Talents, abilities and educational justice

Educational Philosophy and Theory 53 (8):799-809 (2021)
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The assumption that students are differently talented often underlies the public and philosophical debate about the justice of school systems. It is striking that despite the centrality of the notion of ‘talent’ in these debates, the concept is hardly ever explicated. I will suggest two explications: First, philosophers who point to different talents often assume that these are somehow fixed potentials that pose limits to what someone can achieve. According to this understanding, no matter how hard someone tries, she simply cannot perform well due to a lack of talent. Second, talking about different talents can be understood as saying that two students who will receive the same amount of educational resources are nevertheless expected to perform differently in the future. In the public as well as the philosophical debate it is common to assume that educational prospects should be equalized when it comes to unequal social backgrounds, but not when it comes to unequal talents. In this paper, I put into question three reasons that could speak in favor of this assumption: the first refers to the connection between talents and limits, the second to the relation between talents and the transformation of resources and the last one to the idea that talents somehow go back to the person’s true self.



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Kirsten Meyer
Humboldt-University, Berlin