• Schrift vergrößern
  • Standard-Schriftgröße
  • Schriftgröße verkleinern

Education for Sustainable Development / Vortrag

E-Mail Drucken PDF


von Hans-Georg Wittig

RTTEMA Riga, October 3, 2002

Dear colleagues, dear students, dear guests,
thank you very much for your invitation at the beginning of the new cooperation between your academy and ours.

0. Introduction

0.1 The importance of international cooperation of educators in view of economic globalization

Let me start with some preliminary considerations about the importance of cooperation between educators in Riga and Freiburg, Latvia and Germany – considerations which will lead me to the central subject of this lecture. If you allow me as a foreigner to speak about your present situation: It seems to me that Latvia is in a special moment of its history – it has succeeded in becoming independent from Russia (for the second time), and I want to express my respect for the courage by which you and the other Baltic countries have defended your cultures during the last centuries, especially by non-violent means (and I should also mention my respect for the fact that after becoming independent the Latvian majority and the Russian minority have succeeded in avoiding violence – in German peace research this is a well-known model, cf. Birckenbach et al., ed., 1995, p. 75-85). As far as I know, ecological burdens, caused by the government of the former Soviet Union, have strengthened your resistance – and that is one reason more for me to speak to you about „sustainable development“.
You are going to integrate your country into the European Union with its capitalistic market. Capitalistic globalization brings chances, but also dangers. On the one hand,the world-wide trends of this globalization mean an intensification of economic production and even financial acrobatism, but on the other hand there is a lack of respect for nature, for social welfare and for personal dignity and cultural identity. With regard to nature: Nature is more and more exploited and burdened by the waste of industrialization. If all people in the world lived like the citizens of the European Union, we would need about three planets like ours. With regard to social welfare: There is a polarization between rich minorities and poor masses – both internationally and within the countries. With regard to personal dignity and cultural identity: Persons and cultures are more and more instrumentalized in order to increase profits.
In the long run this development is not at all sustainable. We need a different sort of development all over the world, and I think that the best roots for such a sustainable development nowadays exist in Europe. But sustainable development is not possible without educational contributions, for the required political solutions are impossible without a radical change of consciousness and attitudes in the nations, and this change has to be promoted by education.
However, as capitalistic globalization is a world-wide development, educational efforts to promote the willingness for really sustainable development are difficult and hard, and so educators often are liable to resign (or even to despair); in order to prevent or overcome such a state of resignation, we need international networks which are able to encourage all those who are interested in alternatives to sheer capitalistic globalization. And educational cooperation – both theoretical and practical – between Riga and Freiburg can be a contribution to such international networks. We must not believe in „TINA“! TINA means: „There is no alternative“, which is the ideology of the neoliberals. One point is absolutely clear: In the long run, there will be a different kind of  development  which needs to be sustainable – or else there will be no longer any development at all!  But what exactly does the principle of „sustainability“ mean?

0.2 Zenta Maurina’s essential contributions to our subject

Before I try to answer this question, I want to complete my introductory remarks. One aspect of sustainable development is that it means „as much centralization as necessary“ and „as much decentralization as possible“, also cultural decentralization,  maintaining cultural identities. I have already said that I have great  respect for the courage by which you have defended your own culture, and now you will see why it is important for me to emphasize this. During the preparations for this journey and this lecture, I got to know your excellent writer Zenta Maurina, and I am fascinated by her essays, her novels and especially her autobiography. As you may know, she was born in 1897and grew up near Liepaja; after suffering from polio at the age of five years, she had to stay in a wheel chair; in spite of that, she studied and worked here in Riga, but had to flee in 1944, lived many years in Sweden and for the last thirteen years in Germany, near Freiburg. Whenever I go to our university, my train passes Bad Krozingen where she lived until her death in 1978. She loved Latvia and its culture intensely, and for me she is an example of the importance and the chances of international contacts in order to promote world-wide humanity. (For those of you who speak German it would be a valuable study to find out the pedagogically important aspects of her works. Perhaps some day I can give  a seminar about this subject.) In her writings she often points out the attitude of reverence for life which is expressed in your „dainas“ and which is just the attitude we need for really sustainable development. Let me quote some sentences – at first in German, the language in which Zenta Maurina wrote them:
„In den Dainas gilt das Überfahren eines Mistkäfers als die eines Menschen unwürdige Tat. ...
Durch historische Umwälzungen kann ein Volk sich sehr weit von seiner Urwurzel entfernen. Die fünfunddreißigtausend von Kr. Barons gesammelten Volkslieder sind in ihrer Grundstimmung, in der Ablehnung von Gewalttat und Blutvergießen, dem Hinduismus verwandt. ...
Die Ehrfurcht des Daina-Letten vor dem Leben ist so groß, daß er für diesen Begriff drei Benennungen hat: dzive – der soziale Prozeß des Lebens; dziviba – der biologische Prozeß; und schließlich muzs – das Leben in seiner Ganzheit von der Geburt bis zum Tode. ...
Die Dainas sind durchweht von Freude, Freude an der Arbeit, am weißen Gewand, am Bernsteinschmuck, an Blumen, Bienen und Vögeln, Freude an allen Naturerscheinungen, vor allem am Auf- und Untergang der Sonne, und überwölbt ist die ganze Dainawelt von der Freude an der Stille, die ihre letzte Steigerung im Tod erfährt. ... Der Tod ist kein Schreckgespenst, er ist das letzte Ziel des Lebens, das einem tagtäglich gegenwärtig sein soll:
‚Lebe gut, lebe lieb,
ein Sonnenleben hast du nie,
das Wasser, der Stein,
sie leben so lange wie die Sonne.‘“
(Maurina o.J., p. 56-59; note of February 14, 1947)
I’ll try to translate this into English:
„In the dainas running over a dung-beetle is a deed unworthy of a man. ...
Through historical changes a people can move far away from its roots. The thirty-five thousand folk-songs, collected by Kr. Barons, in their mood, in their refusal of violence and bloodshed, are similar to Hinduism. ...
The Daina-Latvian’s reverence for life is so great that he has three words for this term: dzive – the social process of life; dziviba – the biological process; and at last muzs – life as a whole from birth to death. ...
The dainas are inspired by joy, joy about work, about the white dress, about amber decoration, flowers, bees and birds, joy at all natural phenomena, especially sunrise and sunset, and the whole world of the dainas is influenced by the joy about calmness which reaches its last intensification in death. ... Death is not a terrible phantom, but the last aim of life which should be present every day:
‚Live good, live dear,
you don’t have a life like sun,
the water and the stone,
they live as long as the sun.‘“

