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Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University
Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University

Duke University Press Books, 2010
368 pp., $25.95

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Jerry Pattengale


What Are Universities For?

The contested terrain of moral education.

One of T. Harry Williams' many graduate students recounted a cryptic event at which their renowned professor garnered two unofficial awards, "The professor we learned the most from" and "The most boring professor." The same mixed compliment could be given the editors' introduction to Debating Moral Education: Rethinking the Role of the Modern University—a book with a methodically slow beginning, but one I've already recommended to the directors of three top graduate programs.

Editors Elizabeth Kiss and J. Peter Euben admirably capture Duke University's working conference on moral education; this volume is the third in a series from the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Although it begins with a droning outline of lists and a barrage of questions, the introduction frames an important discussion on moral education. Kiss and Euben set the stage well for a view of Stanley Fish's upstream struggle against moral education in the college curriculum. After standing ashore applauding his powerful presence, including his invited essay, they jump into the "debate" waters by countering his argument—though the book proves more a helpful descriptive dialogue than a debate. And like the third chapter of the late Bill Placher's Triune God, one chapter is worth the purchase all by itself.

During a conversation with a friend while I was still in the midst of reading this collection of essays, I found myself pulling the book from my shelf and reading from Stanley Hauerwas' chapter, "The Pathos of the University: The Case of Stanley Fish." It's a provocative challenge to Christian institutions. Building on Alasdair MacIntyre's work, Hauerwas notes that America's non-religious universities lack an "educated public"—a dynamic of shared components necessary for liberal arts' potency in addressing civic needs. However, it's different for the church-related colleges, or at least should be:

For at the very least Christianity names an ongoing argument across centuries of a tradition ...

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