The Ethics of Narrative Art: philosophy in schools, compassion and learning from stories

Journal of Philosophy in Schools 5 (1):92-110 (2018)
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Following neo-Aristotelians Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum, we claim that humans are story-telling animals who learn from the stories of diverse others. Moral agents use rational emotions, such as compassion which is our focus here, to imaginatively reconstruct others’ thoughts, feelings and goals. In turn, this imaginative reconstruction plays a crucial role in deliberating and discerning how to act. A body of literature has developed in support of the role narrative artworks (i.e. novels and films) can play in allowing us the opportunity to engage imaginatively and sympathetically with diverse characters and scenarios in a safe protected space that is created by the fictional world. By practising what Nussbaum calls a ‘loving attitude’, her version of ethical attention, we can form virtuous habits that lead to phronesis (practical wisdom). In this paper, and taking compassion as an illustrative focus, we examine the ways that students’ moral education might usefully develop from engaging with narrative artworks through Philosophy for Children (P4C), where philosophy is a praxis, conducted in a classroom setting using a Community of Inquiry (CoI). We argue that narrative artworks provide useful stimulus material to engage students, generate student questions, and motivate philosophical dialogue and the formation of good habits which, in turn, supports the argument for philosophy to be taught in schools.

Author Profiles

Andrew H. Peterson
George Mason University
Laura D'Olimpio
University of Birmingham


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