Yet another abstract:

In her book Witnessing: Beyond Recognition, Kelly Oliver addresses the important “edifying” question “[H]ow might we think of subjectivity outside of … frameworks within which subjects exist only at the expense of their others“ (presumably J. Butler’s “foreclosed object of desire”, J. Kristeva’s “abject”, 2001, p. 6). She breaks that question down into “Can we conceive of the intersubjectivity of the subject without relying on the Hegelian warring struggle for recognition?”, “Can we think of dialogic subjectivity as noncontestatory conversation?” (ibid.). In the context of Oliver’s theory of “witnessing” (basically, committed engagement with the other) subjectivity is deeply relational, “dialogic” – what Mary Jo Hinsdale (2012, 2013) aptly labels “mutual subjectivity”. The above questions are important because of their scalability to worldviews, and edifying because of the shift in perspective (one might say, in consciousness) that they inspire, from problematizing “the way we are” to disclosing possibilities of the way we can be.

Conceiving of any form of (conscious, purposeful) education worthy of the name as entailing uplifting of the learner (simp[listical]ly put, good rules of good conduct), this essay samples humanity’s cross-cultural heritage to argue for the existence of an “edifying” universal of “mutual subjectivity” that through philosophical discourse, or instructive sayings, or memorable phrases has drawn out and groomed human reciprocity over the centuries, and in some cases a broader ecological awareness. Productive in that regard are explorations of philosophers starting with Plato’s Meno and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics all the way to the present, e.g. Daniel Vokey’s (2001) argument for the possibility of moral discourse among presumably incommensurable points of view; memorable phrases like the French Revolution’s “liberté – egalité – fraternité” and “government of the people, by the people, for the people” from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, which distil Enlightenment democratic ideals; variations on the Bible’s “golden rule” (paraphrases of love your neighbour as yourself) that scope out more recent but also millennial traditions like Zoroastrism, Buddhism, Hinduism (see Appendix).

Far from comparing apples and oranges, the analysis presented here hypothesizes that the various textual “genres” above are verbalizations of Jung’s collective unconscious, and thereby emanations of a continuum of mental life that is marked by what can be thought of as “distributed archetypal reciprocity” (since reciprocity is not posited as one of Jung’s archetypes but some of them seem to incorporate/imply it, e.g. anima, sage). On the side of science/biology, there is Darwin’s proposal in The Descent of Man for a “social instinct” and “instinct for sympathy” that have ensured the biological survival of the human (and other “weaker”) species; in humans and a few other species, there are also the so-called “mirror” neurons that mediate experiences of empathy with another.

The educational implications are clear – simply put, an educational approach based on Oliver’s notions of address-ability and response-ability (as complementary aspects of “witnessing”) would be vastly different than one imbued with a Hegelian strife for recognition, or its remakes in Butler’s, or Kristeva’s notions referenced above. Since the expectations one has of a learner logically “correspond” with educational goals and methods, and eventually with the learner’s “disposition to the world” (in Dewey’s sense), the question is not so much whether it is individually and broadly socially more beneficial to adopt Oliver’s stance, but how this can be done.

I propose that, to the extent that the teacher/professor/mentor takes the lead (certainly more so with younger children than with PhD students, or younger colleagues or peers) her/his expectations of the student play a decisive role. To state the obvious, the educator’s attitude can successfully draw out the student’s potential and can likewise nip it in the bud, it can win the student’s trust, facilitating self-realization, or not. A teacher whose belief system is attuned to Oliver’s view of subjectivity – and brings out the potential for relatedness over competition that is undoubtedly also “part of” being human – would certainly be much better able to fulfil his/her edifying mission and encourage Deweyan “growth”. As student mature, their contribution to the self- and reciprocal cultivation of mutual subjectivity would gain greater self-awareness and agency.

Mary Jo Hinsdale (2012) has demonstrated the productive association of Oliver’s subjectivity and the practice of “mindfulness” relying on the cultivation of the four divine abodes of Theravada Buddhism. She foregrounds first and foremost “lovingkindness”, but also “compassion” and “equanimity” in her own pedagogic practice with university students who are “first-generation, low-income, and ethnically underrepresented” (2012, p. 36). Nevertheless, one can easily discern the affinity of mutual subjectivity with “sympathetic joy” as well: after all, (forgive the true cliches) the successes of one’s students are, at least to a degree, a cherished reward for a teacher’s efforts, just as the happiness of a close friend or relative is one’s own happiness.

