity; it is the process by which a person raises his or her own subjectivity to the universal, and the result of this process. In other words, Tao Te designates the process and eventual achievement of the effort of a moral agent to realize his or her human nature. Subjectivity is its central reference, though its realization must take place in the context of ethical relationships. In short, morality concerns the promotion of human nature on the basis of, and in the development of, ethical relationships.

It is now evident that both morality and ethics are based on human nature; one concerns its subjective aspect, the other its intersubjective aspect. Anthropologically, human nature has the following characteristics.

The human being has its own specificity which the scholastics understood as "rational animal". Because of this specificity Mencius considers the differentiation between the human and the animal to be an important theme in his philosophy which sees it as consisting in moral consciousness. Martin Heidegger tries to avoid theoretical or practical onesidedness in saying that the human is Da-sein, one who quests for and manifests Being. Although these philosophers differ among themselves in underlining the rational, practical, or ontological aspect, all agree that the human has something irreducible to other beings.

The human remains related to other beings: to the whole cosmos, even while retaining one's specificity. Confucianism views the cosmos as a living connected whole. In this sense one's self realization is related to the whole cosmic process. Wang Yang-ming's notion of "I Ti Tzi Zen" is the best representation of this universal relativity.

Human nature has its own dynamic relation to development. It contains an unfathomable dynamism for developing a fuller realization of its own potentiality. This dynamism could take two directions: the promotion of one's own specificity or Dasein, and the development of relations with other beings.

Morality concerns more the code and process of promoting the specificity of human nature--one's autonomy; ethics concerns especially enlarging the relatedness of human nature. The contrast of the two constitutes the structure and the dynamism of human nature.7

Moral education then is a process of formation, either by the moral agent self or with the aid of a teacher's modelling, of the interaction of human autonomy and relativity toward the highest human realization.

But what is the moral and ethical situation of the modern person under the impact impact of rapid technological development; what contents must be added to moral education in such an era? Ultimately these questions concern anthropological foundations, but before tackling these, we must look at the moral and ethical situation of man under the worldwide influence of science and technology.



The development of science and technology has brought about an overall change in social structure, that is, in the manner in which persons interact one with another. This, in turn, modifies their ethical relationship, and thence the situation of moral praxis. Thus, the modern person's moral praxis is changed under the impact of science and technology by means of the changes these have brought about in ethical relations. People often neglect the double sense of ethical relation. In fact, an ethical relation has both a social and a moral sense. Socially speaking, it represents the social structure in which the members of a society interact one with another. But in its moral sense, an ethical relation means the norm of social interaction under which a person has to realize moral values. As objects of social sciences, social structure and its change are not our present concern. Moral philosophy studies only the moral aspect of ethical relations and the person's moral praxis.

Due to the impact of rapid technological development, the moral-ethical situation of modern man has the following prominent characteristics.

Human Interrelation

Technological development has reinforced the interconnection and multiplied the interaction between persons and with other beings, thus rendering the ethical relation more complicated and rigorous. Science and technology are now united in a systematic whole which mediates between persons, nature and society. As a result, they are so interdependent upon each other and interact with each other to such a degree that pulling one hair might move the whole body.

First, through the mediation of science and technology, the interaction between persons and nature becomes more frequent, and is accompanied by various forms of exploitation and manipulation. Nature no longer is considered as a mass of passive matter, but as the possibility for new combinations and novel transformations. Nature becomes an invitation to human creativity and a field for its realizations. But the ultra-exploitation and abuse of nature has provoked urgent environmental problems, even to the point of depriving mankind of the biological space in which it lives. Because this results from free decisions, it has created a new domain of ethics, namely, environmental ethics.

Second, the development of science and technology has rendered more detailed and more complicated the division of work in modern society. It has created also quick and easy transportation so that people can interact one with another more frequently: more people have contact with more different people in a shorter period of time. This can make what originally were personal and effective relations more impersonal and institutional. Relations of contract, competition and--even worse--domination and violence have replaced the personal and affective ones. Professional ethics has outweighed person-to-person and family ethics. More seriously, in everyday life more and more we meet "strangers of acquaintance." The feeling of alienation is everywhere.

