Moral education within the social contract: whose contract is it anyway?

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In A Theory of Moral Education, Michael Hand defends the importance of teaching children moral standards, even while taking seriously the fact that reasonable people disagree about morality. While I agree there are universal moral values based on the kind of beings humans are, I raise two issues with Hand’s account. The first is an omission that may be compatible with Hand’s theory; the role of virtues. A role for the cultivation of virtues and rational emotions such as compassion is vital in accounting for the emotional aspect of morality. The second issue pertains to Hand’s foundational premise of human beings’ rough equality. Following Martha Nussbaum, I argue that contractarian approaches must be critically evaluated to ensure the social contract properly includes and accounts for the human dignity of those who are typically excluded from the benefits of society. Hand’s justificatory arguments rely upon a contractarian premise, and the contract itself needs scrutiny and adjustment if it is to support a viable theory of moral education.

Bibliographic note

Dr Laura D’Olimpio is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy of Education at the University of Birmingham and co-editor of the Journal of Philosophy in Schools.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-528
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Moral Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2019


  • Michael Hand, compassion, contractarianism, ethics, moral education, virtue

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