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Teaching Ethics

Volume 19, Issue 1, Spring 2019

Alexander Keller Hirsch
Pages 1-16

Regret: A Vital Structure of Critical Engagement in Moral Education

I argue that helping college students to hone their faculty for regret is key to at least three interrelated functions of critical engagement in moral education: 1) empathic unsettlement; 2) counterfactual thinking; and 3) anagnorisis, Aristotle’s term for a tragic and too-late turn in self-awareness. All three functions support an attitude of humility and self-reflection germane to rigorous moral reflection. Though it can be difficult to confront and assume, I argue that claiming regret can help students to catalyze thinking, curiosity, and responsiveness in ways that bear under-explored potential in moral learning. In what follows, I defend regret as a vital structure of moral life, and give several examples of how regret might work to advance moral imagination in the classroom.

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