Moral Development

In my lectures on Plato’s “Apology” this morning, my Saint Michael’s students and I followed Socrates’ method of cross examination of Meletus and asked ourselves, “who does improve the youth?” Our replies were no different than Meletus’s; but upon further refelection, we too realized that only a few actually do improve children. The few who do, and whom my students offered (specific parents, coaches, teachers, and friends), were those who could (and did) successfully teach  the virtues.  It soon became apparent that the teaching of virtue is a kind of moral development  and is a knowledge-based activity. It is an epistemological endeavor that rests on the ability to know what the “good” might truly be.  Before we knew it , we were standing at the precipice of normative ethics.  Normative ethics is the division of philosophy that seeks to define the concept of the “good” ; and, alternatively, its opposite, the “bad”. As I understand it, ethical theory tells us that there are essentially only a handful of ways of proceeding. We can define the good as the virtues we practice in our characters and communities (virtue theory), or our adherenece to certain universal and pre-established rules and principles (the deontologocal approach); or, finally, by the maximization of the social benefit (consequentialist models) our actions create. The only other approach seems to be the emotivist approach which claims that the good is what intuitively “feels” good.  So I leave you with this question, how do you define the good?

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