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Autobiography of existence: on suffering and the emergence of moral agency

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Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
This thesis is an autobiographical and reflective account of suffering. The goal of this study is to reflect on the aspects that enable a person to find meaning and moral agency under adversity, and to further consider the implications of the role of education as an important mode of recovering and empowering such human agentic capacity so people can become ethically capable and responsible individuals and citizens. This work, historical and phenomenological in nature, offers an approach to thinking about what it means to be human, and it is an approach that illuminates appropriate ways of getting at how we understand ourselves. Such is the insight I am gathering from the philosophies and scholarship from East and West, both classical and modern. I point to, as examples of illuminating the nature of adversity and the meaning of being in the face of oppression, hardship, and tribulation, the ways of participation and becoming that many of us undertook during the Chinese Cultural Revolution as well as during the current time of natural catastrophes. In this study, I thus advance two positions. First, moral agency can be empowered in adversity and experiences of suffering may be seen as a necessary condition for such empowerment and development of human subjectivity, and hence, for humanity. Second, great trial and hardship must be considered as specific educational situations of educating for wisdom and ethical being. I hope to argue that the experience of suffering itself offers life’s most substantive and substantial teaching; I ponder these questions as potential topics for further study: How can our contemporary education embrace suffering and pain of human experience? How should we orient our education toward this kind of teaching?” Thus, with this thesis I hope to offer new ways of thinking about hardship, adversity and suffering and to call for efforts to educate for robust agentic capacity, hence envisioning educating young people from the potential to the actual, from the implicit to the explicit, from being to becoming. This work is thus intended to further conversations within philosophy of education and moral education.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Chinnery, Ann
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