Intellectual Trespassing and Socratic Humility

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Pablo points out that David Ellerman has published a new book; Helping People Help Themselves; From the World Bank to an Alternative Philosophy of Development Assistance.

In the forward Albert Hirschman writes;

“It is important to note the difference between help and perverse, dependency-creating alternatives to self-help. The task is to find forms of help that enable self-reliance and autonomy to come forward. It is time for deep organization experimentation in the ways of development assistance. This can be done by reflecting on the ideas and proposals of the following people:

Saul Alinsky, with regard to the community organization and the community;
Paulo Freire, with regard to the relation of the educator and the peasant (or urban poor) community;
John Dewey, with regard to the relation between teachers and learners;
Douglas McGregor, with regard to the relation between managers and workers;
Carl Rogers, with regard to the relation between therapists and clients;
Søren Kierkegaard, with regard to the relation between teachers and learners;
E. F. Schumacher, with regard to the relation between the development agency and the country; and
my own work with regard to the relation between the development advisor and the government.”

In the following piece Ellerman gives advice to the World Bank; Mixing Truth and Power; Implications for a Knowledge Organization ( discusses the issue of World Bank and its dealings with internal critics including the Easterly saga);

“On observing these exits, outside critics might compare the Bank more to the Catholic Church at the time of the Spanish Inquisition than to an open learning organization dedicated to the promotion of learning about development. Sophisticated insiders, however, point to the positive contrast with the IMF, where none of the above apostates would have gotten a foot in the door in the first place. Compared to the IMF, the Bank is a raucous debating society, and, in their view, the exits were unnecessary—particularly if the transgressors had shown a little more decorum and restraint….
Finally, on the complex questions of development where intelligent and knowledgeable people differ, alternative approaches should be allowed to compete and to be implemented within the confines of the same open learning organization. There is no royal road to learning, no road that bypasses real competition and local experimentation—even within the organization itself. One of today’s preeminent thinkers on development, Albert Hirschman of the Institute for Advanced Study, has often ridiculed the “rage to conclude” that tends “to cut short that ‘long confrontation between man and a situation’ (Camus) so fruitful for the achievement of genuine progress in problem-solving.

Those in power in the organization should harken to the admission and admonition of John Maynard Keynes (the principal founder of the World Bank): “But we all hate criticism. Nothing but rooted principle will cause us willingly to expose ourselves to it.” Instead of aspiring to Official Truths, the organization should aspire to a self-critical falliblism or Socratic humility of knowing that one does not know, and then on the basis of “rooted principle” to promote the knowledge processes shown to be “so fruitful for the achievement of genuine progress in problem-solving.”


Helping people help themselves - toward a theory of autonomy-compatible help- a working paper by Ellerman

David Warsh discusses the book

The Rhetoric of Reform

-The cartoon is by this well known Kenyan Cartoonist

1 Comment

The key ingredient to Third World development is economic freedom - which is sorely lacking in the Third World, as noted in the the Index of Economic Freedom.

It only makes sense that commerce can't reach its potential if governments don't allow it.


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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on May 24, 2006 1:31 AM.

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