Third, one interacts increasingly with scientific and technological objects and, through their mediation, with nature and society. Mankind now lives among signs and machines; its life-world has become a world of techné rather than of phusis, a world of organization rather than of organism.8 Science and technology become the synonyms of rationality. The human essence is defined in terms of its rationality, which in turn is reduced to what Max Weber calls the "instrumentally rational" (zweckrational). Value rationality (Wertrationalität)9 appears pale and weak. Having been reduced to instrumental rationality, the rational is defined in terms of its efficacy as an instrument to attain calculable ends. Other persons, reduced to the status of instruments, lose their dignity and values in themselves. The meaning of reflection and action also is impoverished. Reflection, deprived of its character as self-understanding, is reduced to mere scientific theorization; action, deprived in turn of its character as moral praxis, is reduced to mere technical application of scientific theories.

This strengthened nexus of the person with nature, with society and with technical systems constitutes a novel context for moral praxis. Just as in the case of language, the more complex and rigorous its syntactical structure, the more precise and determinate its semantic meaning becomes. In moral philosophy, the more complicated and rigorous ethical relations become under the influence of technological development, the more precise and determinate must be that which gives meaning to this relation--the moral action. This situation requires of modern man a higher moral creativity and more psychological flexibility, thus making people tend to moral indifference or social apathy.

Freedom and Responsibility

The development of science and technology also has raised the degree of human freedom, the capacity for autonomy and thereby for moral responsibility. These characteristics contrast with those above. The development of science and technology, by knitting the world into a systematic whole, increases each individual's freedom and autonomy. This is true principally because the domain under the control of free choice is greatly enlarged. But moral responsibility is also enlarged; only when one can foresee the consequence of one's action and control it effectively is one responsible for one's action. Morally responsible action is known and chosen. If things impose upon us without our knowledge and control, that is, in spite of our free choice, they are beyond our responsibility. Even when we can act freely, but lose control, this uncontrollable process is outside of our real responsibility.

The development of science helps us to know better those things which concern our life; with the progress of technology we are equipped with effective instruments to control areas of reality which thusfar had been unattainable. The natural sciences and technology help us to know more about the regularities of nature, to control natural phenomena and to override partial natural determinism. Social sciences and techniques help us know more about social patterns and improve social institutions to the point of increasing social freedom. In short, scientific knowledge and technical know-how increase our freedom and efficacy. The more we are free and efficacious in our action, the greater is our moral responsibility. Thus, the development of science and technology entails the enlargement of man's moral responsibility, not its diminution.

The development of science and technology also creates new moral values since it enables us freely and consciously to initiate a process of action, to control it and to evaluate its consequence. This self-conscious and self-determining control renders scientific knowledge and technical activity morally relevant. Thus, the professional actions of doctors, engineers, businessmen, etc., supported by their scientific knowledge and technical capabilities become moral actions. Natural and social laws, when internalized as concrete norms of action by a free and rational person, become moral norms. Just as our free will effectively transforms originally scientific or technologically constringent norms of action into norms of moral action it can transform new scientific and technical discoveries into new moral values.



The above contrast between the development of both autonomy and relativity leads us to a new understanding of human nature. In re-thinking the Kantian problem, "What is man?" in this epoque of science and technology, we must avoid the one-sidedness of either defining man through his autonomous subjectivity, as do modern Western philosophers since Descartes, or of underlinining only his relativity to other beings as do some Chinese philosophers. We must take into consideration the structural and dynamic contrast of autonomy and relativity in human nature. This requirement makes possible a re-appreciation of the richness and wisdom of the notion of person in Scholastic philosophy.

Boethius's definition of person is famous: an individual substance of rational nature (rationalis naturae individua substantia). This definition contains the elements of autonomy (individual substance) and universality (rational). In assuming this definition St. Thomas seems to have had a deep insight into the interplay between autonomy and relativity in the human person.

