New book urges caution when assuming 'well-being'

Professor Yoram Lubling co-authored "Peace in Motion: John Dewey and the Aesthetics of Well-Being" as a way of applying ideas from the 20th century philosopher to how public policy is crafted today.

Professor Yoram Lubling
By Shakori Fletcher ‘16

A new book co-authored by an Elon University scholar argues that leaders in democratic societies must do a better job of asking vulnerable people what they consider to be in their own best interests before crafting public policies that make erroneous assumptions.

In “Peace in Motion: John Dewey and the Aesthetics of Well-Being,” Professor Yoram Lubling and Eric Evans, the CEO of Disability Rights Nebraska, frame their ideas around a theory of aesthetics first articulated by the famed 20th century philosopher.

“By vulnerable people, we mean all individuals who are physically, mentally, or in any other way, not necessarily integrating into the demands of culture,” Lubling said. “We’re concerned with citizens like these who are vulnerable, and what kind of public policy does a democratic society like America apply in understanding what is best for these people?”

Lubling, who authored a 2011 book on John Dewey’s life and legacy, offers that Dewey was the most eminent American philosopher of all time. Dewey was an educator, one of the founders of the New School in New York, a social activist and naturalist, and is best known as the “father of American progressive education,” or what came to be known today as engaged learning. 

Upon Dewey’s death in 1952, a colleague from Columbia University eulogized Dewey by saying “the best way to honor Dewey is to see further than he saw.”

Lubling uses that sentiment as a guiding light, and in the book, he and Evans employ Dewey’s theory of experience to a contemporary issue.

“All experience, at time, is capable of achieving a temporary point of balance – what we call ‘peace in motion,’” he explains. “Vulnerable people have the same right to have such peace in motion because it’s their experience, and we should judge what well-being is in accordance with what constitutes balance and happiness in the life of every individual, or every organism, regardless of whether or not society deem them to be different.”

Lubling and Evans met in graduate school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and have long sought to collaborate on a project that uses Dewey’s philosophy to inform public policy. He says this collaboration offered an opportunity to use Dewey’s work to shed light on injustices and raise awareness on what he deems as society’s poor efforts to defend vulnerable people.

“Historically and traditionally we made choices and decisions about vulnerable citizens based on what we considered to be well-being,” he said. “When we considered well-being, we usually looked at what well being is for us, and then judged them in according with what we understood about ourselves.

“In this book we argue that this is prejudicial, this is inappropriate. … We need to be able to look at their well-being from their perspective, and from the perspective of what experience means to them.”

Lubling previously authored “The Person Vanishes: John Dewey’s Philosophy of Experience and the Self,” and “Twice-Dead: Moshe Y. Lubling, the Ethics of Memory, and the Treblinka Revolt”, which was endorsed by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.

Lubling joined the Elon faculty in 1991 and served as chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1998-2004. Fluent in modern and Biblical Hebrew, English and Yiddish/German, his research interests include classical American philosophy and American intellectual history, Holocaust/Jewish/Israel studies and social ethics, among other areas.

He is a member of the American Philosophical Association and the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy.

Lubling earned his doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and formally sat on the board of directors for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, as well as serving as a member of the Alamance Regional Medical Center Ethics Committee.