Overall, traditional teachings, whether of the peoples of the East, or in Africa, or First Nations on this continent (see Richard Atleo 2004, 2011 on the unitarian principle tsawalk of the Nuu-chah-nulth nation, Scott Pratt 2002 on the four principles that “American pragmatism” shares with “Native pragmatism”), are reprieved from the epistemological foundationalism into which Enlightenment rationalism was side-tracked (see Rorty’s 1979, Code’s 2006 critiques, a.o.) affecting today’s imaginaries. Their openness to multiple truths, nonjudgementality, “ontological respect” for all and everything certainly relate to and/or uphold Oliver’s, Hinsdale’s, Vokey’s edifying projects. Their integration into educational and broader social practices – as long as it is authentic, and to the extent that cross-cultural translation allows it to be authentic – holds the promise of opening up life paths envisioned by the founder of the OutBound movement (quoted after OutBound website): “There is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less”.


Atleo, E. Richard [a.k.a. Umeek] (2004) Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview. Vancouver, Toronto: UBC Press.

———- (2011) Principles of Tsawalk: An Indigenous Approach to Global Crisis. Vancouver, Toronto: UBC Press.

Bingham, Charles & Alexander M. Sidorkin (2004, 2010) No Education without Relation. With a foreword by Nel Noddings, pp. vii-viii. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Blenkinsop, Sean, Michael Caulkins, Michael Derby, Mark Fettes, Lara Harvester, Veronica Hotton, Jodi MacQuarrie, Laura Piersol, John Telford (2012) Maple Ridge Environmental School Project – Interim Report. Ecolearning
Group, Faculty
Education, Simon Fraser

Code, Lorraine (2006) Ecological Thinking: The Politics of Epistemic Location. Oxford, UK: Oxfod University Press.

Darwin, Charles (1871) The Descent of Man, The Online Literature Library, n.p.

Dewey, John ([1916] 2009) Democracy and Education: Toward a Philosophy of Education. Merchant Books.

Hinsdale, Mary Jo (2012) Choosing to Love. Special Themed Issue: Contemplative Practice, Education, and Socio-Political Transformation (Part One). Paideusis 20(2), pp. 36-45.

———- (2013) Witnessing across Wounds: Toward a Relational Ethic of Healing. [13 pp.] Paper read at the annual meeting of the Philosophy of Education Society, March 14-18, 2013, Portland, Oregon.

Jung, Carl Gustav (1981) Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 9 (Part 1): Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. 2nd ed. Edited and translated by Gerhard Adler & R.F.C. Hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Oliver, Kelly (2001) Witnessing: Beyond Recognition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pratt, Scott L. (2002) Native Pragmatism: Rethinking the Roots of American Philosophy. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Rorty, Richard (1979) Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Vokey, Daniel (2001) Moral Discourse in a Pluralistic World.  Notre Dame, Indiana: Univ. of Notre Dame Press.



This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you
Mahabharata 5:1517

Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful
The Buddha, Udana-Varga 5.8

One word which sums up the basis of all good conduct… loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself
Confucius, Analects 15.23

Regard your neighbour`s gain as your own gain, and your neighbour`s loss as your loss
Lao Tzu, T`ai Shang Kan Ying P`ien, 2213-218

I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all
Guru Granth Sahib, p.1299

In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets
Jesus, Matthew 7:12, New Testament

We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
Unitarian principle

Native Spirituality
We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive
Chief Dan George

Do not do to others whatever is injurious to yourself
Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

One should treat all creatures in the world as one would like to be treated
Mahavira, Sutrakritanga

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary
Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself
The Prophet Muhammad, Hadith

Baha`i Faith
Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself
Baha`u`llah, Gleanings

The Reciprocity Rule. Scarborough Missions poster. Designed by Kathy Van Loon; © 2000 by Paul McKenna