First, Thomas seemed to have understood human autonomy in referring to the person as a self-controlled agent. He writes:

In a more special and perfect way the particular and the individual are found in the rational substances who control their actions--they are not merely acted upon as others are, but act autonomously. For it is proper to individuals or singular substances to act. So a special name is given among all other substances to individual beings having a rational nature, and this name is `person'.10

Second, St. Thomas seemed to situate personal relativity in one's rationality--not merely as intellectual, but as comprising intellect and will, knowledge and love. For St. Thomas, intellect and will possess a certain "transcendental capacity" to include the whole realm of being in their object. In that sense, intellect and will are potentially everything and related to everything. Note that when analyzing the relation between intellect and will, knowledge and love, St. Thomas seemed to have remarked the contrasting character between autonomy and relativity as the ultimate constitution and dynamism of properly human nature. He said:

In all things there is a twofold perfection: one by which the thing subsists in itself, the other by which it is related to other things. . . . In both ways, however, immaterial things have a certain infinity because they are somehow all things insofar as the essence of the immaterial thing is the exemplar and likeness of all things either by act or by potentiality, . . . in this way they have knowledge. Likewise they also have an inclination and order to all things, and in this way they have will, by which all things are pleasing or displeasing by act or potency. . . . It is therefore evident that knowledge pertains to the perfection of the knower by which in himself he is perfected; however, the will pertains to a thing's perfection by its relation to other things. And likewise the object of the knowing power is the true, which is in the soul. . . . The object of the tending power, however, is the good, which is in things.11

This somewhat phenomenological description of St. Thomas distinguishes two universalizing dynamisms in human nature which nonetheless form an ontological unity in the human person. They differ in their unity and unite in their difference. A person is therefore constituted and moves by contrast.

In the new light derived from the impact of science and technology on the modern person's moral praxis as analyzed in the above section, we must re-define the human person as constituted and moved by the contrast of autonomy and relatedness, for only such an understanding of man could retain the wholeness of the person and its innermost dynamism. This could avoid the one-sidedness of such other philosophies as the Cartesian cogito as thinking substance, or the Kantian transcendental apperception as mere condition of possibility of our positive knowledge, or the Kantian freedom of the soul as mere postulate of moral actions, or the Contemporary Neo-Confucian moral subjectivity as autonomous and even infinite--all of which philosophies look upon the human person only from the aspect of autonomy. On the other hand, Classical Confucianism, which formed the basis of traditional Chinese moral education, seemed to underline only the relatedness of the person with nature, with society and with heaven.

Avoiding these one-sided philosophies, we understand the person as constituted and moved by the contrast of his or her autonomy and relatedness with other beings. These two constituents of the person interplay in a dialectical manner toward the full realization of humanity. This represents the logic of human self-realization. One has to realize oneself through a kind of rhythmic movement of two interplaying moments: one of distanciation and the other of co-belongingness.

To keep oneself autonomous, one has to distance oneself from (epoché, in phenomenological sense) all the heterogeneous constraints and external limitations coming from nature, society, and even from transcendent beings. One must be able to disengage oneself from all external determinism and to act according to one's own free decision. Autonomy means the promulgation of laws of action by the actor himself. The person's free will cannot set up norms of action against the realization of one's own self; on the contrary, one cannot but search to realize one's own self to the highest degree. In this sense, we can accept the Kantian and contemporary Neo-Confucian autonomous subjectivity, not as a mere condition of possibility or as a formal postulate, nor as an all-encompassing subjectivity negating any transcendent dimension, but as autonomous persons tending towards the full realization of their own potentiality and determining the meaning of existence in their own specific manner. Heidegger's criticism of a Cartesian philosophy of subjectivity has the merit of revealing the person as Dasein, as the manifestation of Being. But we cannot thereby pass over the person's autonomous subjectivity in the making, which in turn is relative to other beings: man is relatively free and relationally autonomous.

The human person even in searching for his or her autonomy, still belongs to the same realm of existence in which other beings participate. Contemporary thinkers in psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc., seem to have re-discovered this relative dimension of man. For example, the French psychoanalyst J. Lacan has reinterpreted the Freudian desire as an unconscious signifying dynamism, directed towards other men and other things: in Lacan's words, desire is the language of the other (le langage de l'autre).12 Desire is this constitutive element of our personality which reveals the existential interconnection between a person and other persons or other beings.

