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Evaluating cultures: the instrumentalism, pluralist perfectionism, and particularism of John Gray

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date10/2012
JournalEducational Philosophy and Theory
Number of pages20
Original languageEnglish


In this article, Matthew Johnson examines the possibility of using elements of John Gray's work to advance a means of evaluating cultures, in order to inform the development of pluralist perfectionist forms of public policy and, in particular, educational programs. Johnson engages critically with elements of Gray's value pluralism, such as his understanding of the objectivity and universality in human values, needs, and well-being; determinacy of circumstance; and particularity with regard to the selection of values. These elements support an instrumental account of culture in which a group's choice of values is assessed according to their contribution to well-being. Johnson then considers the potential conflict between pluralism and perfectionism in the development of education systems in heterogeneous societies, highlighting the harms inflicted on the identity, meaning, and security of particular groups by attempts to promote well-being. Johnson concludes the article with an exploration of possible means of minimizing harm through pragmatic engagement with identity and circumstance.