Details of Thesis

Title The Cognitive Anatomy of Moral Understanding and the Moral Education Question: A study in the philosophy of moral education
Author Cooper, James A.
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2008
Abstract This study investigates the problem of contemporary interpretations of the moral education question, as informed by rival moral-philosophical and epistemological traditions. In this study, the moral education question is taken to mean, ‘What educational form and content may best assist students in becoming ethically minded and morally good people?’ Accordingly, this necessitates a consideration of what is meant by morality and what are the central characteristics of the moral life (i.e. moral philosophical perspectives), as well as how such accounts of morality are seen to relate to the educational aims of knowledge and intellectual development (i.e. underlying epistemology).This study shows that current interpretations of moral education (as efforts to ‘teach values’) are predominantly informed by the ‘juridical ethical tradition,’which, in turn, is underpinned by a distinctive epistemology (or ‘Juridicalism’).The thesis proposes that Juridicalism is philosophically contestable because it leads to a partially distorted conception of the moral life and hence of moral education. Generally, by regarding the cognitive dimensions of moral thought and action as separate from and independent of the emotional-volitional dimensions, Juridicalism is an obstacle to understanding the proper moral educational task of schools. Notably, Juridicalism leads to a questionable emphasis on the importance of ‘values’, as expressed in generally agreed rules and principles, as opposed to particular and substantive moral judgements.A critique of Juridicalism is developed, focussing on its underlying conception of human reason as inspired by a distinctly Modern mind-body/world dualism argue that the fragmented and reductive epistemology of Juridicalism signals the need for a richer and more variegated theory of cognition, marked specifically by an integrated anthropology and substantive theory of reason. Further, such an epistemology is located in the realist philosophy of classical antiquity particularly within the Aristotelian tradition. I propose a defence of what I call ‘Classical Realism’, in contrast to Juridicalism, highlighting its distinctively integrated account of the mind/soul and body/world relationship, and substantive conception of practical rationality or moral understanding. Classical Realism also makes central the notion of knowledge as ‘vision’ in order to explain how the rational and affective dimensions of human nature come together in moral thought and action. Finally, the moral education question is reconsidered in light of the visional ethical perspective emerging from Classical Realism. In this light I interpret the moral education question as a matter of nurturing the (intellectual) capacity for and habit of correct vision and, relatedly, moral judgement. Further, this task is shown to be vitally connected with the school’s focus on developing knowledge and the intellect through the teaching of traditional academic and practical disciplines. Some initial comments are made concerning the pedagogical implications of such an interpretation, while some associated challenges and questions for further research are highlighted.
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