The Good Life of Teaching: An Ethics of Professional Practice

The Good Life of Teaching: An Ethics of Professional Practice

The Good Life of Teaching: An Ethics of Professional Practice

The Good Life of Teaching: An Ethics of Professional Practice


The Good Life of Teaching extends the recent revival of virtue ethics to professional ethics and the philosophy of teaching. It connects long-standing philosophical questions about work and human growth to questions about teacher motivation, identity, and development.
  • Makes a significant contribution to the philosophy of teaching and also offers new insights into virtue theory and professional ethics
  • Offers fresh and detailed readings of major figures in ethics, including Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, and Bernard Williams and the practical philosophies of Hannah Arendt, John Dewey and Hans-Georg Gadamer
  • Provides illustrations to assist the reader in visualizing major points, and integrates sources such as film, literature, and teaching memoirs to exemplify arguments in an engaging and accessible way
  • Presents a compelling vision of teaching as a reflective practice showing how this requires us to prepare teachers differently


There is a widespread intuition, not peculiar to our own time, that certain forms of work are more than a way of earning a wage: more even than those traditional and respectable ways of doing so that we have dignified with the name of ‘professions’. They seem unusually worthwhile and important, in a sense that is difficult to articulate. In tribute to this mystery we may say that we feel called to them, that we experience a sense of vocation. Something similar seems to lie behind the way that young people leaving college often talk about ‘wanting to make a difference’. An important part of this is captured by the term ‘generativity’, which the psychologist Erik Erikson coined to describe the natural urge to take care of others and contribute to the betterment of society. One profession or vocation which seems to ‘make a difference’ and to exhibit the features of generativity is of course that of the teacher.

If we are to understand the good of teaching, then, we need to understand not only the ways it can directly benefit pupils and students but also the way it can bring fulfilment for the teacher and so enhance the lives that he or she touches. Developing the intuition with which we started, we can say that this fulfilment is not of an arbitrary sort, as someone might happen to find fulfilment in collecting antique cars or gardening or all sorts of other activities. The good of teaching lies in its connections to the personal growth and development of the teacher, and to the more profound conceptions of human happiness and wellbeing that have been developed by philosophers since the time of Plato and Aristotle. It stands to be part of the answer to the question, which Plato has Socrates ask in the Republic (352d6), of just how one ought to live a life.

This connection with the nature of the good life explains the title of this book. Chris Higgins offers what he describes as a humane account of the moral psychology of teaching. The moral dimension has its origins in Classical Greek virtue ethics, and Higgins explores and illuminates it through a range of 20 -century texts, such as those by John Dewey, Hannah Arendt, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Hans-Georg Gadamer. From his discussion there emerges a sophisticated account of professional ethics, which other professions as well as the teaching profession are likely to find thoughtprovoking and helpful.

The book is all the more important and timely as all around the world, and in the English-speaking world in particular, policy-makers and legislators . . .

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