The structural and dynamic contrast of the relatedness and autonomy of human person is thus the anthropological foundation of moral education. The impact of science and technology upon this is quite ambiguous. Positively, the development of science and technology has promoted human freedom and enlarged the system of relatedness. But it also has had a negative effect in that it has encouraged the abuse of free will through the blind acceptance and passive determination of social and technical systems. In this context, if we want to be the master and not the slave of science and technology, we must restore the human person as the center of moral education. The problem is not that science and technology could undermine the autonomy and the relativity of human person, but to look at the development of science and technology as deriving from the desire of human persons to promote their autonomy and to enlarge their relations with other beings.

First, we must look upon the autonomy of the scientifico-technological sectors as a symbol or concrete image of the kind of autonomy mankind wants to realize through its moral, social and historical actions. Seen from this side, science and technology could prepare the ground for realizing moral autonomy. With the help of science and technology, people could liberate themselves from external determinism, avoid pure chance and establish a known and controllable world submissive to the demand of the human person and concurring in its concrete realization.

Second, we must look upon the systematic character of scientifico-technological sectors as symbolizing the interconnection between man, nature and society and as articulating this in an eloquent manner. The auto-complexification of science and technology, in differentiating itself into ever more detailed sub-systems while grouping more and more sub-systems into larger systems, eventually could prepare a rational field for the concrete realization of the human person's relatedness to other beings.

In short, the restoration of human person as the focus of moral education in technological society means the formation and realization of the human person's autonomy and relatedness as prior to, and productive of, the autonomy and relatedness in science and technology. This is the way for mankind to be the master of science and technology.


Moral education consists in the interiorization of essential moral norms and the formation of moral characters. But all these finally have to be derived from the requirements and dynamism of human nature.

Moral norms make explicit the manner in which a person needs to conduct his action in a certain concrete situation in order to realize the autonomy of his person and to develop his relations to other beings. They function, therefore, as a kind of mediation through which a person can affirm his autonomy in concrete situations of action and realize his existential interconnection with the external world. In this sense, our moral norms must be derived from the constitution and the dynamism of the human person as analyzed above.

From the person's desire for autonomy, freedom and self-realization it is possible to derive the moral norm of justice. Although the concept of justice has many definitions, it designates principally the moral norm that the desire and the right of every person to realize his or her own subjectivity must be respected by other persons. What John Rawls calls "distributional justice" is secondary in the sense that distributional justice is morally significant only when it contributes to the self-realization of the persons in question. The justice of revenge is derivative, in turn, from moral and distributional justice because often an offense against these forms of justice causes the retribution of other persons. Justice as a moral norm is concerned essentially with the right of everyone to realize his or herself as an autonomous and free person.

From the moral norm of justice, we could derive other relevant norms, such as respect for human rights, which could be made concrete in a bill of human rights, the contents of which might vary from one country to another.

From the human person's interrelatedness with other beings we could derive the norm of love. This norm is condensed in the words of Jesus: "You should love one another." Love is tender care for the good of others in a way that reveals and purifies one's existential innerconnections with other beings. In love, only the realization of the good of other person's could contribute to the good of the subject.

From the norm of love we could derive the norm of respect for life which is quite universal in all civilizations. This norm is expressed negatively as the prohibition of hurting or killing any living being, and positively as the imperative to save and improve the lives of others.

Besides the interiorization of these moral norms, moral education has another task: that of forming essential moral character. The contemporary world implemented by science and technology needs people with a spirit of criticism and of commitment. On the one hand, justice demands from us a spirit of criticism. This does not mean a Kantian search for the conditions of possibility of the object in question, nor does it mean an Hegelian Aufhebung, often operating negatively. It means a special regard for the just degree of freedom and autonomy proportionate to the self-realization of each person in this complicated and rapidly changing society.

On the other hand, love demands from us a spirit of commitment. This does not mean blind engagement in action without knowing the cause. It is rather a self-conscious participation in the active realization of being-togetherness. Just as criticism plays the role of distancing in order to make justice possible, commitment plays the role of co-belonging to reinforce our interconnection with other beings. Criticism and commitment are thus two moments of the same dynamic movement towards the full realization of our subjectivity and intersubjectivity.

