Aristotle, Emotions, and Education by Kristjan Kirstjansson

By Kristjan Kirstjansson

What can Aristotle train us that's proper to modern ethical and academic issues? What do we research from him concerning the nature of ethical improvement, the justifiability and educability of feelings, the potential of friendship among mom and dad and their childrens, or the basic goals of teaching?

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Therefore, these three things must be in harmony in human individuals for them to be good and virtuous (Aristotle 1941a: 1296 [1332a39–b10]). The process from a person’s ‘first nature’ at Level 1 to his ‘second nature’ at Level 6 involves a qualitative change of character; yet, it is not a forced process in the sense of going against nature, because children have within them the natural potential of actualizing this second nature. It seems reasonable to suppose that Aristotle considers these six levels to be diachronic and developmental rather than synchronic – rather than mere rankings of worse to better states of character.

A comparison with Kant is again in order here, for Kant famously argued for the need of the legislative will to be disembodied from its material conditions and disembedded with regard to its social environment. This Kantian idea re-echoes, albeit in a somewhat distorted and modified form, in contemporary liberalism. Needless to say, many recent criticisms of Kantianism (and liberalism, in so much as its notion of moral autonomy approximates the Kantian one of legislative will) have focused on the very idea of such a disembodied self: a socially rootless self that exists prior to Aristotelian Moral Development 29 all its contingent ends and passes moral judgements in a vacuum.

Notice here the abandonment of the core insight of the cognitive theories of emotions, harking back to Aristotle’s view that emotions are or should ideally be imbued with reason rather than controlled by reason. Both Cohen and Goleman proclaim Aristotle as their authority and both renounce the reason–passion distinction in principle; yet they clandestinely take advantage of its formulaic convenience. Claims about the benefits of an Aristotelian synthesis of heart and head and the perils of the old-fashioned reason–passion distinction are followed in both books, almost without pause, with tips on how the head can control the heart.

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