0.3 Basic considerations and programme

Let me return to my progamme. Before starting, I should like to make a few remarks about myself. I was born during the Second World War in Stockholm where my father was a teacher at the German school. That was enormous luck, because Sweden was an island of peace. At the beginning of the 60s, I attended the teachers training college of Hamburg university. I continued my studies in south Germany, at Tübingen university. What I want to tell you today, is not at all representative of pedagogical theory in Germany - that is impossible because of the pluralistic and so-called "postmodern" intellectual situation which contains many different positions. But the city of Freiburg is proud of its environmental commitment, and so it seems suitable for me to speak about sustainable development. Even more important may be the following insight: It does not at all matter, if environmental themes are just in vogue or not – if mankind does not obey the laws of ecology, nature will abolish us. This insight is both very simple and very essential. In other words: If a species of living beings which is endowed with the capacity of reason, suddenly recognizes that it is going to destroy its natural basis and thus itself, there can be no thing more important for this species than to encourage all sorts of learning which are suitable to avoid this danger! But the vast majority of theoretical and practical pedagogues has not at all realized the educational challenges of this situation as yet! That is surprising because it seems to me to be quite  clear that mankind as a whole does not feel responsible enough to avoid the misuse of science and technology. So the most important aim of education cannot be only the promotion of science and technology, but must be the promotion of the awareness of our responsibility to use them in the right way!
You know that our present subject is up-to-date, too. Some weeks ago, there was the destroying flood of many rivers in north Germany and south-east Europe, but in the reactions of the people there was a remarkable gap: On the one hand there was an encouraging direct solidarity on the spot, on the other hand I fear that there was a lack of insight into the long-term consequences of our treatment of nature and the interdependence of its effects. Accordingly, the results of the huge Johannesburg conference were disappointing, too: only words without any obligation ... If there is not a wide-spread insight even of indirect and long-distance connections and a wide-spread attitude of reverence for life in the peoples, the necessary changes in politics are impossible. In order to achieve a personal sensitivity for these questions, you should always ask yourselves – in view of all your behaviour, individual and political: How will our grandchildren judge us,  our way of life and our actions or failings?
The German writer Kurt Tucholsky once said: When a German professor gives a lecture, this lecture always consists of three parts – in the first part he says what he will say, in the second part he says it, and in the third part he says what he has said. As you have already noticed, I want to speak about our problems as clearly and simply as possible – they are too serious to speak about them in a pompous way.
At first I want to say what „sustainable development“ means. Is it an applicable and practicable concept? Can it serve as a historically necessary aim of education which is  suitable for a world-wide consensus even though it is not at all obvious? Does it agree with the classical tradition of ethics? Does it only consist of restrictions of our way of life, or is it even able to open ways to a better life?
Secondly, as it is a matter of fact that our actual development is not at all sustainable, we have to look at the dimensions of challenge, of our challenging historical situation. Besides the new word „globalization“, the keywords for it are „nuclear age“ and the crisis of the ecosphere, the thin skin of life around our planet. Albert Einstein early recognized that in the nuclear age everything has changed, only human thinking has not. The term „nuclear age“ marks most radically that mankind suddenly and irreversibly has become able to destroy itself and its natural basis and that a sustainable form of development is now the most important task for mankind.
Thirdly, we have to look at historical aspects. How was it possible that mankind got into this situation? Keywords are the so-called „neolithic revolution“, then the millennium before Jesus Christ which is called „Achsenzeit“ by the philosopher Karl Jaspers, the motives of modern science, the critique of modern civilization by Jean-Jacques Rousseau etc.
Forthly, anthropological aspects: We have to ask what history teaches us about man – about his dangers and risks as well as his constructive capacities. In this chapter, I want to refer to the eminent philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker. Weizsäckers  „historical anthropology“ enables us to understand the wrong ways, but also the chances of man . (Perhaps its central structure can be marked by the word „anthropological tristep“.)
Fifthly, methodical aspects: After defining the necessary aims of learning and education, we have to search for suitable methods to achieve them. In this regard, we can learn much from pedagogical classics, especially Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. Although Pestalozzi lived 200 years ago, the method of moral education which he practised with poor and neglected children goes far beyond all school reforms which have been organized since then. The Swiss author Hermann Levin Goldschmidt has published a nice book with the title „Pestalozzi’s unfinished revolution“.
At last, in the sixth chapter, I want to offer a short sketch of the response to our challenging situation: What sorts of learning are necessary for a sustainable development, and in which fields can they be promoted?

