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Character education and the instability of virtue

Smith, Richard

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Character education in schools in England is flourishing. I give many examples of the enthusiasm for it as well as drawing attention to the UK government's new ambivalence towards it. Character education seems largely impervious to the many criticisms to which it has been subjected. I touch on these only briefly as my focus is on a criticism that has received little coverage. This is because the virtues on offer are unstable. They are best understood as sites on which we contest our understanding of what it is to be a good person rather than reach conclusive answers. There is support for this argument in Aristotle, notwithstanding its many oddities and those of some modern uses of his conception of the virtues. The proliferation of the virtues in the practice and theory of education today is, I suggest, a sign of weakness and not of strength, while the very instability of the virtues demands that they be continually discussed and debated. This places them at the heart of any vision of education worth having.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Oct 6, 2022
Publication Date 2022-12
Deposit Date Nov 9, 2022
Publicly Available Date Mar 22, 2023
Journal Journal of Philosophy of Education
Print ISSN 0309-8249
Electronic ISSN 1467-9752
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 56
Issue 6
Pages 889-898
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Published Journal Article (219 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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