Against Aristotelian Parenting (sort of)

Parenting is a deeply moral enterprise, both in being the locus of a lot of morally significant decisions and actions—it matters a lot how parents treat their children—and in the sense of leading to morally significant results—it matters a lot how children turn out. It is often remarked that despite its moral importance, (Western) philosophers seem to have little to say about parenting. This is true comparatively—philosophers actually say a fair amount about parenting, but much less than they say about many other things, even within ethics.

Aristotle is seen as something of an exception, at least insofar as his remarks about moral education and the acquisition of virtue seem readily applicable to parenting. His account of human flourishing, the role of the virtues in tending us towards the good, the good as defined in terms of human psychology (literally), habituation as the source of the (moral virtues), the taming of the appetites and feelings as a condition of genuine autonomy—all of it lends itself to a natural account of much of what parents try to do. Wise parents, knowing the good, use their authority to instils habits of behavior which lead to moral development, a practice that in time turns their children towards the good and towards happiness.

There’s something right about this, and those who turn to Aristotle for child rearing advice are on some solid ground. But there are also some things wrong with this. Keep reading…

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