Ivo Cerman (ENG)

cerman photoLecturer in modern history at the University of South Bohemia. He has studied history and English studies in Prague, and history in Tübingen. His main academic interest lies in the field of moral philosophy and natural law in the 18th century. He has written extensively on aristocracy and Enlightenment in Central Europe.

Main publications related to the history of education :

  • Ivo Cerman, Habsburgischer Adel und Aufklärung, Stuttgart, 2010.
  • Ivo Cerman, Rita Krueger and Susan Reynolds (eds), The Enlightenment in Bohemia. Religion, Morality and Multiculturalism, Oxford, 2011.
  • Ivo Cerman, Aufklärung, oder Illuminismus? Die Enzyklopädie des Grafen Franz Joseph Thun, Stuttgart (forthcoming).



Moral Education in Bohemian Aristocracy

The quest for secular ethics may rightly be considered the most important task of the European Enlightenment. However, it proved to be above human capacities to project such a system of morality, which would convincingly show, how humans recognize what is right and how the light of human reason could possibly guide people on the path of the good life.

The sensualists in France, who based their system on experience, as well as physiocrats, who proceeded from a scientific order of nature, as well as legal and economic thinkers who believed in historical evolution of laws and spirit of the people –all of them created systems that would have practical effects only, if there were a means to inculcate them in citizens. This means was supposed to be moral education. If we have a look at essential works of these schools of thought, we find that their authors realized that the absence of an a accomplished system of moral education was a weak spot of their theories, but they were unable to devote this subject more than fleeting remarks on the margins of their large works. They were, however, convinced that their systems laid secure foundations on which one of them would sooner or later project a scientific system of moral education and thereby accomplish their philosophical projects. The vainness of these hopes was revealed by the discussion on Helvétius´ book De l´esprit (1758), whose author unintentionally showed the corollaries of secular sensualist ethics. It became clear that the lacunae of sensualist ethics, which rejected innate ideas, and did not apply a geometrical method, would not be covered up by a moral education based on the same sensualist premises. Rousseau did not fall into the sensualist trap, but his project revealed another dilemma – that between the individual happiness, and the common good.

This crisis was the starting point of my book Habsburgischer Adel und Aufklärung (2010), in which I have discussed, how aristocrats in Bohemia grappled with the problem of secular moral education for their children in the aftermath of the Helvétius crisis. I have chosen this point of departure, for it illustrates quite well the interconnection between moral philosophy and secular education, it shows also the limits given by the Enlightenment way of thinking, and the goals people pursued in education. My book ends with Count Windischgrätz´s attempt to create his own philosophical response to Helvétius and educate his own children on the basis of his personal philosophy.

The book has provoked quite an intensive discussion, but some reviewers have misunderstood it as a work on the reception of Rousseau´s pedagogy, others as a work on the French influence on Viennese court aristocracy. For this reason, it is the aim of my paper, to explain the method I have followed in my interpretation and emphasize again the reciprocal interconnection between morality and education in the Age of Enlightenment.

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