The aim of the present study is to answer the traditional question in ethics, whether there exist universal and objective ethical values, and if so, how can they be harmonized with each one’s particular and specific situations, from the Aristotelian and Neo-Aristotelian view, and to find the answer’s educational implications. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle shows that human beings’ characteristic function (ergon) to fulfil their ends (telos) is the rational capacity including phronēsis, and based on the facts about human nature, he demonstrates that the good life of human being consists of the activities of soul in accordance with the excellences or virtues. He not only secures the objective criteria of moral truth by appealing substantial facts about human nature, but also fully reflects each one’s particular and specific reality by stressing the virtue of phronēsis. This ‘balance’ made his ideas attractive in recent discussions of Epistemology, Ethics, and educational practices as a remedy of other theories.
Since many existing educational practices addressing the concept of virtues have been based on superficial, or wrong interpretations of Aristotelian ideas, it is necessary to investigate what is the true Aristotelian character education by examining some misunderstandings, and, if some critics are valid, to deliberate how can it be appropriately reconstructed. Hence this study examined general criticism on educational practices with the concept of virtues and Neo-Aristotelians’ responses to them as both theoretically and practically. Through the series of discussions, it was able to clarify which Aristotelian ideas were accepted or revised by Neo-Aristotelians, thus to confirm the structure of Neo-Aristotelian character education.
What is more important than confirming its structure is to consider its underlying premise, that is, whether it is truly possible to harmonize objective moral truth based on human nature and diversity based on human reason. This study, therefore, attempted to scrutinize discussions related to Aristotelian Naturalism, which contemporarily systemized naturalistic character of Aristotle’s virtue ethics. In the end, both the ethical naturalism of ‘first nature’ and ‘second nature’ had their limitations, such as making the relation between moral philosophy and natural science even separative.
In this regard, this study suggested that we should focus on the fact that Aristotle himself resisted the clear distinction between empirical facts in the natural realm and evaluative facts in the moral realm, thus reconsidering Aristotle’s idea that human nature does not offer the answers but the starting point and natural material to develop. In this respect, the facts about human nature that we need to refer to are not something just given to us as unchangeable ones, but something to be found within the continuous dialogues about human goodness that always needs to be the object of reflections. Therefore, of importance is not to find the fixed shared ‘conclusion’, but to have continuous shared ‘process’ and head toward the stronger objectivity. Dialogues where we consider and trust each other as an accountable agent can have the most important role for this balance between the universals and specificities.
In the end, this study discussed how the dialogues looking for ‘our’ shared criteria can be realized from the educational perspective. The significance of Aristotelian dialogue was reviewed through his writings about friendship (philia), and it was suggested that sustained dialogues between citizens should be the way where we can find ‘our’ goodness and practice to reflect ‘my’ and ‘your’ interests and desires. To realize this ideal, the education for dialogues should frame the problem situations for the common aim, choose issues which does not lose track of concrete contexts and ‘oneself’, and have interests and understanding toward the interlocutor as a collaborator but not as an opponent. On the basis of these discussions, this study has drawn the moral educational implications of Neo-Aristotelian character education for the aspect of educational goal, educational content, teaching-learning method, and educational environment.
It is noticeable that this study has comprehensively explored Aristotle’s meta-ethical presuppositions which has not been fully studied so far especially within Korean scholars. Its conclusion emphasizing sustained and collaborative dialogues which needs trust and belief can be disappointing to someone who is looking for the certainty of objective moral truths. However, whereas Immanuel Kant postulated the existence of God, the one to believe in the Neo-Aristotelian sense is the human being, who is lively drawing breath right in front of us. Since moral education and ethics are eventually about considering how to relate to people in our lives, I hope this conclusion not just to remain as written letters, but to have vivid implications to our lives by letting us reflect our own way to treat others, and making the actual changes possible.