Socratic Moral Education: Kohlberg and Plato

Dissertation, Vanderbilt University (1986)

My aim in this dissertation is to discuss one area in which Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral education may be deficient. Namely, it may be deficient in its interpretation and use of Plato's middle period dialogues, including the Republic. But this would not be significant unless, for instance, it could be shown that Kohlberg's interpretation of Plato involves his failing to appreciate some principal issue which Plato himself understood. ;The thesis of my dissertation is that a misinterpretation of Plato's theory of moral education is embedded in Kohlberg's theory of "Socratic" moral education and in his criticism of the educational program proposed in the Republic. Kohlberg is committed to the thesis that one can both accept the view of moral education embodied in the method of the Socrates of the Meno and reject the program of education proposed by the Socrates of the Republic. But if the interpretation which I present of the Meno and of the transition from the practice of the Socrates of the Meno to the proposals of the Socrates of the Republic is correct, then Plato's portrayal of Socrates in the Meno is consistent with and is indeed intended to provide evidence in support of the educational program presented in the Republic. Both the Meno and the Republic embody the view that character education is a necessary condition of the successful practice of dialectic and thus is an essential part of a program of moral education aiming at moral development. Since Kohlberg is firm in his commitment to the denial of this view, he is committed to a more comprehensive rejection of the educational views embodied in Plato's middle dialogues than he acknowledges. ;In the final chapter I attempt to clarify the principal points of contention between Kohlberg and Plato and to show that their primary disagreement can be adjudicated only through empirical investigation. If Plato was right about the need for character education, then Kohlberg's misinterpretation of the Meno involves his failure to recognize an essential aspect of moral education
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