1. Sustainable development

1.1 Meaning

„Sustainable development“ means a development which does not destroy the natural basis for future generations. It means that we satisfy our needs in such a way that future generations can satisfy their needs, too. Unlike former generations, we and all following generations are so powerful in our actions that we cause long-distance consequences which involve later generations, so from now on sustainability is a necessary principle.
For the first time, this word was used in 1987, within the  Brundtland report (Gro Harlem Brundtland then was Prime Minister of Norway). Ten years ago, since the United Nations summit of Rio de Janeiro in 1992, „sustainable development“ has become the keyword for a world-wide consensus, but the danger is that it is degraded to a topic only of gossip. No one refuses „sustainability“, but many people weaken it to such a degree that it loses ist original meaning completely. In spite of that, if you use the term in a serious way, it has a clear and precise meaning. I’ll give you an example: You know that the emission of too much carbon dioxide (CO2) warms up the atmosphere – with severe consequences, e.g. a rise of the sea level. According to new scientific results, our planet can tolerate a yearly emission of about 13 billion tons of CO2 without damages to nature. Today there are living about six billion people on earth. So, if you combine sustainability with the principle of world-wide social justice, every living person has the right to emit 2.2 tons of CO2 per year. In reality, the emission in the developing countries is much less, but in Japan it is about 9 tons per person (instead of 2.2 tons), in Germany about 12 tons and in the USA 20 tons.
This example shows that sustainability includes ecological „crash barriers“. These crash barriers mean a  combination of duty and freedom: On the one hand all men who want to live and act responsibly have to respect these scientifically established limits even if it is hard to do so, on the other hand, within these „crash barriers“ we are free to form our living style in this or that way.
Sustainability means justice between generations, so-called „intergenerational justice“. But (as already mentioned) it also includes social justice among people who are living now. Indeed, it is important that we see: The living conditions of future generations depend on the integrity of nature, integrity of nature depends on peace, peace depends on a minimum of world-wide social justice. Therefore integrity of nature, peace and social justice cannot be separated from each other, and sustainable development contains all of them. And if sustainable development is not to be obtained by force and compulsion, it depends on the free insight and responsibility of many persons.
But a merely capitalistic market is not able to bring about these conditions of sustainable development. It does not at all respect the needs of future generations (just because they are not present members of the market – without any chance to lobby here and now), it does not respect human dignity (least that of weak participants), nor social justice, nor peace or the integrity of nature. By contrast, a fair market presupposes all these conditions, and so it is the foremost task of national and international politics, to regulate regional markets and especially the globalized market in an ecologically, socially and personally sustainable way. So the state must not be weakened, but strengthened – however, a reasonable state! The economic globalization cries for a reasonable political globalization, this cries for a change of consciousness in the peoples, and this cries for educational contributions.
But today our societies are not at all reasonable and sustainable. What we need is not only a new knowledge, but first of all a fundamentally new attitude towards our fellow-beings, including composure and a reverence for life. Perhaps you know the little story about Mahatma Gandhi when he was asked by a journalist: „What do you think about western civilization?“ His answer: „Oh yes, that would be a very good idea!“

1.2 Discussion

However. the concept of „sustainable development“ is not exempt from criticism. Here I can give you only one example of counter-arguments: Even ecologically committed pedagogues (e.g. Gerhard de Haan) doubt if sustainability is an applicable and thus practicable principle. Let us regard the problem of energy resources: How much oil, coal or gas is the present generation allowed to consume? The problem is, how many future generations should be considered: If we consider the next ten generations, then we are allowed to consume 10 % of the known supplies; if we consider hundred generations: only 1 % etc. – so what is the right measure for our behaviour?
Of course, the answer is that we must distinguish between resources which can be regenerated, and those which cannot. Sun, wind, water etc. permanently give us new energy. With regard to these renewable resources the above mentioned dilemma does not exist. So the first task is to go from not renewable resources to renewable resources as far as possible. Just this is the essential idea of sustainability: to use wood and eat fish, but not more than will grow again ... If men were really interested in sustainable development, they would find many intelligent solutions in this direction.

1.3 The ethical basis

Only a short view at the classical tradition of ethics: Is sustainability a new principle? No, it is only an application of the famous Golden Rule or the so-called „categorical imperative“ which was formulated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. The Golden Rule says: „What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others!“ Or in positive terms: „What you wish done to yourself, do to others!“ You find this Golden Rule in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew VII,12), but also in the other world religions (cf. Hans Küng about „Global Ethic“). By the way, this is a radical rule. Remember: the Golden Rule does not say“What others really do to yourself ...“, but „What you wish done to yourself ...“, so ultimately it includes even love of the enemy. In any case, the Golden Rule has to be applied to all those people –  even all fellow-beings! – who are affected by our own actions or failures, and from now this includes future generations.
If  now I would try to give modern philosophical reasons to justify the Golden Rule or the „categorical imperative“ itself, I would need more time than I have in this situation, because then I would have to discuss the works of Wilhelm Kamlah, Vittorio Hösle etc. (cf. H.-G. Wittig 1999, 2001).

