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By Kristjan Kirstjansson

What can Aristotle educate us that's suitable to modern ethical and academic matters? What will we study from him in regards to the nature of ethical improvement, the justifiability and educability of feelings, the potential for friendship among mom and dad and their childrens, or the elemental goals of teaching?

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Indeed, this is the defence still offered by most contemporary advocates of character education when pressed on the alleged paradoxes: ‘The Philosopher’ considered them resolvable, so why should we worry about them? In other words, the advocates’ proclivity to make argumentum ad verecundiam references to Aristotle is considerably stronger than their readiness to explain in detail what bearing Aristotle’s treatment of the issue actually has on contemporary debates concerning moral education. Aristotle and the ‘Paradox of Moral Education’ 33 The fundamental question I want to pose here is whether or not Aristotle really solved the paradoxes of moral education.

To recap at the close of this chapter, Aristotle does offer a coherent – if perhaps not a sufficiently detailed – conception of childhood. He provides a reasonably systematic theory of moral development, and he considers self-control through the exercise of one’s will-power to be a second-best moral option that falls short of real virtue. Assumption A is wrong. 1 A Paradoxical Account? Assumption B: ‘Aristotle’s view of moral upbringing neglects the role of critical reasoning. ’ Is this assumption true?

Moral theorists may have to learn to live with a certain amount of theoretical messiness; practitioners such as moral educators, however, must sort out the mess before they can put theories into practice. Various attempts have been made to sort out some of the mess – or, to put it more fairly, fill some of the lacunae – in Aristotle’s account of moral habituation. Two of the issues that have employed Aristotelian scholars in this respect are (1) the extent to which the habituation process taps into learners’ reasoning abilities versus the extent to which habituation is a purely mechanical conditioning process and (2) the extent to which learners internalize the habituated virtues primarily through the administration of pain or the administration of pleasure.

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