Intellectual perfectionism about schooling

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In education, character education is a burgeoning field; however, it is also the target of considerable criticism. Amongst criticisms of character education, the political criticism that character education is a form of indoctrination stands out. In particular, the charge is made against character education that it breaches the principle of liberal neutrality about the good. In this article I discuss liberal approaches to character education. I outline the two most prominent liberal approaches to character education in school, liberal neutralism and liberal perfectionism, as we find it in the work of Clayton (neutralism) and Levinson (liberal perfectionism). I hold that the two standard liberal approaches do not distinguish carefully enough between two possible forms of character education – moral character education and intellectual character education. Drawing on recent work in virtue epistemology, I hold that the liberal position tacitly demands intellectual character education. Regarding moral character education, however, I hold that the picture appears different. In the final analysis, I advocate a new form of perfectionism regarding character education that I call ‘intellectual perfectionism’. According to intellectual perfectionism, schools should be perfectionist regarding children's intellects, but neutralist regarding their morals.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)436-456
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Applied Philosophy
Issue number3
Early online date5 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2019