1.4 The chance of a global consensus

The advantage of the principle of sustainability is that it is difficult to refuse it. On the one hand it is radical enough and not at all meaningless, on the other hand it can be the basis of a global consensus, and this is very valuable in a pluralistic and  „postmodern“ world.
Some of you may think that sustainability is only an „anthropocentric“ principle: Shall we consider only human generations and not nature as a whole? But I think this distinction is not relevant in this case: You can commit yourself to sustainable development either on the basis of considering only human beings or on the basis of reverence for all life, as it was taught and practised by Albert Schweitzer. With regard to political strategy, however, it seems to be more successful to argue merely „anthropocentrically“.

1.5 Visions of a better life

But will people really agree to restrain themselves in favour of future generations? This is a
question which is also pedagogically relevant. It is very important to see that sustainable development contains not only restrictions, but also chances of even a better life than up to now. If you concentrate upon satisfying your real needs (instead of running to fulfil all those unnecessary wishes which are artificially stimulated by advertising, commercial television etc.), there will be not so much hectic hastening, more „deceleration“ instead of further acceleration, more health and fewer diseases peculiar to civilization. If you decentralize the economy, you save the energy for long-distance transportation of goods. If you do not exploit nature or people in the poor countries or future generations, your conscience feels better. Again you can find this idea in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus does not say: „Be peaceful, be pure in heart!“, but he says: „Blessed are the pure in heart ... , blessed are the peacemakers ...“ (Matthew V,8,9). And it is – also pedagogically! – very important that the great and detailed study about „Sustainable Germany“ (1996) contains not only the ecological „crash barriers“, but also a lot of scenarios and creative experiments of a good life within these crash barriers – even of a better life than up to now!

1.6 Some pedagogical consequences

The concept of „sustainable development“ has many further consequences which are pedagogically relevant. I’ll point out only three of them.
(a) Perhaps the main problem of present educational theory is that the majority of theorists think that a rational justification of obligatory aims of education is impossible. In this field you often hear from them only laughter or cynical remarks. But I am convinced and have tried to show that „sustainable development“ is a historically necessary aim for the whole society, including education.
(b) Thanks to the ecological „crash barriers“ we are no longer condemned to swing from one extreme to the other. On the one hand there are many people who do not accept any restrictions of their luxurious way of life, on the other hand there are sometimes over-scrupulous people who think that they are not allowed to use any resources etc. The above mentioned crash barriers offer scientifically established limits for what is allowed and what is not allowed.
(c) The idea of sustainable development enables us to find new pedagogically sensible concepts of effort and achievement which transcend the contrast of either mere efficiency for capitalistic globalization or anti-authoritative pastime. You know that this is a present-day  problem: The PISA study has irritated many people, including educators. But I repeat: What we need, is not only intellectual efficiency, but first of all a convincing concept for reasonable development of the whole society which enables us to decide which segments of our civilization and culture shall be promoted and which shall not. The various local activities within the „Agenda 21“ programme tend to encourage young and old people to commit themselves in reasonable fields of learning.

2. Challenge

2.1 The nuclear age

The first chapter has tried to sketch a framework for education which has become historically necessary. But this sketch is incomplete, it needs an extension. If we want to be realistic, we must see that the most radical danger for any sustainable development is marked by the term „nuclear age“. „Nuclear age“ in this context means three things: first a new quality of knowledge, symbolized by nuclear physics; second, deriving from that knowledge, a new quality of power, symbolized by the use of nuclear energy; third, deriving from that power, a new quality of danger, symbolized by nuclear bombs. As I try to speak honestly to you, I cannot avoid this theme, but we should speak carefully about it and prevent inadequate pessimism, which is not at all helpful.
It is a fact, however, that since the middle of the 20th century mankind is really able to destroy itself as a whole. It is quite easy to speak these simple words, but nobody can imagine what they mean. When Jimmy Carter ended his US presidency, he intensely appealed for the prevention of a nuclear war: if the existing nuclear bombs were used for a long afternoon, in every second of this afternoon a Second World War would take place.
Leading American generals (e.g. George Lee Butler) stress that it is a wonder that nuclear deterrence did not fail for so many decades. It is important that you see: Nuclear deterrence is not at all stable. On the one hand nuclear bombs do not fulfil their deterring purpose if they are used, but on the other hand they do not fulfil their purpose either,  if it is impossible that they are used; that means they fulfil their purpose only on condition that their use is always possible, but never becomes real, and that is a principally unstable situation .
The nuclear age is a fundamentally new situation in world history, and it is also important that you see: It will last as long as the future history of mankind. You can abolish nuclear bombs, but you cannot abolish the knowledge how to produce them! Indeed, mankind may be able to minimize the nuclear threat by disarmament, but any further generation can rebuild nuclear bombs – so mankind cannot escape the challenge of the nuclear age forever.
If nearly nobody is aware of that, the real danger is increasing, but since the end of the „cold war“ people seem to think that the danger has finished, and they repress it. In the last few years you can see a re-normalization of military affairs as if there were no nuclear problem.

