National Contours for Moral Education: Greece

Moral Contours

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Historical figures

ARISTOTLE
384-322 BCE
Greece
PHILOSOPHY, CURRICULUM

He was for many year a student at Plato's Academy and later becoming tutor to Alexander the Great. He is renowned as a systematic philosopher who grounded his thinking in empirical observations applied to all aspects of life. His relevance for moral education arises from his emphasis on the practical philosophy which informs ethical and political action. Human well being and flourishing (eudaemonia) results from the cultivation practical wisdom (phronesis), and moral excellence. For Aristotle the moral life is that of the individual as a member of community. The early years curriculum should be one of play rather than set teaching; from 5 -7 years the child will be exposed to older children who can be seen engaged in the discipline of learning which will include reading and writing, gymnastics, music and drawing all liberating for the free individual, but not appropriate for the children of slaves who will engage with more functionally-oriented arts and crafts.

Life and general overview

http://planetmath.org/Aristotle

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01713a.htm

http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-eth

Writings

Nicomachean Ethics  http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html

 

DEMOCRITUS
460 - 370 BCE
Greece
PHILOSOPHY

 

Though his surviving writings are fragmentary, they were originally extensive and his ideas widely influential in ethics, as also in physics, maths and music. He explained all life as made up of atoms and the individual as largely determined; any notion of God or gods was fictional, and his recipe for living was to be cheerful. He was a favourite for Karl Marx and now the British Humanist Association.

 Life

 

Writings

 

DIOGENES
410 - 320 BCE
Greece
PHILOSOPHY

 

An early exemplar of the Cynic way of life. Perhaps best known for living in a barrel and wandering the streets of Athens holding a lantern and saying he was looking for an honest man. His ascetic and itinerant life-style was a moral challenge to contemporary life. Some New Testament scholars have suggested a parallel between the Cynic tradition and that of Jesus of Nazareth.

 Life

 

Writings

 

EPICURUS
341 - 271 BCE
Greece
PHILOSOPHY

Initiator of what became the Epicurean garden/school of philosophy in Athens. He offered a path to serenity – a condition of detachment from worldly preoccupations, including any fear of death or divine punishment. Any sensuous enthusiasm is a dangerous distraction. Human life is part of an atomic flow which includes gods/goodness. Contentment and happiness along these lines are the outcome of a true moral education, which is wilfully constrained in its pursuit of self-interest. Only scraps of his reportedly extensive writings survive, though the substantial influence of thinking continues.

 Life

 Writings

EURIPIDES
480 - 406 BCE
Greece
LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHY

Though only 18/19 of some 80/90 complete plays have survived, he was one of the most prolific of classical Greek dramatists. He is described as a ‘tragedian’ but there’s also humour. His three main themes are women, war and religion.  

Life

Writings

PLATO
c429BCE - 347BCE
GREECE
PHILOSOPHY, RELIGION

 

Athenian philosopher and associate of Socrates whose writings have subsequently become central ingredients in Western intellectual tradition. He looks for order in the world which he judges to be morally good and deriving from a principled source of goodness. Through dialogue he encourages the interrogation of all ideas and judgements with a view to deepening self-knowledge and wisdom, and promoting justice. This is the story of moral education, progressive clarification which will lead to a more communitarian form of society.

PLUTARCH
46 - 120CE
GREECE
LITERATURE, PHILOSOPHY

One of the earliest proponents of biographical writing both as an art form and as representing exemplary lives as a source for education. He wrote as a  Greek citizen of the Roman Empire and as one of his presentational devices he constructed a series of parallel lives in which he paired two contemporary or historical individuals and commented on them. There is a wide range of chosen lives; he uses available historical sources and his own imaginative powers.

PYTHAGORAS
570 - 495BCE
Greece
PHILOSOPHY

 

Samos born philosopher, mathematician and religious teacher, with a strong sense of the importance of proportion and balance – in mathematical and musical ratios as well as in reason and intuition. He encouraged a morally disciplined lifestyle, with respect for all life forms and therefore a vegetarian diet (not even beans!). This was acted out in the community he founded – the Pythagorean Brotherhood – of mutually respecting men and women

SOCRATES
469 - 399 BCE
Greece
PHILOSOPHY

 

Hugely influential figure in Western intellectual history, but not from his own writings (none are reported) but principally from his pupil Plato’s representation of him in Apology, Crito and Phaedo. All personal beliefs – moral, political or religious – both his own and those of others with whom he engaged in characteristic dialogue deserved to be scrutinised and challenged for refinement, deepening or rejection. How he treated alcohol use, courage, happiness, justice and virtue are examples of this process. His reputation as socially subversive led to his death sentence and uncomplaining suicide.

 

SOPHOCLES
c 496 - 405 BCE
Greece
LITERATURE, POLITICS

 

Playwright in the Greek City State of Athens, prolific in output though only 7 of an estimated 100 survive. His writing is regarded as significant in the development of drama, and even more importantly for engagement with perennial human issues such as the determining impact of unseen factors on personal destiny (eg Oedipus The King) and sense of filial loyalty in tension with formal legal obedience (eg Antogone).

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