Persuasion and Pedagogy: On Teaching Ethics with Jane Austen

Teaching Philosophy 31 (4):311-331 (2008)

Authors
Margaret Watkins
Saint Vincent College
Abstract
Recent moral philosophy emphasizes both the particularity of ethical contexts and the complexity of human character, but the usual abstract examples make it difficult to communicate to students the importance of this particularity and complexity. Extended study of a literary text in ethics classes can help overcome this obstacle and enrich our students’ understanding and practice of mature ethical reflection. Jane Austen’s Persuasion is an ideal text for this kind of effort. Persuasion augments the resources for ethical reflection that students bring to our courses, provides a multitude of fecund examples to inspire discussion, and introduces philosophical points of its own. I explain specific ways to integrate this novel into courses and why some approaches work better than others, and I highlight themes for three different levels of study: reflection on particular virtues and vices, illustration of broader ethical issues, and discussion of virtues that the philosophical literature neglects. In each case, I discuss a particular example in detail: the question of whether or not pride can be a virtue, the varieties of friendship and their relation to virtue, and the virtue of proper persuadability. These examples suggest ways in which ethics teachers might explore the resources of other literary works towards similar ends.
Keywords Teaching Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 0145-5788
DOI teachphil200831435
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