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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 3: Educating the Emotions?

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Chapter 3 Educating the Emotions? I Some intuitive psychology Among the promising philosophical options for understanding moral experience is exploring the affective perception of facts salient for action. Thus Martha Nussbaum's identification of "morally salient" images in Henry James's novel, The Golden Bowl, with objects of knowledge: "Moral knowledge, James sug- gests, is not simply intellectual grasp of propositions; it is not even simply intellectual grasp of particular facts; it is perception. It is seeing a complex concrete reality in a highly lucid and richly responsive way: it is taking in what is there, with imagination and feeling." 1 Some common patterns of philosophical thinking assign emo- tions to ethics and sensations to epistemology, assimilate ratio- nality to cognitivity, and place desire and belief in different sys- tems. Nussbaum's view of "passional reaction ... as itself a piece of practical recognition or perception,"2 invites us to reshape these patterns. A major problem for her view is the difficulty of differentiating it clearly from some contrary assumptions about emotional states, including those of Henry's brother, William. The author of Varieties of Religious Experience challenged his readers to conceive themselves stripped of emotion and to imagine the world "as it exists, purely by itself, without your favorable or unfavorable, hopeful or apprehensive comment.... No one portion of the universe would then have importance beyond another; and the whole collection of its things and series Good Lives and Moral Education of its events would be without significance, character, expres- sion, or perspective."3...

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