Moral education and 'equal freedom' : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Education

Thumbnail Image
Open Access Location
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Massey University
The Author
For there to be any point in speaking about "moral education" there must be understanding of what it is to make moral decisions; for moral education is concerned with providing the machinery for decision-making in moral contexts. The decision-procedure which a person adopts allows him to make consistent and appropriate decisions by providing reasons which justify his moral judgement. In the first part of this thesis the argument is put forward that as morality is essentially a social phenomenon concerned with the way in which people act towards each other it must indicate what desirable behaviour is. Moral judgements, which determine what desirable behaviour is, are guided by the fact that rational men show some respect for each other as persons and have the capacity to universalise the consequences of their actions or appreciate what would occur if others acted as they do. A reasonable assumption to make in considering basic moral principles seems to be that men prefer not to be interfered with. From this assumption the Principle of Equal Freedom is derived - Each person should attribute equal value to the freedom of others as he does to his own freedom. Now in order to avoid interference where this is possible, there have to be means of establishing what other people might want or how they might act in situations where what one person does could affect what someone else can do. Sometimes we can identify ourselves with others and thus appreciate how they feel about a situation but this is not always possible nor appropriate: We therefore attempt to gauge how another is interpreting a situation, in order to gain knowledge of his thoughts and feelings concerning the situation he finds himself in. To have some knowledge of another's feelings and thoughts about a situation involving conflict of interests is essential to the understanding of the priciple of equal freedom, however the principle in itself is insufficient, because people's wants and needs vary according to other values. To operate the principle we have to take cognizance of various other principles which might be derived from it. How each person relates particular values to the principle determines his moral code, which outlines how he justifies moral decisions he makes. The second part of the thesis begins by establishing that formal education is a process which is concerned with passing on skills, ideas and values which society thinks are worthwhile. The passing on of values and how they can be interpreted as functional in guiding behaviour is the concern of moral education. Procedures to be adopted in moral education must relate to what would be considered as the criteria for success in this kind of teaching for there must be some idea of what is hoped to be achieved. The principle of equal freedom encourages understanding of others and offers a bse for the establishment of a consistent decision-procedure for making moral judgements. By introducing material which aids pupils to think about and gain understanding of the life-styles of others it is possible to help to develop the means for justifying the moral judgements which have to be made. The thesis concludes with suggestions as to how the educator might encourage understanding of others without in any way interfering with the notions of moral autonomy and freedom of choice.
Moral education, Equality