On Becoming Better Human Beings: Six Stories to Live By

What are the conditions required for becoming better human beings? What are our limitations and possibilities? I understand “becoming better” as a combined improvement process bringing persons “up from” a negative condition and “up to” a positive one. Today there is a tendency to understand improvement in a one-sided way as a movement up to the mastery of cognitive skills, neglecting the negative conditions that can make these skills mis-educative. I therefore tell six stories in the Western tradition about conditions for a combined improvement process. The first three stories belong to our cultural ABC: an Aristotelian story about moral wisdom which brings people up from being enslaved by passions and up to a good life of virtues; a Biblical story about God’s word bringing listeners up from a self-centred life and up into creative work as God’s fellow workers, and a short Cave story by Plato about liberation—up from living by common illusions and up to enlightenment from what is perfectly good. The subsequent three stories interpret and actualise these basic stories in different ways: a story about moral wisdom and divine love (Thomas Aquinas), a story about individual freedom and rationality (Immanuel Kant), and a story about the love that builds us up as equal human beings (Søren Kierkegaard). These stories may directly guide us adults—and indirectly the children and youth who learn from our examples—when we struggle to become better human beings
Keywords Upbringing  Stories  Moral improvement  Moral wisdom  Upbuilding  Unconditional love
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DOI 10.1007/s11217-012-9321-8
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