Moral Education in Late Modernity

Revue Internationale de Philosophie 277 (3):305-325 (2016)
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This article argues that there should be a stronger emphasis on morality, involving a clear articulation of a normative point of view, in education as well as in child raising, with a continuity from early childhood to higher age levels, such that the asymmetry of roles (child – adult) gradually gives way to genuine reciprocity and a shared sense of responsibility. Drawing on Zygmunt Bauman’s work, we explore the historical conditions of moral education. Solid modernity was an age of authorities, sometimes changing into authoritarian education and politics. This prompted a reaction in the form of liquid modernity, followed by anxiety and indecision among parents and teachers now that the old certainties informing normative thinking and practice were gone. Today, wee again witness a reaction and a change in cultural trends: a rebirth of solidity that carries a potential for a new normativity, a potential we consider betrayed in the current wave of claims of productivity, competitiveness and self‐sufficiency in neoliberalism, notions we regard as difficult to unify with moral education, if not in outright conflict with its deeper aspiration. Accordingly, authority in school these days is a matter of obtaining discipline and achievement, not promoting values or serious engagement with moral issues. This calls for a new discussion about education as well as an extended framework of morality. We urge that such a framework question the anthropocentric premises on which Bauman’s understanding of the discontents of late modernity is premised, highlighting the crises and pathologies involving human society at the expense of those affecting nonhumans.



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Arne Vetlesen
University of Oslo

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