Spinoza, experimentation and education: How things teach us

Aislinn O’Donnell
Vol 39, Number 1, p.17
This essay focuses on three primary issues i. The conceptual resources offered by Spinoza to challenge the idealism and perfectionism underpinning much educational theory and dominant educational imaginaries; ii. His descriptions of a non-ideal, practical and systematic approach to developing understanding that could be applied to educational theorising and practice; and iii. The potential for a different vision of education premised upon understanding the human as simply a part of nature. Decentring the human and treating affective and mental life as one would lines, planes, and bodies, as Spinoza claims we must in Ethics, invites another way of thinking about the politics and ethics of educational practice. Enacting experimental approaches to pedagogy produces new subjectivities and also invents new connections and relations between different bodies and different ideas. I argue that a properly Spinozist understanding of education would require it to be understood through practices of experimentation, in short, developing capabilities to compose relations in such a way that one also develops a the awareness of oneself as finite, dependent, vulnerable and as a part of nature. Seemingly paradoxically then, having understood how and that one is determined, and which bodies agree or disagree with one, one becomes more capable of agency and thus an ethical life.