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Moral education

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L051-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

This entry looks at three contemporary approaches to moral learning and education, all of which have roots in the history of philosophy. The first holds that just as children grow, or develop, in a physical sense, so they also develop in their moral dispositions or judgments. A central issue here is whether the concept of development is applicable outside its biological home.

The second sees moral learning not as a natural process, but as a deliberate induction into socially approved norms or values. On one version of this view, it is not enough to bring children to follow the rules enshrined in conventional moral codes as they need to learn to sift these in the light of higher-order rational principles. Problems arise here both about moral motivation and about whether morality is wholly to do with rules and principles. For other theorists moral education is more a matter of shaping children’s nature-given desires and emotions into settled dispositions or virtues on Aristotelian lines. While the ‘rational principle’ view focuses on the morally autonomous individual, this view has its roots in communal moral traditions.

Despite Plato’s belief that only knowledge is teachable, and therefore that it is doubtful whether moral goodness can be taught at all, the third view of moral learning maintains that it must include the acquisition of relevant knowledge and understanding, and cover the formation of dispositions. All this bears on how moral education should feature in schools – on the role of school ethos, learning by example, and the contribution of the whole curriculum.

Citing this article:
White, John. Moral education, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L051-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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