Moral Education in the University

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Moral Education in the University ABSTRACT: Does the title of the World Congress of Philosophy, Paideia: Philosophy Educating Humanity, reflect hubris, irony or a pragmatic optimism? How is it possible for philosophy to educate the human community in the twenty-first century? More specifically, at a time when few people besides academic philosophers read philosophy, in what sense can philosophy educate humanity? In this essay I examine one possible way philosophy can educate humanity advanced by Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University. In a variety of public lectures, published essays and books Bok insists that America's leading colleges and universities ought to recommit themselves to moral education as one of their central tasks. I argue that recommitment to this task on the part of these elite universities is far more difficult than Bok admits. Indeed, I contend that as long as America's elite educational institutions retain the intellectual and structural commitments that displaced paideia, Bok's vision for moral education has little chance of success. At a time when both higher education and philosophy are self-conscious about their limitations, The Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy chose as its theme, Paideia: Philosophy Educating Humanity. Does this title reflect hubris, irony or a pragmatic optimism? How is it possible for philosophy to educate the human community in the twenty-first century? More specifically, at a time when few people besides academic philosophers read philosophy, in what sense can philosophy educate humanity? In this essay I examine one proposed answer to this question. Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University, in a variety of public lectures, published essays and books offers one possible way philosophy can educate humanity. Bok insists that America's leading colleges and universities ought to recommit themselves to moral education as one of their central tasks. (1) While I sympathize with Bok's admonition to America's prestigious universities to reclaim the task of moral education, I shall argue that a recommittal to this task on the part of these elite universities is far more difficult that Bok admits. (2) Indeed, I contend that as long as America's elite educational institutions retain the intellectual and structural commitments that displaced paideia, Bok's vision for moral education has little chance of success. To accomplish this aim, first, I clarify Bok's case for moral education in American colleges and universities. Second, closely following Bok's account, I provide a brief history of moral education in 19th century America.

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