2.2 Concluding aims for education

To get the right sort of education for sustainable development, everything depends on the perception of the nuclear age, on the courage to admit this perception instead of repressing it. We have to see that the dangers for sustainable development come not at all from a lack of intelligence or technology, but from a lack of responsibility. As Zenta Maurina says: „All our thoughts, deeds and achievements are sensible only on condition that they lead to self-knowledge, to purification and spiritualization, to humanization, i.e. to an increase of our feeling of responsibility.“ (l976, p. 251)
In order to answer the challenge of the nuclear age, two further educational aims should be considered: a general and a special one. As in the nuclear age the further existence of mankind and of the ecosphere as a whole is threatened we have to learn that the common welfare as a whole must have absolute priority in relation to all particular interests of one‘s own person, one’s own party, nation etc. And especially we have to learn to solve our conflicts (which will exist also in future times) as much as possible by non-violent means. I have already mentioned that I feel respect for the largely non-violent means by which you defended your cultural identity and struggled for independence. In this regard the great teacher of mankind is Mahatma Gandhi (and it would be sensible to carry out seminars on Gandhi’s relevance for sustainable development and on his educational contributions in order to reach this aim).

2.3  The connection with other dangerous and damaging developments

You may  have observed already that in a way the word „nuclear age“ sounds very special and thus is easily misunderstandable. But as I already mentioned, the nuclear problems are only one clear example of the fact that since some decades mankind has discovered many ways to destroy itself – often more indirect and creeping and thus more difficult to perceive. Let me remind you of the unsustainable use of resources on the one hand and the unsustainable burdening and poisoning of nature on the other hand. And I also remind you of the increasing social injustice which is unsustainable, too: Thirty years ago, the richest 20 % of mankind were thirty times as rich as the poorest 20 %; today the richest 20 % are sixty times as rich as the poorest. How was it possible that intelligent beings produce such dangers, such damages and such crimes? This question leads us to the next chapter.

3. Historical aspects

3.1 Searching for the causes of modern crises

Where can we find the causes of such faulty developments? In the genetic potential of man, e.g. in his aggressive potential? Or in his lasting stone-age emotions which are no longer suitable for the complexity of modern civilization? Or in the Jewish-Christian tradition according to which we should subject the earth to man? Or in modern times, in the power of science and technology? Or only in the misuse of this technology in the 20th century? Perhaps in all these aspects is part of the answer ...

3.2 „Neolithic revolution“ and its results

An important step in human history is the so-called „neolithic revolution“, the transformation from hunting and collecting to agriculture about 10.000 years ago. At least 99 % of human history was before this  transformation. If there were enough time, it would be interesting to show how on the basis of agriculture the first great civilizations developed – in Egypt, the Middle East, India, China - , how these civilizations promoted intelligence and technology, powerful forms of competition and of ruling and how they got into crises and conflicts which were carried out by organized war ...

3.3 „Achsenzeit“ – the millennium before Christ

With regard to our topic another very important step in history is the millennium before Jesus Christ. The philosopher Karl Jaspers called it „Achsenzeit“. It contains the largely simultaneous origins of the world religions, which exist until now, and of the ancient philosophy which has elements of a religion, a reasonable religion, too. In this millennium you find the Jewish prophets and then Jesus himself, you find Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, you find the reforms of Hinduism, the beginning of Buddhism etc. They reach a new spiritual level of mankind, including a new morale, and this morale can be understood as a response to the crises of the already existing great civilizations. I just mentioned these crises which are similar to those of our own time: powerful forms of competition and of ruling, organized war etc. That is why the new morale of the „Achsenzeit“ is still relevant for our time. You will remember my references to the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount (1.3; 1.5). Now the aims are love, which helps to live, instead of hatred, which leads to death; wisdom and reasonable composure instead of mere intelligence, which can also be used to promote only one’s own power; striving for truth instead of hypocritical ideology; opening for the common good instead of prejudice because of the excessive particular interests of one’s own. The Dhammapada, a central Buddhist text, says that enmity cannot end enmity, that the fire of hatred can be put out only by love, that this is an eternal law.
In the crises of the already existing great civilizations the old moral tradition had become insufficient (think of the sophists in ancient Greece!), now a higher ethical level was necessary, based on the insight of individual persons. Often this insight compelled the individuals to resistance against the behaviour of the crowd, compelled them to the courage of their own convictions – you know the word in the Bible that we have to obey God rather than men.
You will understand the relevance of this new historical step of spiritual development even better if you compare it with the development of individuals today. The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg has distinguished three steps of moral development which he calls „pre-conventional“, „conventional“ and „post-conventional“: When children grow up, they learn the morale of their culture, their country, especially their families, i.e. they get the „conventional“ level, they behave just as people usually behave in their society. But often – not always! – adolescents begin to reflect radically about this merely „conventional“ level – maybe they agree to it by their own insight and free will or maybe they search for new orientations. And this step to the „post-conventional“ level, this important step of becoming an autonomous „person“ has historically been reached in the millennium before Christ, in the so-called „Achsenzeit“.  
In order to avoid a too one-sided moralistic view, I remind you of my reference to Christ’s blessings in the Sermon on the Mount: When a person has the courage to practise the new morale, it will gain the experience that only by this way it will reach a sensible, really satisfying way of life.
Surely, then and in later times only minorities reached this new ethical level, but since then the possibility of this level is not gone, and one central thesis of this lecture is that today, in the „nuclear age“, this moral level has become necessary. It is necessary also because of another characteristic: During the „Achsenzeit“ the field of application of the new morale has widened to all members of mankind, to all beings who had a human face. While the conventional morale was applied only to the members of one’s own society (and the members of other societies seemed to be only beings of lower worth), now it proved to be the only reasonable solution to apply the new morale to all human beings. (As I have already mentioned, in the 20th century the field of application was explicitly widened once more by Albert Schweitzer when he pleaded for reverence for life as a whole.)

