Can Virtue be Taught?

Project #: 79
Name: Peter Amato (; 215-895-1353)
Department: English and Philosophy
Academic Area: Philosophy

Title: Can Virtue be Taught?

One of the most important and complex questions in the history of western philosophy is the question about whether virtue can be taught. On the one hand, if virtue can be taught, then it reflects something one can have knowledge about. If this is true, then two question arise, which seem inherently unanswerable: "Who is the expert in virtue, and what does he or she know?" But then, if thinking that virtue can be taught leads to paradox, what are we teaching when we presume to teach it? What do courses in "Ethics" actually teach, if they are not teaching "virtue"? And is there some way beyond the paradox--some way that virtue despite not being knowledge in any of the usual senses, is nevertheless a competence we can learn and therefore something teachable in some degree?

Associated Independent Study:
If we do an independent study it would most likely focus on bringing the student 'up to speed' with regard to the way these issues have emerged and how they have been treated in the western philosophical tradition. We won't assume that these ways of thinking and talking about the issues exhaust the possibilities, but it is a good place to start.

Gained Experience:
The student will gain insight into one way that philosophical research is conducted, how it can be immediately relevant to everyday issues and matters of great contemporary import, and what kinds of conclusions can be drawn and questions generated as the result of careful philosophical consideration. The student could develop a paper for presentation at an undergraduate philosophy conference or an article for an undergraduate journal. Also, this could lead to Senior Thesis projects that students in philosophy or education or other fields might develop.

I would like to develop a book project eventually but in the short term envision using the results to develop a critique of pedagogical practices at the university level. These might be presented in a series of articles and or talks.

We will begin by developing a sense of what the issues are as they emerge from the philosophical tradition. The student will draw upon his or her experience and learning in order to develop in dialogue a sense of the relevance and plausibility of both the traditional questions and answers to the main issue. We will be attempting to create a set of resources for teaching something while we explore the question about what we are teaching. So the student will be a valuable assistant in helping me identify and assess various possible resources that can be used to good effect in the classroom.

No specific locations will be necessary.

I would anticipate meeting approximately weekly and also communicating over email.

Interview Availability:
April 18, 2014; April 21, 2014; April 22, 2014