The politics and philosophy of an education in virtue
This thesis addresses issues in philosophy, politics and education. Its starting point is a review of some of the theoretical and practical approaches to the moral education of children that have achieved popularity in the last three or four decades of the twentieth century. Despite areas of evident divergence amongst these approaches, it is argued that they nonetheless share similar philosophical underpinnings. Building upon some initial criticisms of these positions, the thesis subsequently explores some of the more recent philosophical challenges they have faced. From this basis, a broadly Aristotelian model of moral thought and practice is discussed and advocated across two chapters. This account pays particular attention to the role of the affective domain and the 'education of the emotions'. In the second half of the thesis, the focus moves towards the political suitability of this preferred conception of the nature of morality and moral education. It is argued that the essential interdependence of moral development and the moral character of political society - such a central part of Aristotle's account - is ill-appreciated by much popular and academic comment of recent times. By means of a discussion of the distinction between skills and virtues, techne and arete, the possible consequences of a full appreciation of this interdependence are debated. The remaining two chapters address two ways of answering the question which arises: "Can we have a true education of the virtues in the political context of contemporary pluralist societies?" In the first of these chapters, the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre is considered as an exemplar of the negative response to this question. In the second, some contemporary examples of liberal political thought are interrogated in the hope of discovering a positive response. It is concluded that the so-called 'liberal perfectionism' of Joseph Raz provides us with some reason to think that such a response may be both legitimate and attractive.