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CHOICE in career and citizenship - a view from Daniel Dennett

Moving on

The Career-learning Café

Education for careers and citizenship, we might say, is for enabling free participation in a free society. Such claims can be greeted with knowing nods and affirming murmurs. After all, who doesn’t want to be associated with the enablement of free choice in a free society?

But we can nod and murmur too easily. We do better to understand now how people are driven into - and away from – both career development and political action.

And the more we understand the harder it is to see how we can think of what we do as enabling choice. In order honestly to work in this field we need to be clearer about some challenging distinctions: between choice and impulse, and habit, and instinct. We need, also, to know how to work with choice in its social context. Career and citizenship are socially stratified – what people do are markers for unevenly distributed access. Furthermore, notions of a free-standing ‘self’, making free choices, ignores too much of the impact of family and neighbourhood attachments on what people do. And we have not yet worked out how allegiances to group beliefs and values impact political and career choices.

Few people have given as much thought to the relationship between choice and action than philosopher Daniel Dennett. Like Richard Rorty he uses up-to-date evolutionary thinking - to introduce us to ourselves as species.

His central conclusion is that we become more able to make choices the higher up the food chain we climb – indeed knowing how to do that has survival value. The key is complexity: the more factors we can take into consideration, the more likely we are to make a useful move. This is no argument for the KISS principle – ‘keep it simple stupid’. For our species the challenge was first ‘gather or die’; later ‘hunt or die’; and then ‘cooperate or die’. It is now, says Daniel Dennett, ‘think or die’.

His appeal is to science, and so he does not deny the reality of causes and effects in what we do. But, he says, the more we learn to see the way things are in a range of different ways, then the less - for us - anything is inevitable. That is our freedom.

Daniel Dennett’s work does much to clarify that list of challenging distinctions. And the clarity has practical value. Its implications for careers work and education for citizenship are urgent and demanding. If we mean to really do the work, rather than just meet the targets, we cannot afford to ignore them.

In a 'A good read' for serious thinkers the Café will review
Daniel Dennett (2003). Freedom Evolves. London: Allen Lane.

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any thoughts?

the power of complexity for
enabling career development

evolutionary and neurological
in career thinking
(look for Antonio Damasio and Steven Pinker)

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