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A return to virtue ethics: Virtue ethics, cognitive science and character education

Nico J. Grönum

Verbum et Ecclesia; Vol 36, No 1 (2015), 6 pages. doi: 10.4102/ve.v36i1.1413

Submitted: 28 January 2015
Published:  14 August 2015


Morality in church and society is a burning issue. Church leaders know that the challenges are both formidable and urgent, yet finding solutions is easier said than done. The question this article asks is how can we educate for character? In the past, deontology or rule ethics reigned supreme, virtue ethics, however, gradually made a comeback. Currently virtue ethics is an important part of character education in the United States of America, especially with schools affiliated with churches. Recent insights provided by researchers focusing on cognitive science (working from the vantage point of cognitive and social psychology) have managed to prove the legitimacy of virtue ethics but remind us that virtues must not be drilled into children; moral deliberation and imagination must be fostered in order to cultivate individuals with moral character that will be able to reflect on their own received tradition. I provide an example of such a method of education when I explain Integrative Ethical Education as formulated by Darcia Narvaez.

Intradisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary implications: This article confirms the validity of virtue ethics but calls for a change in the standard method of character education that exclusively emphasises knowledge of the Bible and strict obedience to the morals that the local community derives from the Bible, to an approach that also encourages teachers to help foster independent thinkers neither lacking in character nor the ability to reflect critically on their own tradition. I do believe that such a change is possible as was recently shown by the implementation of Darcia Narvaez’s Integrative Ethical Education in the United States of America.

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Author affiliations

Nico J. Grönum, Department Science of Religion and Missiology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


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ISSN: 1609-9982 (print) | ISSN: 2074-7705 (online)

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