Humanist Education as a Tool of Empowerment

ATDF Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1&2, 2009

10 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2010

See all articles by Philipp Aerni

Philipp Aerni

Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CCRS) at the University of Zurich

Date Written: December 19, 2009


This article argues that the current global economic downturn also represents a crisis in discipline-oriented academic thinking, especially in the areas of ethics and economics. These two disciplines are still largely based on rationalist and idealist views of the human being and therefore incompatible with the real nature of the human being as revealed by recent research findings in anthropology, neuroscience and experimental psychology. As a result, policy makers as well as educators are likely to increase their interest in humanist education, which regards individuals as social beings that must learn to live in two worlds with different rules; the world of the community that is ruled by the informal rules of fairness and reciprocity and the world of society at large in which people tend to pursue their self-interest. National education systems must prepare future generations to serve the needs of their communities as well as to thrive within the complex rules of the market economy and democracy. In this context, it is important to recognize that community identity can only survive by embracing cosmopolitan values that ensure connectivity and exchange with the larger social environment. This will be illustrated by discussing the education system of Florence in Renaissance Italy and comparing it with education initiatives in today’s successful emerging economies. The rediscovery of humanist education may also lead to national economic and cultural empowerment through endogenous growth in Africa.

Keywords: Interdisciplinarity, food crisis, economic theory, Renaissance Italy

JEL Classification: P16, M13, O1, O3

Suggested Citation

Aerni, Philipp, Humanist Education as a Tool of Empowerment (December 19, 2009). ATDF Journal, Vol. 6, Nos. 1&2, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Philipp Aerni (Contact Author)

Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CCRS) at the University of Zurich ( email )

Zähringerstrasse 24
Zurich, CH-8001
044 634 40 60 (Phone)


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