Emotions and education: cultivating compassionate minds

MacKenzie, Alison (2013) Emotions and education: cultivating compassionate minds. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This thesis is primarily a philosophical exploration of emotions. From a feminist, liberal perspective, I focus on the cultivation of morally appropriate emotions, particularly compassion, in education. My central claim is that emotions are essential elements of human intelligence and wellbeing. They are complex responses to events of significance to us and, because emotions play a central role in our lives, they help to define who we are and why we are as we are; they are expressions of our values and what we value. Emotions can motivate us to action, and so we need, if we want just institutions, to ensure that those actions are ethical and proportionate. On the view that emotions can be rational, and that they result from eudaimonistic judgements, if we want a society of healthy human beings who have concern for others, who know how to treat others fairly and sensitively, how to take action when things go wrong, then we need to attend, I argue here, to emotional health in education. We should aim to habituate the emotional capacities of all individuals as an enduring resource of good character. At issue, is how to educate young people to have healthy emotions that are ethical, proportionate, discerning and deliberative, that have ethical action as their goals, and which do not negatively discriminate on the basis of gender. In the development of emotional wellbeing and moral character, compassion is an emotion that merits particular attention. Such is the potential ethical power of this emotion, that I propose compassion to be the arch-guardian of the moral domain and, accordingly, a prerequisite for the cultivation of moral sentiment and respect for human dignity. A consideration of emotions will raise questions about who should feel, how we should feel, when, and to what extent, emotions such as compassion, sympathy or anger in acceptable and appropriate ways. I argue, too, that we should attend to the how and why of interpreting these emotions. Whilst a number of analyses reveal how powerful emotional interpretations are in stigmatising, labeling or stereotyping men and women, rarely, if ever, are questions raised in education about the assumptions on which gendered emotions rest. I respond here by proposing that if education is to serve a role in the cultivation of morally appropriate emotions, then we must question, and should no longer accept, gendered emotions, that is emotions that belong to, or are more ‘natural’ for one sex than another. Acknowledging the importance of care for wellbeing, I question the claims of some care ethicists who would have us believe that care does not require moral theory and that it is not an issue of justice. I assert, to the contrary, that unless an ethics of care rests on sound moral and conceptual constructs, it will perpetuate a bifurcation of emotion and reason whilst sustaining stereotypically gendered emotions. In order to illuminate my argument for the cultivation of de-gendered, just emotions, I draw upon empirical research on the effects of deformed emotional attitudes towards women and children which seriously impede their wellbeing and functioning. I draw, too, on novels, both for the exemplification of my arguments and as a vehicle which, creatively and sensitively used, can help us to shape our imaginative and empathic capacities to take into the folds of our consciousness people who are both similar to and remote and different from us. I am accompanied throughout the thesis by a fictional pupil ‘Nancy’ with and through whom I exculpate complex theoretical and philosophical issues. The thesis re-affirms the importance of cultivating morally appropriate de-gendered emotions, particularly compassion, and concludes with the proposal that we should incorporate and embed an understanding of the emotions in the education curricula, for both pupils and those who teach them. I propose, too, that emotions might be regarded as an architectonic capability anchoring and influencing all other human capabilities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Emotions, compassion, education, emotional well being, moral character
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB1603 Secondary Education. High schools
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education > Social Justice Place and Lifelong Education
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Hedge, Dr. Nicki
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Alison MacKenzie
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-3844
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Feb 2013 15:39
Last Modified: 07 Feb 2013 15:41
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/3844

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