To realize the criticism that is justice and the commitment that is love, we must carry forward a life of action and reflection. These are important in moral education as a teaching-learning process. Criticism demands a moment of reflection, not as theorizing or referring to any natural or social science theory for judging a phenomenon, but as a mental distancing in order to circumscribe the situation of justice and criticize it in referring to the ideal. Commitment demands a moment of action, not as a mere application of scientific theories to the manipulation of natural or social phenomena,13 but as a creative intervention in the flux of events caused by the relativity of the world.


In this epoch of rapid technological development, it is very important to appreciate properly the function of moral education and to understand well its anthropological foundation. The function of moral education today is to assure the person of his or her humanity and thereby to render human beings capable of being master, rather than slave, of science and technology. The human person as constituted structurally and dynamically by the contrast of autonomy and relatedness is the anthropological foundation of all moral education. In turn, the autonomous and systematic character of science and technology is derived from this profound structure and dynamism of human nature. This way of understanding science and technology enables them to be related to the human project towards the total realization of one's potentialities.

Moreover, in forming our own personality and in training students in moral education, we must set up a model of the human person capable of both action and reflection: reflection with a view to attaining justice through criticism, and action with a view to fulfilling love through commitment. The logic of contrast between action and reflection, commitment and criticism, love and justice, leads finally to the fullest realization of our subjectivity and intersubjectivity. All these have their anthropological foundation in the human nature, namely, the autonomous and related person. The whole schema can be expressed as follows.


Anthropological foundation

Autonomy <--------> Relativity

Moral norms

Justice <--------> Love

Moral characters

Criticism <--------> Commitment

Ways of life

Reflection<--------> Action

The founding process of moral education goes from reflection to criticism, to justice, to personal autonomy; and from action to commitment, to love, to personal relatedness. The manifesting process of moral education goes from personal autonomy to justice, to criticism, to reflection; and from personal relatedness to love, to commitment, to action. The two moments of each stage (reflection and action, criticism and commitment, justice and love, autonomy and relativity) are in structural and dynamic contrast. This logic of contrast penetrates the whole process of the formation of an integral person. Moral education, either as an institutionalized process of teaching and learning, or as the whole process of human formation, must take into consideration both the founding process and the manifesting process schematized above. In thus forming more and more persons in action and reflection who are capable of realizing justice and love through criticism and commitment, and thereby of attaining the fulfillment of their autonomous but relational personality, such a moral education could render possible the mastery of science and technology by mankind.

National Chengchi University

Taipei, Taiwan, ROC


1. M. Heidegger, Vorträge und Aufsätze (French translation by A. Preau, Essais et Conferences) (Paris: Gallimard, 1958), p. 88.

2. H.G. Gadamer, Truth and Method tr. G. Barden and J. Cumming (London: Sheed and Ward, 1976), p. 13.

3. The Doctrine of the Mean, in W.T. Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1963), p. 98.

4. Cicero said in De fato that he used the Latin adjective "Moralis" to translate the Greek word ethikos.

5. W. Chan, p. 86.

6. Chuang Tzu, Works (Taipei: The World Book Co., 1982), ch. 33, p. 463.

7. Contrast means for us an interplay between identity and difference, distanciation and co-belongingness, rupture and continuity, which constitutes the structure and dynamism of an object under investigation. It is our manner of replacing Hegelian dialectics by a creative positivity. See our Action et Créativité (Louvain-la-Neuve: Univ. Catholique de Louvain, 1980), pp. 4-36.

8. The first is distinguished by Aristotle, the second by Berdyaev.

9. As to the distinction between Zweckrationalität and Wertrationalität, see M. Weber, Economy and Society, eds. G. Roth and C. Wittich (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1978).

10. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, q. 29, a. 1 and ad. 2, in An Aquinas Reader, tr. M.T. Clark (New York: Image Books, 1972), pp. 222-223.

11. Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum super libros sententiarum, I, d. 27, q. 1, a. 4; see An Aquinas Reader pp. 264-265.

12. J. Lacan, Ecrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966), pp. 524, 838.

13. Concerning the critique of reflection as theorization and action as technical application of scientific theories, cf. G. Habermas, Theory and Practice, tr. J. Viertel (London: Heineman, 1974), pp. 1-40, 253-282.


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