Education and the Limits of Reason: Reading Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Education and the Limits of Reason

Reading Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov, 1st Edition

By Peter Roberts, Herner Saeverot


176 pages

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In recent decades, a growing body of educational scholarship has called into question deeply embedded assumptions about the nature, value and consequences of reason. Education and the Limits of Reason extends this critical conversation, arguing that in seeking to investigate the meaning and significance of reason in human lives, sources other than non-fiction educational or philosophical texts can be helpful.

Drawing on the work of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov, the authors demonstrate that literature can allow us to see how reason is understood and expressed, contested and compromised – by distinctive individuals, under particular circumstances, in complex and varied relations with others. Novels, plays and short stories can take us into the workings of a rational or irrational mind and show how the inner world of cognitive activity is shaped by external events. Perhaps most importantly, literature can prompt us to ask searching questions of ourselves; it can unsettle and disturb, and in so doing can make an important contribution to our educational formation.

An original and thought provoking work, Education and the Limits of Reason offers a fresh perspective on classic texts by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov, and encourages readers to reconsider conventional views of teaching and learning. This book will appeal to a wide range of academics, researchers and postgraduate students in the fields of education, literature and philosophy.


‘Inviting us to move away from what has reduced education to an economy of measure, assessment, and application, this book is a golden opportunity to journey inwards, from the bounds of education’s limits to the paradox of its immanence. Doing so through the works of literary giants like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov, Roberts and Saeverot regale us with a way out of the quandary by which education has been consumed. Education and the Limits of Reason provides its readers with a powerful iteration by which we could all begin to liberate ourselves from the limits of schooled reason, where we have mostly and wilfully lost the capacity to critique. One hopes that this volume also offers teachers, young and old, neophyte or experienced, a renewed hope in the passions that pushed them to take up their profession in the first place.’ - John Baldacchino, Professor of Arts Education and Director of the Arts Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison

‘The fiction of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov subverts our settled and often moralistic worlds. Peter Roberts and Herner Saeverot show how wider and deeper rationalities are at work in these great writers: we are caught up in the ‘educative deceit’ of Lolita, for example. In contrast to the frantic cyber-world, they challenge us with the rewards of slow, contentious reading, where the familiar is made strange –there’s reason-ing way beyond traditional logocentric philosophy-of-education. Roberts and Saeverot are utterly honest in exposing how slow, unsettling literature expands our capacity to reason. This book is a significant contribution to the humanity of education, which, through its very publication, unsettles the current reductive momentum of education into the social sciences.’ - David Beckett, Professor in Education, The University of Melbourne, Australia.

‘Roberts and Saeverot provide in this scholarly reading of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Nabokov an expertly constructed bridge between philosophy, literature and education. Much needed, timely and insightful, the authors and their volume deserve a rightful place in an ancient and today ever more important field of interdisciplinary enquiry.’ - Liam Francis Gearon, Senior Research Fellow, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, and Co-

Table of Contents

Introduction: Education and the Limits of Reason

1. Troubling Reason: Notes from Underground Revisited

2. Love, Attention and Teaching: The Brothers Karamazov

3. Passion as a Quality of Education: The Death of Ivan Ilyich

4. Education, Rationality and the Meaning of Life: Tolstoy’s Confession

5. Pedagogy of the Gaze: An Educational Reading of Lolita

6. Education Arrayed in Time: Nabokov and the Problem of Time and Space

Conclusion:Literature, Philosophy and Education



About the Authors

Peter Roberts is Professor of Education at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. His primary areas of scholarship are philosophy of education and educational policy studies. His research interests include the ethics and politics of education, literature and education (with a particular focus on the work of Dostoevsky, Hesse and Camus), and tertiary education policy.

Herner Saeverotis Professor of Education at Western Norway University in Norway. His research focuses on existential education, literature and education, national and international perspectives of educational research, and educational policy. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal Nordic Studies in Education.

About the Series

New Directions in the Philosophy of Education

This book series is devoted to the exploration of new directions in the philosophy of education. After the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and the historical turn, where might we go? Does the future promise a digital turn with a greater return to connectionism, biology and biopolitics based on new understandings of system theory and knowledge ecologies? Does it foreshadow a genuinely alternative radical global turn based on a new openness and interconnectedness? Does it leave humanism behind or will it reengage with the question of the human in new and unprecedented ways? How should philosophy of education reflect new forces of globalization? How can it become less Anglo-centric and develop a greater sensitivity to other traditions, languages, and forms of thinking and writing, including those that are not routed in the canon of Western philosophy but in other traditions that share the ‘love of wisdom’ that characterizes the wide diversity within Western philosophy itself. Can this be done through a turn to intercultural philosophy? To indigenous forms of philosophy and philosophizing? Does it need a post-Wittgensteinian philosophy of education? A postpostmodern philosophy? Or should it perhaps leave the whole construction of 'post'-positions behind?

In addition to the question of the intellectual resources for the future of philosophy of education, what are the issues and concerns that philosophers of education should engage with? How should they position themselves? What is their specific contribution? What kind of intellectual and strategic alliances should they pursue? Should philosophy of education become more global, and if so, what would the shape of that be? Should it become more cosmopolitan or perhaps more decentred? Perhaps most importantly in the digital age, the time of the global knowledge economy that reprofiles education as privatized human capital and simultaneously in terms of an historic openness, is there a philosophy of education that grows out of education itself, out of the concerns for new forms of teaching, studying, learning and speaking that can provide comment on ethical and epistemological configurations of economics and politics of knowledge? Can and should this imply a reconnection with questions of democracy and justice?

This series comprises texts that explore, identify and articulate new directions in the philosophy of education. It aims to build bridges, both geographically and temporally: bridges across different traditions and practices and bridges towards a different future for philosophy of education.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
EDUCATION / Research
EDUCATION / Philosophy & Social Aspects