21st Century Magnanimity: The relevance of Aristotle’s ideal of megalopsychia for current debates in moral psychology, moral education and moral philosophy
Abstract: Aristotelianism is all the rage in contemporary virtue ethics and character education. Yet the versions typically touted there are reconstructed and bowdlerised: purged of unsavoury claims about, say, the nature of women, slaves and manual labourers. Given how anachronistic Aristotle’s account of the meta-virtue of megalopsychia seems to be, there is a tendency to pass over it in silence. I argue in this chapter, however, against such a move, and maintain that Aristotle’s ideal can help illuminate a number of contemporary debates, both internal and external to Aristotelian virtue ethics. In moral psychology, megalopsychia aids in mediating between realist and anti-realist conceptions of selfhood. In moral education, megalopsychia casts light on the levels of moral development, and of flourishing, to which we can aspire through the cultivation of character; the necessary individualisation of virtue and education in virtue; and the nature and limitations of moral-exemplar methodology. In moral philosophy, megalopsychia helps crystallise debates about role moralities, in the context of virtue ethics, and the demands of noblesse oblige; the relationship between objective and subjective well-being; and to what extent contemplation and self-transcendence enter into well-being. This chapter explores those diverse, but related, topics and explains the lessons that Aristotle’s account of megalopsychia can teach us about them.
Epiphanic Moral Conversions: Going beyond Kohlberg and Aristotle
Abstract: Aristotle and Kohlberg’s theories of moral development and education are often presented as proverbial anti-theses in the field. Yet both suffer from a similar difficulty in accounting for epiphanic moral conversions. Kohlberg’s trajectory of moral development is a slow one, through well-defined stages; and Aristotle is often depicted as an early-years determinist who does not envisage much hope of moral reform for people ‘brought up in bad habits’. Late in life, Kohlberg suggested an additional ‘Stage 7’, of peak moral experiences; and Aristotle’s virtue of ‘contemplation’ does offer some reprieve for intelligent agents who are blessed with good friends. Yet we are not much closer to explaining what happens when amoral/immoral people undergo sudden conversions towards morality, for example in the wake of near-death experiences or other radical ‘Damascus events’. I try to ameliorate these shortcomings by adding a dimension of human nature to Aristotle’s theory that he overlooked: of a universal emotional (awe-inspired) attraction to transpersonal ideals. I hypothesise that this dimension may hold the key to explaining the phenomenon of epiphanic moral conversions – real, if rare. Finally, I elicit some educational implications of the proposed account.