Motivation and Social Constructivism: A Case Study in Moral Education

Dissertation, Stanford University (1999)

Moral education can be fruitfully understood as a process of cultivating and shaping desire by learning what justifications for behavior people accept. Traditional liberal political theories have sought by various deontological and teleological systems to determine which reasons for action are the most persuasive or offer the best justifications for behavior. It seems that the desire to be able to justify one's actions on grounds one takes to be acceptable is quite strong in most people. And people go to considerable lengths to avoid admitting the unjustifiability of their actions. On my view, this insight could be the basis for a view of moral education which seeks to solve the notoriously difficult "motivation" question. In theory, an account of moral motivation could be linked to justifications which it would be unreasonable for a person to reject. Once these justifications for action have been determined, a program of moral education can be formulated whose goal is reduction of conflict among people pursuing their own separate conceptions of the good life, whether religious or secular. ;My study, then, is an exploration of the nature of moral reasons, how it is that moral reasons can be used to justify actions, and what this implies for a program of moral education in a public school whose goal is to educate citizens to reconcile conflicting conceptions of the good life within a liberal political regime. In my view, constructivism can accommodate legitimate variation in the content of justifying reasons and provide the basis from which moral principles governing life within our liberal political regime may be constructed. Constructivism will also enable us to formulate standards of decency, behavior and citizenship based on reasons accessible to all members of society which then can be used to guide our efforts at resolving conflict arising out of cultural and social difference
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