Debating Moral Education

Rethinking the Role of the Modern University

Debating Moral Education

Book Pages: 368 Illustrations: Published: January 2010

Pedagogy and Higher Education, Politics > Political Theory, Religious Studies

After decades of marginalization in the secularized twentieth-century academy, moral education has enjoyed a recent resurgence in American higher education, with the establishment of more than 100 ethics centers and programs on campuses across the country. Yet the idea that the university has a civic responsibility to teach its undergraduate students ethics and morality has been met with skepticism, suspicion, and even outright rejection from both inside and outside the academy. In this collection, renowned scholars of philosophy, politics, and religion debate the role of ethics in the university, investigating whether universities should proactively cultivate morality and ethics, what teaching ethics entails, and what moral education should accomplish. The essays quickly open up to broader questions regarding the very purpose of a university education in modern society.

Editors Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben survey the history of ethics in higher education, then engage with provocative recent writings by Stanley Fish in which he argues that universities should not be involved in moral education. Stanley Hauerwas responds, offering a theological perspective on the university’s purpose. Contributors look at the place of politics in moral education; suggest that increasingly diverse, multicultural student bodies are resources for the teaching of ethics; and show how the debate over civic education in public grade-schools provides valuable lessons for higher education. Others reflect on the virtues and character traits that a moral education should foster in students—such as honesty, tolerance, and integrity—and the ways that ethical training formally and informally happens on campuses today, from the classroom to the basketball court. Debating Moral Education is a critical contribution to the ongoing discussion of the role and evolution of ethics education in the modern liberal arts university.

Contributors. Lawrence Blum, Romand Coles, J. Peter Euben, Stanley Fish, Michael Allen Gillespie, Ruth W. Grant, Stanley Hauerwas, David A. Hoekema, Elizabeth Kiss, Patchen Markell, Susan Jane McWilliams, Wilson Carey McWilliams, J. Donald Moon, James Bernard Murphy, Noah Pickus, Julie A. Reuben, George Shulman, Elizabeth V. Spelman


Debating Moral Education is a provocative and productive collection, which can positively impact the teaching and practice of moral education in the
academy. While the authors are not of one voice on the subject, their thorough and passionate responses evoke deeper thought about the practice of moral education. Their lively conversation invites the participation of a wide audience of faculty, administrators, student affairs professionals, as well as the larger community. Many of these essays can also provide students with an opening to think about their own education and the role of the university.” — Matthew Maruggi, Teaching Theology and Religion

Debating Moral Education makes an indispensable contribution to moral education’s expanding bibliography.” — Jerry Pattengale, Books & Culture

“[An] engaging collection of essays by prominent scholars from religious, philosophical, and political backgrounds who debate the role of morality and ethics in the university. . . . Readers who begin this book can easily imagine themselves caught up in the unfolding, urgent, but friendly controversy of scholarly opinions regarding moral education.” — Lois Calian Trautvetter, Review of Higher Education

“Elizabeth Kiss and Peter Euben's Debating Moral Education brings together an impressive group of philosophers, political scientists and, in the case of Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian to discuss these matters. . . . The strength of the volume lies in the editors' determination to give voice to a range of different views and leave readers (free) to pick their own way through.” — J. Mark Halstead, Times Higher Education

“This is an excellent book, offering a great deal for many educators globally. It is timely, articulate and thought-provoking.” — Joseph Zajda, International Review of Education

“Those interested in its topic would be well advised to read this book. . . .The contributors draw from an impressive variety of fields of inquiry to support their positions on both sides of the question. The cumulative effect is a nuanced overview of many considerations important to the debate, illuminated by thinkers as diverse as Socrates, Plato, Dewey, Marx, Bloch,Nietzsche, Nussbaum, Arendt and Foucault.” — Daniel Vokey, Journal of Moral Education

“Recently colleges and universities that had for many years distanced themselves from their students’ growth as moral agents have begun taking this aspect of higher education very seriously. In this book they will find the issues laid out with admirable clarity and the fresh ideas and approaches they need to do the work well.” — W. Robert Connor, Professor of Classics, Emeritus, Princeton University

“Some of the best scholars in the field engage in the contemporary debate over the nature and scope of moral education, especially in American universities. Anyone wishing to trace this complex but fascinating debate would do well to read Debating Moral Education.” — Terence Ball, author of Reappraising Political Theory

“This excellent collection of essays provides a timely and thoughtful account of the perils and prospects of moral education in our time. The contributors are prominent moral philosophers, political theorists, and civic educators whose different perspectives—some enthusiastic, others wary—make for a lively and reflective volume. The issues raised in this important book will interest and challenge students and educators in a context defined by related debates over academic freedom, intelligent design, and the ever-present culture wars.” — James Farr, University of Minnesota


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Elizabeth Kiss is President of Agnes Scott College.

J. Peter Euben is Professor of Political Science, Research Professor of Classical Studies, and Kenan Distinguished Faculty Fellow in Ethics at Duke University. He is the author of Platonic Noise, Corrupting Youth, and The Tragedy of Political Theory, and an editor of Athenian Political Thought and the Reconstruction of American Democracy.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Noah Pickus ix

Acknowledgments xiii

I. Introduction: Why the Return to Ethics? Why Now? 1

1. Debating Moral Education: An Introduction / Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben 3

2. The Changing Contours of Moral Education in American Colleges and Universities / Julie Reuben 27

II. What Are Universities For? 55

3. Aim High: A Response to Stanley Fish / Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben 57

4. I Know It When I See It: A Reply to Kiss and Euben / Stanley Fish 76

5. The Pathos of the University: The Case of Stanley Fish / Stanley Hauerwas 92

6. On the Distribution of Moral Badges: A Few Worries / Elizabeth V. Spelman 111

III. The Politics and Ethics of Higher Education 123

7. Pluralism and the Education of the Spirit / Wilson Carey McWilliams and Susan McWilliams 125

8. Multiculturalism and Moral Education / Lawrence Blum 140

9. Against Civic Education / James Bernard Murphy 162

10. Education, Independence, and Acknowledgment / Patchen Markell 186

11. The Power of Morality / George Shulman 206

12. Hunger, Ethics, and the University: A Radical Democratic Goad in Ten Pieces / Romand Coles 223

IV. Which Virtues? Whose Character? 247

13. Is There an Ethicist in the House? How Can We Tell? / David A. Hoekema 249

14. The Possibility of Moral Education in the University Today / J. Donald Moon 267

15. Is a Humanistic Education Humanizing? / Ruth W. Grant 286

16. Players and Spectators: Sports and Ethical Training in the American University / Michael Allen Gillespie 293

Bibliography 317

Contributors 337

Index 341
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