Moral Education and Emotional Lying Essay

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Moral Education and Emotional Lying

There is a long tradition, fathered by Aristotle and recurring like some recessive gene in recent virtue theorists, that holds that the emotions, like acts, must be 'trained'. Consider the following:

[In Beckett's portrayal,] "Emotions are not feelings that well up in some natural and untutored way from our natural selves, that they are, in fact, not personal or natural at all, that they are, instead, contrivances, social constructs. We learn how to feel, and we learn our emotional repertoire. We learn emotions in the same way that we learn our beliefs — from our society." (Nussbaum 1990, p287)

"Emotions, in Aristotle's view, are not always correct, any more than beliefs or actions are
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The problem arises, however, when we consider two agents: Agent X acts in accordance with social demands, or, does not act (also in accordance with social demands) while considering this merely a means to ensure such social harmony as he can get. Agent Y exhibits or does not exhibit emotions also in accordance with social demands, while considering this also merely a means to ensure social harmony. Neither Agent X nor Agent Y 'believe in' what they are doing, in any sense deeper than the wish to conform to reasonable social demands.

We can portray this situation as follows:

Agent CA conforms with respect to acting.

Agent CE conforms with respect to 'emoting'.

Agent BA 'believes in' his acts.

Agent BE 'believes in' his emotions

Are Agents CA and CE not on equal footing with agents BA and BE as regards ethics, for better or worse?

Apparently not. There is widespread dislike of Agent CE as a hypocrite, an accusation rarely hurled against Agents CA, BA, or BE. Even Williams (1973, p224) states that simulating emotions one does not feel could be 'misleading, even deceitful'.

Agent CE is in a bind: if he responds as society dictates, he is a hypocrite; and if he does not, he is a misfit or (in extreme situations) a 'psychopath'. Agent CE has been 'trained' in the sense that he knows what is expected of him, and does it; and his motives are those of prudence. However,
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