Ethics education and the practice of wisdom

In Elena K. Theodoropoulou, Didier Moreau & Christiane Gohier (eds.), Ethics in Education: Philosophical tracings and clearings. Rhodes: Laboratory of Research on Practical and Applied Philosophy, University of the Aegean. pp. 199-234 (2018)
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Ethics education in post-graduate philosophy departments and professional schools involves disciplinary knowledge and textual analysis but is mostly unconcerned with the ethical lives of students. Ethics or values education below college aims at shaping students’ ethical beliefs and conduct but lacks philosophical depth and methods of value inquiry. The «values transmission» approach to values education does not provide the opportunity for students to express doubt or criticism of the proffered values, or to practice ethical inquiry. The «inquiry» approach to values education recognizes the need and the capacity of young people to grapple with moral ambiguity and pluralism, to confront their own moral doubts, to criticize conventional norms and to engage in ethical inquiry. Values clarification, critical thinking and Philosophy for Children are inquiry approaches to values education, with important differences. Five wisdom practices common among early Greek and Roman philosophical schools should inform ethics education at all levels. First, philosophy was understood as the disciplined study and practice of living well. Second, knowledge and discursive thinking played a limited role in relation to the life worth living. Third, these schools taught certain contemplative or «spiritual» exercises, including meditation, examination of one’s conscience, fraternal correction, contemplation of the cosmos, practicing present-moment awareness and reflection on death. Fourth, many of these schools established philosophical communities that practiced collaborative research, dialogue, mutual correction, and the cultivation of philosophical friendship. Fifth, the primary aim of intellectual and contemplative practices in these schools was self-transformation, from states of confusion, restlessness, egotism, and craving, to states of temperance, compassion, and tranquility.

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Maughn Rollins Gregory
Montclair State University


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