Book Review: A Theory of Moral Education

Philip Cam

Abstract


In A Theory of Moral Education, Michael Hand homes in on a central problem of moral education and offers us a solution. Briefly put, the problem is this: There is often widespread disagreement about moral matters, even among those who have thought long and hard about them. So how is moral education possible without resorting to indoctrination? We are all aware of familiar strategies to avoid this problem, such as introducing various moral systems and conflicting beliefs without taking a stand on them, encouraging students to reach their own conclusions about moral matters, or even keeping well clear of the whole subject in the first place. Unfortunately, these options are not available to anyone who sees the need for moral education and takes it that bringing about rational assent to moral standards is among its aims. Given this starting point, the fact of reasonable disagreement makes it difficult to see how to avoid the problem of indoctrination.  

Hand’s solution is to argue that, while disagreement about moral matters is a salient feature of social life, there is a significant core of moral values about which there is actually little contention, and for which an adequate justification is within reach. Among them are “prohibitions on killing and causing harm, stealing and extorting, lying and cheating, and requirements to treat others fairly, keep one’s promises and help those in need” (p. 78). With well-known caveats, there is at least general assent to these prescriptions, but their rational justification is more problematic. The history of ethical theory is littered with arguments as to why such things are wrong, but the arguments are contentious—and that looks to compound the problem. Nevertheless, Hand believes that there is at least one sound argument that can be used to justify our core moral standards.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.21913/JPS.v6i1.1570

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