At core, moral and character education aims to develop the moral person. How this end state develops has been hindered by interest from different theoretical positions, differences between practitioners and theoreticians, different assumptions about how far character is educable, and associated measurement problems. Traditionally, moral education is concerned with the interpretation and strategies one uses to understand moral phenomenon and defines the moral person as a predominantly thinking entity, whereas character education emphasizes the development of habits and dispositions as a precondition for the moral person. Current interest is in finding commonalities across these traditions towards the achievement of human flourishing. These points of intersection have often been overlooked, but current work is demonstrating the importance of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches for practitioners, researchers and policymakers.
David Ian Walker and Stephen J. Thoma
Doret de Ruyter and Lynne Wolbert
Human flourishing has gained and is gaining popularity as an overarching ideal aim of education. Influential advocates of educational theories on flourishing are, among others, Harry Brighouse, Kristján Kristjánsson, Doret de Ruyter, and John White. Most contemporary theories on flourishing hark explicitly or implicitly back to Aristotle’s theory about eudaimonia. Aristotle constructed his theory as an answer to the question of what is the ultimate aim of a human life and defined it as acting virtuously. Contemporary theorists define it in somewhat wider terms, namely as a successful, morally good, happy, and well-balanced life. A theory on human flourishing is regarded as an objective well-being theory, that is, it describes from an objective point of view rather than a person’s subjective evaluation what it means to live one’s life well. Flourishing as an ideal aim of education has implications for the education and upbringing of children. Teachers and parents need to know what constitutes a flourishing life, what contributes to it and what does not, and they are expected to act in a way that enables children to lead a flourishing life (in the future). This, however, raises, several issues. Firstly, there are different ideas (of philosophers of education) as to what flourishing precisely means and therefore also different views on the role of schools and how they should aim for the flourishing of children: for instance, whether there should be a course on living a good life, or whether education for flourishing should permeate the entire curriculum and school ethos. Secondly, it could be objected that aiming for flourishing implies aiming for perfection and that this is not only detrimental to the well-being of children, but also too demanding for parents (and teachers). With regard to the well-being of children it is, however, possible to refer to empirical research that shows that when educators aim for self-oriented perfectionism (i.e., that children are themselves convinced that it is good to strive for perfectionism rather than having to do so to gain approval), they actually contribute to the well-being of children. With regard to the demands against parents it can be argued that in addition to their responsibilities regarding the interests of children to be able to live a flourishing life, parenting (well) is an important aspect of a flourishing life of many adults. Thirdly, it could be objected that focusing on the ideal aim of flourishing does not sufficiently take into account the differences in “luck” in individual lives and inequalities on a societal level, that is, human vulnerability. Theory on education for flourishing therefore does well not to overestimate the influence of parents and educators to equip children to live flourishing lives and needs to keep asking questions such as, for example, what role the (political) community plays in enabling all children to have the chance to lead a flourishing life.
Franz Mang and Joseph Chan
In contemporary Anglo-American political philosophy, perfectionism is widely understood as the idea that the state may, or should, promote valuable conceptions of the good life and discourage conceptions that are worthless or bad. As such, debates over perfectionism occupy a central place in contemporary political philosophy because political philosophers are deeply concerned about whether or not a liberal state is permitted to promote any particular ethical or religious doctrine or impose it on its citizens. In general, contemporary perfectionists do not argue for the state’s pursuit of any religious doctrine. They only maintain that the state is permitted to make a wide range of public policies with the aim of promoting the good life. These policies, commonly found in liberal democratic societies, may include subsidizing museums and art galleries, preserving cultural heritage, setting up public libraries and providing free access to reading materials, encouraging athletic excellence, conserving nature and biodiversity, and educating citizens about the harm of recreational drugs. Nevertheless, perfectionism remains controversial among philosophers and political scientists. It might be beneficial to take a sympathetic view of perfectionism and consider how perfectionists might defend their position against some of the common objections. These objections mainly include: (a) that the state does not possess legitimate authority to make decisions about the good life and seek to promote it; (b) that perfectionist policies are generally illiberal and paternalistic; and (c) that conceptions of the good life are objects of reasonable disagreement and hence cannot legitimately be promoted by the state. In addition, the nature and importance of perfectionist policies and politics will be discussed.