Case studies of moral courage in girls ages 11 - 13: an Aristotelian view
Simpson Brown, Diane J.
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This study explores the ways a small group of girls, ages 11-13, spoke about courage over a two-year period. Using Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics as a guide, the purpose of the present study is to discover how courage is present in the lives of a select group of girls, what their thoughts and perceptions are on courage, and how these thoughts and perceptions explain the operation of emotion and rationality in producing courage. This last question is based off Marcia Homiak's (1993) suggestion that Aristotle offers a way to explain how emotion and rationality operate together to develop positive, caring, independent and strong individuals. Differing from the predominant framework of Carol Gilligan's theory of an "ethic of care" in girls' developmental research, the present study uses and suggests that the practice of returning to the classical work of Aristotle offers a different approach to studying girls' development. The girls were interviewed in an effort to discover personal conceptions of courage, their thoughts on the relevance of intention, experience, emotion, sanguinity, and ignorance to courage, as Aristotle describes these terms, and how courage is present in their lives. The girls also performed an essay-writing task to clarify their thoughts. Several dominant themes resulted from this study. These included the participants stating that (1) a courageous act must stem from good intentions; (2) courage comes as a matter of experience or practice; (3) with enough practice courage can become a habit and thus part of your character; (4) while emotion is a precursor to courage, a courageous act cannot be done rashly and requires a degree of rationality to act in order to be considered true courage; and (5) their own recollections of acting courageously are in early development and thus far have been minimal. An additional finding was the degree to which participants found overly aggressive girls spur opportunities for courage. Implications for a model of active learning, character education, and further research on girls' development are suggested.
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