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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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The limitations of rationalistic conceptions of human moral development suggest that moral philosophy is better able to improve our understanding when it examines moral practices than when it pursues moral theory. Practices of moral reflection and argument - ranging from literary invention to political per- suasion - include everything we can reasonably hope for in seeking to fashion a sense of our personal good and responsibili- ties and to resolve disagreements about desirable public ar- rangements. The rational acceptability of assertions and de- mands is not determined by permanent principles but by evolv- ing patterns of expectation. Reasons and customs reflect one another. The inadequacies of rationalist moral theory are evident in many places, including the problems and confusions of contem- porary views of moral education. We have seen that the doubts about goods and virtues typical of these views. do not preserve a place for rational choice but call it too into question. This quandary is best addressed by acknowledging the central role of emotional rationality. The emotions do most of the work ex- pected of rational principles without imposing an impossible burden on "reason alone." The education of the emotions can have all of the integrative effects valued in our culture, promot- ing whole, aware, and responsible persons. Our emotions locate us in time. We regret certain things about the past and have hopes for the future. In so doing we make evaluations which give definition to a self. The tendency, much examined by philosophers, to prefer immediate...

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