Moral education and the nature of moral judgment
A vigorous debate is taking place about whether school pupils should be morally educated. Opinion appears to be sharply divided both about whether this is possible, and even if it is, what it would be. Some claim that schools have a duty to teach pupils 'universal' values. Others reject this, claiming that this is based on a misconception of what a moral judgment is. This school of thought takes moral judgment to be in a broad sense subjective or relative, and bases its doubts about the enterprise of moral education on these conceptions. Such scepticism about moral education, I suggest, is indicative of a more general view that unless claims made in a subject or activity can be objective and objectively assessed, they are not a fit vehicle for educational activity. Subjective or relativistic conceptions about moral judgment are ways of doubting whether claims made in morality can be objective and so can be a proper domain of educational activity. These claims about how we understand the concept of moral judgment, are philosophical claims. To get to grips with these positions, I use the resources of metaethics to examine them. I suggest that any metaethical theory about the nature of moral judgment can be assessed by four tests, which are laid out in chapter 1. These are whether a theory (a) accounts for our basic moral convictions, (b) explains how we should understand the nature of moral disagreement, (c) explains what kind of knowledge is moral knowledge or what kind of justification is moral justification, and (d) explains the connection between moral judgment and moral action. In chapters, 2-7, I examine the claims of emotivism, universal prescriptivism, two versions of subjectivism, relativism, moral realism and, more briefly, ethical naturalism to provide a satisfactory philosophical account of the nature of moral judgment. In the concluding chapter, I draw out the implications of these different metaethical theories for moral education. I argue that emotivism, standard subjectivism, and relativism, the metaethical theories upon which sceptical views about the possibility of moral education are based, do not do justice to those aspects of our moral experience which form the basis for my four tests, and do not support the case that moral education is not possible. I go on to argue that we can deepen our understanding of what it is to be morally educated and what it is to engage in moral education, by making judicious selections from the ideas and claims in universal prescriptivism and moral realism.