Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

AFTER the murder of the London headmaster Philip Lawrence, there is a debate about whether moral education should be on the national curriculum. But this raises much larger issues.

Ancient Greeks took it for granted that discussion of values could usefully take place only as part of rational discussion about what society was for. The point is that for Greeks goodness, arete, carried with it strong overtones of moral and political wisdom. Plato, for example, makes the sophist Protagoras argue that arete developed over a long period of time, when weak man, faced with extinction from the elements and wild animals, learned that the only way to survive was not to go it alone but to live in communities and engage in united action against adversaries. This meant sharing common moral and political values. Personal and public morality, in other words, were not easily divorced.

No surprise, then, that for Aristotle man was a political animal - one who lived in a polis (city-state). …

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