3.4 Modern science and technology

After the Middle Ages, since the time of the Renaissance, science and technology have become more and more successful and have pushed back the essence of Christianity and classical philosophy. If there were time enough, I would try to show you how people like Nicolo Tartaglia and Galileo Galilei discovered that mathematics, which had been found by the ancient Greeks and had been transmitted by the Arabs, could be applied to natural phenomena on earth. With regard to our subject, the most important point is that at the beginning of modern science there is a double motive to gain more power: more power with regard to the use of nature and more power over fellow-men. (Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes formulated this motive explicitly.)

3.5 Rousseau as a critic of modern civilization

A consequence of the successful development of science and technology was the modern belief in general human progress. But already 250 years ago, there were the first critics of this belief in a never ending progress of mankind. It was one of the founders of modern educational theory, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who criticized this belief radically. He perceived that men degenerated in the process of civilization. He wanted to reconstruct a concept of human nature which was not yet degenerated, but he also saw that it was impossible for man to return into an original state of nature. So he found the only way of transcending the evils of civilization in the reason of man, in his reasonable moral virtue to act in favour of the common good . Thus he reached again the level of the morale and religion of the „Achsenzeit“. And in his famous „Emile“ (a book which today may be even more important than in the 18th century) he outlined processes of learning and education which avoid the bad influences of civilization and enable man to live reasonably.
If education has only the task to integrate young people into an existing society, it is not very difficult. But if you are convinced that the development of the existing society and civilization as a whole is not at all sustainable, there are at least two aims of education:  to enable us to live in this civilization as it is, but also to enable us to make  reasonable contributions to a sustainable form of development.
That is why Rousseau and his successors are still relevant . Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, who in many aspects followed Rousseau, used a formula which characterizes the adequate view of man very well. He said that man begins his life as a „work of nature“ („Werk der Natur“), that in addition he becomes a „work of society“ („Werk der Gesellschaft“) and that, once more in addition, he can become and should become  a „work of himself“ („Werk seiner selbst“), based on autonomous insight and responsibility. You can easily see that this formula is a parallel to Kohlberg’s concept of „pre-conventional“, „conventional“ and „post-conventional“ stages in moral development.This remark leads us already to the next chapter.

4. Anthropological aspects

4.1 The escalation of powerful competition among men

Now it would be very illuminating to give a sketch of the huge modern  „historical anthropology“ of Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, which has the same triple structure like that of Rousseau and Pestalozzi (cf. Kern/Wittig l984, l985). Here I can only point out one central argument:
If you are really interested in sustainable development, you should understand the obstacles to such a development. Why do we not attain well-known reasonable solutions? The answer is: because of the dominance of powerful competition. If I am willing to restrain my actions in a reasonable way – in economy, politics, but also in everyday life - , I will no longer be successful among my competitors, if they are not willing to restrain themselves, too. In the world of capitalistic globalization competition becomes stronger and stronger: a „rat race“. If one nation establishes an ecological tax and the others do not, this nation may damage its economy (in the short term); if one country gives up the use of nuclear energy and others do not,  the country will, in this respect, lose its contact to the highest level of scientific development etc. What about this competitive behaviour? Where are its roots? In the genetic potential of man or in the learning processes? Weizsäcker shows that this last question is too simple.
Like other animals man has a genetic potential which was suitable enough for his original environment – otherwise he would have died out. Unlike other animals he has language, an extremely flexible sort of communication which is younger than the old genetic potential, and he has intellectual capacities to a high degree. In case of danger, shortage and pain he learns to fear. Fear includes the ability to anticipate the future: I fear dangers which have not yet come. But fortunately, I have the intellectual chance to find or to invent means to turn off these dangers. If the dangers come from the surrounding nature, it is not sensible to expand them more and more; but if the danger comes from other men, it is often necessary to raise one‘s own potential of means higher and higher because the enemy (or at least the competitor) can also raise his potential. The result is a mutual escalation of means and power. This powerful competition – which you can (as I mentioned) find in any arms race, in economy and everyday life – is ambivalent: it accelerates the development, but endangers it, too. And in the nuclear age and with regard to merely capitalistic globalization, the logic of this powerful competition becomes fatal.

4.2 Reason

The only chance to escape this fatal logic is to promote the human ability of reason. Reason can transcend the mutual escalation of intelligent competitors. Reason means more than mere intelligence; I’ll give you an example: The physicist and Nobel prize winner Max Born said that space travel was a victory of intelligence, but a defeat of reason. Obviously, he wanted to say that on a planet where there is such a lot of misery which cries for solutions, it was not very reasonable to concentrate so much intelligence power on space travel ... Reason means the perception of the whole of which everybody is only a little part. Weizsäcker says that intelligence („Verstand“) thinks „instrumentally“, but reason („Vernunft“) thinks „integratively“ – intelligence thinks only of the means, reason thinks also of the ends.
In addition, reason has not only theoretical, but also practical aspects: Its aim is to promote the common good. And in order to perceive our situation as a whole in a way that is as little distorted as possible, reason also includes a certain emotional basis: the mood of composure, peace, love. Reason is similar to „wisdom“ and connected to „spirit“. This reason gives orientation to man in the „post-conventional“ stage when he becomes (as Pestalozzi says) a „work of himself“.
Sustainable development needs nothing more but such reason. How is it possible to learn reasonable behaviour?

