Emotional intelligence meets virtue ethics: Implications for educators

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Culham, T. & Bai, H. (2011). Emotional intelligence meets virtue ethics: Implications for educators. Journal of Thought.

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Virtue Ethics
Emotional Intelligence
Social and emotional learning
Exceptional educators
Education of the heart
Intrinsic value

The notion that there is more than one kind of intelligence for human beings, and that social and emotional intelligence (EI) is just as critical as cognitive intelligence for success in the world is by now fairly well received and well-established in North American educational contexts.  But the more we—the authors of this article—are impressed by the magnitude of salutary influence that the EI work spreads in diverse educational domains, the more we see its limitations as an educational project that can actually and practically augment people’s EI and ethics.


We have chosen to consider EI in this article not only because of its far-reaching influence in the field of education as above mentioned but also because of the claim that it was inspired by Aristotle’s virtue ethics (Goleman, 1995) and its association with ethical development.  Our own research and practice interest has been fostering ethical development in people via virtue ethics, and if EI is, as Goleman et al. (2002) claimed, such a singularly important ingredient, we investigate their conceptualization of EI and consider the possibility of further developing and fortifying it. Given the acceptance of EI, its claimed value and roots in virtue ethics has prompted us to research the limitations of the EI work by Goleman et al. (2002), and to search for works that would address these limitations. We are particularly concerned about the educator’s EI impacting students’ learning and emotional intelligence, a concern also identified by others (Jennings & Greenberg, 2009). Our paper advances the thesis that the cultivation of educators’ EI requires the practice of virtue ethics and we present our work on the marriage of EI and virtue ethics as a challenge to the conventional and hegemonic conception and practice of education that marginalizes the education of the heart.

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