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Learning for Oneself: A Confucian-inspired Case for Moral Formation in Ethics Pedagogy

Duperon, Matthew
Teaching Theology and Religion 21, no. 1 (2018): 4-20
BL41.T4 v.21 no. 1
Topics: Teaching Religion   |   Faith in the Classroom   |   Learning Designs

Additional Info:
This article explores the disconnection between ethical theory and ethical practice in ethics courses at secular U.S. colleges and universities. In such contexts academic ethics focuses almost exclusively on “ethical reasoning” and leaves the business of practical moral formation of students in the realm of “student life.” I argue this disconnection is inevitable given the dominant understanding that moral formation must be guided by a consistent ethical theory, and must eventuate in certain prosocial behaviors, while norms of pluralism and free inquiry mandate that academic courses not attempt to dictate certain views or behaviors as normative. Drawing on the Confucian model of moral cultivation expressed by the early Chinese figure Mengzi, I argue for a different understanding of moral formation that focuses on open-endedness, self-direction, and the acquisition of skills in directing attention and will. This approach avoids the most serious challenges to practical moral formation in secular contexts, and I suggest some broadly applicable principles for implementing these ideas in ethics courses.
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