5. Methodical aspects

5.1 „Primary“ and „secondary“ learning

Principally, we have to distinguish between „primary“ and „secondary“ learning. Primary learning means to learn a skill by practising it, i.e. to learn by one’s own experience. The American John Dewey spoke of „learning by doing“. Secondary learning means to learn only by verbal instruction. The German pedagogue Herman Nohl summarizes the results of many educational reforms when he says: „No ability of human life can be developed by mere verbal instruction, but only by practising it in action: love only by loving, belief only by believing, thoughts only by thinking, deeds by doing. ... By contrast, all instruction is secondary and sensible only on condition that it follows as reflection on real experiences.“ (1963, p.15)

5.2 Transitions from secondary to primary learning

Although we have to distinguish between primary and secondary learning, they must not be separated completely. There are transitions between them. An example of these transitions between primary and secondary learning are role plays: On the one hand, if they are successful, role plays are more impressive than mere verbal instruction, on the other hand they are not at all like original experience. Other examples of these transitions are illustrations, object-lessons, excursions, learning in projects etc. You can summarize the intentions of most educational reformers by saying that they wanted to approach primary learning as far as possible.
And you can find such transitions not only with regard to your own behaviour and your own actions, but also with regard to that which happens to you. Once more an example: What cancer is, is known by everybody in the way of secondary learning; only those who suffer themselves from cancer know by primary learning what that means; but if you have a relative or friend who suffers from cancer you obtain more than only verbal knowledge, but less than the original experience.

5.3 Essential methods of moral (elementary) education

If you consider these structures of learning, you will find the essential methods of moral education. At first it is important that children meet love and reason  - not by words, but in real experience, because only in this way they are convinced that love and reason are really valuable and helpful. Thus a reliable love of and care for children can awaken their moral attitudes. You cannot enforce these moral attitudes – least of all by mere verbal demands! - , but if your care for the children succeeds in awakening a moral willingness, then, secondly, it is important that you offer the children chances to practise love and solidarity themselves, because only by their own behaviour and their own actions will they  learn love and reason primarily. When this has happened, thirdly and at last, the children need reflection about their situation and about their own behaviour in order to understand their own experiences. But let me remind you of Herman Nohl’s warning: „All instruction is secondary and sensible only on condition that it follows as reflection on real experiences.“
The pedagogue who found this triple structure of moral education was the classic Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi. In 1798/99, in Stans, a small town in Switzerland, he lived with about eighty children whose souls had been hurt by war and who in many cases had lost their parents. In miserable circumstances he cared for these children from dawn to dusk, and it did not last very long until many children began to trust in the sincerity of his care, and they began to practise more and more solidarity among themselves. Pestalozzi saw clearly that (as he said) "moral elementary education" at first means an awakening of moral attitudes, then the training of moral behaviour and at last enlightenment on the basis of these original experiences. But he avoided using too many words because he knew that most educators talk too much, and he said that without a basis of experience all this talking is only „gossip“ („Maulbrauchen“). He was convinced that love can be awakened only by love. And only the experience of love opens the feelings for the value of life and the beauty of creation. (By the way, this triple structure of moral education has be confirmed by a lot of empirical research.)
Pestalozzi saw that an education which wants to help man as a whole has to include (as he said) „head, heart and hand“, i.e. the promotion of the intellect, the attitudes and the practical abilities. And he saw very realistically that the most important of them was the promotion of moral attitudes, because otherwise we would have only clever egoists – and in a world of so many technical possibilities clever egoists are the most dangerous sort of living beings!
Indeed, for our theme the attitudes are most important. Without a wide-spread attitude of intense reverence for life no really sustainable development is possible. Let me once more cite Zenta Maurina who ends her famous book „Mosaik des Herzens“ (1947) with the words „Amo ergo sum“. Another example: The French poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery said: „If you want to build a ship, do not call men in order to get wood, to distribute the tasks of working, but teach them the longing for the wide, endless sea.“ I fear that pedagogues put too much trust into „head“ and „hand“, into knowledge and the training of skills; maybe they do so because learning of knowledge and skills can be organized. But the most important and necessary basis of intellectual and practical learning is the „heart“, the sphere of attitudes. If you are really inspired by reverence for life you will find chances to act according to this attitude wherever you are!

5.4 „Further“ moral education

We live in a very complex world. Pestalozzi was right when he spoke of „moral elementary education“, and now we have to complement this „elementary“ or fundamental education by a sort of further education which is suitable for our situation. The principles of this further education are anticipation and participation. The „Club of Rome“, who tries to promote solutions for the global problems, has stressed already in the learning report of 1979 that today individuals, groups and complete societies  need a new sort of learning, called „innovative learning“, and that the „main features“ of this „innovative learning“ are „anticipation“ and „participation“.
The Club of Rome asks: „How many wars must we suffer in order to learn to avoid new ones?“ (Botkin/Elmandjra/Malitza 1979, p.25) Indeed, learning by experience must not mean learning by shocks, shocks of historical dimensions, because these shocks which are now within human power are no longer tolerable (and sustainable). So when we have learnt in our fundamental experiences what love is and fairness and misery and pain etc., we have to learn to combine these elements of experience in our imagination and to anticipate reasonably the long-term consequences of different sorts of present behaviour in order to prevent unbearable shocks.
But „anticipation must be completed by an additional feature“, because otherwise „expertise may take the form of narrow-minded technocracy ... and thus inspire substantial distrust.“ (ibidem, p.29, 31) This additional feature is the democratic principle of participation, and it is important that this participation is already trained in childhood, as early as possible (cf. also the famous Polish educator Janusz Korczak).
Indeed, the aim of responsibility presupposes both the learning of autonomous anticipation by practising anticipation and the learning of cooperative participation by practising participation. With regard to these aspects of educational methods, in the last chapter I want to offer you a short sketch of the dimensions of a pedagogical response to our challenging situation.

