Aristotle, Emotions, and Education by Kristjan Kirstjansson

By Kristjan Kirstjansson

What can Aristotle train us that's appropriate to modern ethical and academic matters? What will we research from him concerning the nature of ethical improvement, the justifiability and educability of feelings, the potential for friendship among mom and dad and their young ones, or the basic goals of teaching?

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Emulousness’ and ‘shamefulness’ may be more appropriate terms to denote the virtuous traits in question. Notably, the word ‘shame’ can refer to an episodic emotion and to a disposition; the two meanings cohabited in Greek as they do in English (see further in Konstan 2003a; to complicate matters, the Greeks had two terms, which do not fully overlap, to denote kinds of shame: aiskhunē and aidōs). People at Level 6, being fully virtuous and having nothing to emulate or, ideally, to be ashamed of, need no further emulous role modelling or shame; yet emulousness and shamefulness can still be true moral virtues relative to moral learners.

These searching questions have given us a taste of the challenges that Aristotle’s account – or, for that matter, the Aristotle-inspired character-education account – faces with regard to the psychological paradox of moral education. We clearly need to pay closer attention to the nuts and bolts of the process of moral habituation if we 34 Aristotle, Emotions, and Education are to deflect those challenges, let alone resolve the underlying paradox. And here we are greatly aided by the efforts of a number of Aristotelian scholars.

But in order to comprehend that notion, we must first have grasped the idea of things being valued and chosen by others – primarily of ourselves as being valued and chosen, or disvalued and rejected, by them. In other words, the idea of our own self as distinct from, but still essentially of the same kind as the self of others must originally derive from the possibility of evaluating our self and its existential connections as equal, superior or inferior to theirs. Such an evaluation is dependent upon external criteria for both its formation and its sustenance.

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