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Liberal education and the good of the unexamined life

Miller, Alistair (2014) Liberal education and the good of the unexamined life. PhD thesis, UCL Institute of Education .

6 oct 2014 Alistair Miller thesis hard copy.pdf - Accepted Version
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Most philosophers of education assume that the main aim of education is to endow pupils or students with ‘personal autonomy’: to produce citizens who are reflective, make rational choices and submit their values and beliefs to critical scrutiny. The underlying assumption is Socratic: that the unexamined life is not worth living, and that goods and forms of perception that cannot be articulated or rationally justified are not worthy of our consideration. The unstated assumption is Plato and Aristotle’s: that the good life is the life of the philosopher and politically active citizen. It is assumed, moreover, that all pupils should be so educated on egalitarian grounds. In this thesis, I dispute these assumptions. I argue that the good life should not be conceived in exclusively ‘intellectualist’ terms but that an ordinary life - an ‘unexamined’ life - is also worth living; that central to the good life in all its forms is the engagement in worthwhile activities or ‘practices’; and that the best way to prepare pupils for their engagement in these practices is to cultivate a range of moral and intellectual virtues. Instead of foisting on all pupils a universal academic curriculum that produces little more than ‘a smattering of knowledge’, I argue that pupils might (1) cultivate the intellectual virtues through early specialisation in at least one subject, academic or practical, that has the characteristics of a practice, (2) develop the capacity to make practical judgements through a study of rhetoric and the stories of human experience of the humanities, and (3) cultivate certain moral virtues through challenging activity and service learning outside the classroom.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Controlled Keywords: Liberal education, the unexamined life, personal autonomy, rhetoric, habituation, phronesis, moral development, character building, the good life, virtue ethics, the virtues, the research ideal, enlightenment rationality, practices
Subjects: Departments > Humanities and Social Sciences
Depositing User: Mr Julian Zerfahs
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2015 13:26
Last Modified: 15 Apr 2015 15:18
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