6. Response

6.1 Tasks of school, family and youth organizations

The main task of school is instruction. But as we have seen, mere knowledge (as a result of instruction) is not enough to ensure sustainable development. Knowledge is productive only on two conditions: that the pupils or students are interested in it and that they have the chance to act according to this knowledge. Those who have knowledge about our real situation but see no chance to alter this situation will only drift into resignation or despair.
So on the one hand instruction within school presupposes suitable attitudes which should already be prepared by education in the families. If families fail to promote the attitude of reverence for life – as it is very often the case nowadays -, then the situation of schools becomes very difficult, and besides instruction they must try to promote social learning as well as they can.
On the other hand schools need cooperation with the fields of „social pedagogy“ and youth organizations. With regard to sustainable development non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like „Greenpeace“ or „terre des hommes“ or „Plan International“ or „attac“ are very important; most of these organizations have groups for young people where they can commit themselves in favour of a humane and sustainable development. We should be thankful that these NGOs are already existing, because they make it easy to cause world-wide effects, to cooperate with people in other nations, to live according to the slogan „Think globally, act locally!“. Especially the so-called „Local Agenda 21“, which were projected at the Rio conference of the UN in 1992, offer educational chances for „learning by doing“: In the various initiatives within these „Local Agenda 21“, young people can learn to practise responsibility in uncomplicated situations and in real cooperation with the older generation.

6.2 Respect for phases in individual development

Our own commitment for sustainable development must not mislead us to confront our children too early with the whole burden of all our problems. That would only promote the so-called „no future“ mentality. If we damage our children’s confidence in life, they will, as adults, not at all have the courage to try solutions for global problems. So in the early phases of life beautiful aspects should predominate (without creating the illusion of a completely intact world), the experience of the value of life, an inspiration of suitable attitudes – just as I mentioned it with regard to Pestalozzi’s „moral elementary education“.
Only in later stages of life should a complex knowledge about our real situation and about possible solutions of its problems  be offered. But it is so difficult to obtain knowledge which is not distorted and one-sided, but really true, even in detail, that this is a task not only for the higher classes of school, but perhaps even more for a good system of adult education.

6.3 Widening the educational view

Now as before, educational theory seems to be interested first in intellectual learning of individuals. But we should widen our view to the awakening of moral and aesthetic attitudes, furthermore to the learning of groups and even of societies. These collective learning processes are intertwined with individual learning processes. The so-called „new social movements“ are stimulators of individual and collective learning – e.g. „attac“, an organization and a movement which spreads criticism of a merely capitalistic globalization and tries to promote the establishment of the so-called „Tobin tax“ etc. And as educators try to open a good future for children, they should take part in those new social movements.
But before widening our view, we should first and foremost concentrate on ourselves, on our own self-education and self-humanization as educators which is the basis for all sensible education of other human beings. However, we should not try to do more than we can. Perhaps you know the little prayer: Please, give us the composure to accept what we cannot alter, give us the courage to alter what we can alter, and give us the wisdom to distinguish one from the other!


Birckenbach, Hanne-Margret, et al. (ed.) 1994: Jahrbuch Frieden l995, München (Beck)
Botkin, James W./Mahdi Elmandjra/Mircea Malitza 1979: No Limits to Learning. Bridging
the Human Gap, Oxford (Pergamon)
BUND/Misereor (ed.) 1996: Zukunftsfähiges Deutschland. Ein Beitrag zu einer global
nachhaltigen Entwicklung, Basel/Berlin/Boston (Birkhäuser)                                                                                                                     
Kern, Peter/Hans-Georg Wittig 1984: Pädagogik im Atomzeitalter, 2nd ed. Freiburg i.Br.      
Kern, Peter/Hans-Georg Wittig l985: Notwendige Bildung. Studien zur Pädagogischen
Anthropologie, Frankfurt a.M. (Peter Lang)
Küng, Hans/Karl-Josef Kuschel (ed.) 1993: A Global Ethic. The Declaration of the Parliament
of the World’s Religions, London (SCM Press)
Maurina, Zenta 1976: Um des Menschen willen, 4th ed. Memmingen (Dietrich)
Maurina, Zenta o.J.: Nord- und südliches Gelände. Schwedische Tagebücher, Memmingen
Nohl, Herman 1963: Erziehergestalten, 3rd ed. Göttingen (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht)
Wittig, Hans-Georg 1999: Verbindliche Menschenrechte – verbindliche Menschenpflichten.
In: Interkulturell, No.1-2, p.36-54
Wittig, Hans-Georg 2001: Vernünftige Ethik für eine aus den Fugen geratende Welt. In:
Bernd Goebel/Manfred Wetzel (ed.), Eine moralische Politik? Vittorio Hösles Politische
Ethik in der Diskussion, Würzburg (Königshausen & Neumann) , p. 267-287

Hans-Georg Wittig


Zufällig ausgewählte Glosse

Die Seele verkaufen: Aus der Verachtung Vorteile ziehen.