Moral Education and Pluralism

By Mal Leicester; Celia Modgil et al. | Go to book overview

17

Authenticity, Teachers and the Future of Moral Education

JAMES C.CONROY AND ROBERT A.DAVIS

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches and poor men's cottages princes' palaces.

(Shakespeare: Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 2)

It is axiomatic that if 'good' actions naturally flowed from the human encounter concerns about moral education would be redundant. It is equally clear that reflections on 'the good' are as important today as in the sixteenth century. For advanced industrial societies questions surrounding action and reflection have become increasingly vexed in recent times, the difficulties compounded by the disappearance of any clear moral narrative to which the many peoples and cultures inhabiting the same geographical and historical space can jointly subscribe. It is partly for this reason that the activity of an educational framework aimed at nurturing sympathetic and empathetic moral engagement has been placed under increasing strain by an alternative vision of educational purposes. Primary relationships are redefined in terms of globalised systems of exchange and control which banish serious moral consideration of the 'other.'

In this chapter we trace the evolution and consequences of this process in three stages. We begin by reflecting on some of the conditions which have given rise to and sustain this model of exchange. We then explore the consequent displacement of authenticity as a central feature of contemporary moral life. We conclude by discussing the connection between the recovery of authenticity and the cultivation of moral feeling.

Questions as to the nature of the good are rendered ever more complicated by the regular and simplistic insistence on the part of many of those who exercise political and social power that moral reflection and action are actually quite straightforward. 1 In the modern democratic utopia, personal morality and political economy, it is argued, are to all intents and purposes discrete domains. 2 The individual lives in a privatised and atomised world of moral action where the validity of moral choices is to be measured according to personal feeling, dispositions and attitudes, 3 with the only caveat that any consequent action does not obviously or overtly transgress the feelings, dispositions and attitudes of others. Such decisions themselves partake in no coherent personal narrative, but tend to be momentary, fragmentary and disconnected.

The engine of political economy, on the other hand, harnesses the immense social energies released by the personal autonomy generated by modern industrial society. Such political economy, however, is seen to possess no extrinsic moral character other than that yielded by the sum of the many private and individual transactions which constitute the life of the market in action. The belief that political economy can provide a communal moral nexus is hence very narrowly defined, restricted to a minimalist account of the ethical interactions and conventions required to ensure maximum efficiency in the trading of goods and services in the marketplace. In his analysis of the marketisation of the state, Pierre (1995:67) suggests that the underlying purpose of recent politico-economic moves is to remove all barriers to the direct relationship between provider and consumer: 'The marketization of the state…means the depoliticization of the state (enabling)…citizens/ customers to send signals to service suppliers without having to go through political channels.' Thus the market resists any more ambitious moral claims on the grounds that they might prove inimical to the functioning of its financial and incentive

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