Physis, thaumazein and policy thinking: on another “time” to think educational policy

Jude Chua (Department of Policy, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore)

International Journal of Comparative Education and Development

ISSN: 2396-7404

Publication date: 24 July 2019



The purpose of this paper is to suggest that the mechanics of the neoliberal mindset is governed paradigmatically by a peculiar notion of “time,” which leads, in turn, to a kind of amoral consequentialism that projects meaninglessly and amorally into the future. The author proposes, in comparison, the pre-modern and ancient sense of the temporal which has the potential to yield moral insights for guiding policy thinking.


The author employs a philosophical approach and historical approach. The authors analyze philosophically the notion of the temporal in the consequentialist neoliberal agency, and draws on continental, ancient and medieval philosophical sources of temporality to develop an alternative.


The author argues that a rich notion of the temporal can be retrieved from medieval sources. This notion of the temporal is located in our experience of changing embodied beings, or physis, and gives rise to thuamazein or awe, which shows moral insights. The latter is a valuable source of guidance in policy thinking.

Research limitations/implications

This paper also suggests that epistemological commitment to an authority as numbers, feeding a policy as numbers, needs to be challenged. This paper does not draw on empirical data but nevertheless aspires to develop a thoughtful conceptual case on behalf of its conclusions.

Practical implications

A moral, neoliberal consequentialism is harmful to professional agencies. This paper offers a different way to think policy that puts what truly matters in front of us.

Social implications

Neoliberalism breeds the terrors of performativity that forgets what as a society we need to aim for on behalf of happiness, and instead drives us to compete without restraint after particular quantitative achievements. By challenging this paradigm, it is possible to offer policy thinking a different set of conceptual tools with which to think ourselves out of this performative irrationality.


This paper retrieves a medieval notion of time that is related with the showing of moral insights, opposed to amoral neoliberal consequentialism. In this way, there is a proposal of an alternative to neoliberalism, and not merely the worry of its damaging effects. It is also an original developmental study of Heidegger’s retrieval of ancient philosophy’s sense of temporality and its connection with ethics in the light of the resources in medieval philosophy.



Chua, J. (2019), "Physis, thaumazein and policy thinking: on another “time” to think educational policy", International Journal of Comparative Education and Development, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

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