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Good Lives and Moral Education

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Evan Simpson

This book develops a «conservative» conception of morality and its implications for moral education. The argument stresses practices of living over rationalistic theories. At its center is an account of the education of the emotions, in which cultivating reflective imagination is more important than mastering universal principles. The central contrast is with Lawrence Kohlberg and his theory of moral development. Simpson sees extending democratic practices of discussion and argument as best answering the question how, lacking certain standards of judgment, we can decide between competing conceptions of human progress.

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Chapter 2: The Good Life

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Chapter 2 The Good Life I A Developmental Story Any understanding of moral education reflects views of human nature and development, of the innate potentialities which a child can be brought up to realize. To believe that members of modern societies cannot gain knowledge of the good is to sup- pose that moral knowledge can extend no further than the ra- tional principles of choice debated by moral theorists. To take seriously the idea that relative strangers can reach agreement on a conception of the good life is to entertain the possibility that moral knowledge is more available than modem philosophers suppose. The difference between these conceptions is especially dear in their political dimension. Everyone agrees that moral educators properly aim at enabling individuals to live a good life, but the dominant school of thought about human well being is part of the political theory "that government must be neutral on what might be called the question of the good life .... [P]olitical deci- sions must be, so far as possible, independent of any particular conception of the good life, or what gives value to life. Since the citizens of a society differ in their conceptions, the government does not treat them as equals if it prefers one conception to an- other."1 The implication for ~ublic authorities is a certain disin- terest in the aims of students. This neutrality is appropriate only in so far as we lack knowl- edge or simply disagree about the good. To be neutral...

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