Is all formative influence immoral?

Ethics and Education 13 (2):208-220 (2018)
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Is it true that all formative influence is unethical, and that we ought to avoid influencing children (and indeed anyone at all)? There are more or less defensible versions of this doctrine, and we shall follow some of the strands of argument that lead to this conclusion. It seems that in maintaining that all influence is immoral, one commits oneself to the idea that children have innate teleologies, that these may be frustrated, and that to frustrate a child’s innate teleology would be to wrong them. First we consider a strong view of innate teleology exemplified in the writing of Plato. However, even those who favour such a view can approve of those formative influences which lead people to better realise their innate teleology. Next we consider a weaker version of the doctrine, one claiming that we ought to broaden the possibilities available to those that we influence, and never to narrow them. This seems too permissive a strategy, however. Finally Foss and Griffin’s worry about a desire for control and domination being embedded in persuasion is explored together with their proposed alternative strategy of ‘invitational rhetoric’. Ultimately, this paper argues that we often have good reason to encourage certain formative outcomes and discourage others.



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John Tillson
Liverpool Hope University

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