This is a book I wish I had written (Mr. Gallagher, like me, is a lawyer and has an MA in philosophy from Catholic University). The book was enjoyable to read, but it was also a wonderful introduction to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics for common folks.
Despite the silly title, this book is a serious but approachable 30,000 foot explanation of virtue ethics to parents. Even those who have not read Aristotle before will be able to follow the clear archetypes Gallagher presents for the virtuous, strong-willed, weak-willed, and vicious man. While Gallagher does not offer the in-the-moment advice of typical parenting books–and he doesn’t pretend to. Rather, Gallagher offers parents a vision for what their child’s life could be like if he is trained in virtue.
Gallagher’s discussion of the virtue development process is quite good. For Aristotle, people are able to progress along the continuum from vice to virtue through repetition of virtuous actions. By performing a series of virtuous actions, one develops a particular habit, which after more such acts ripens into a virtuous character. As that process unfolds, one moves from the vicious end of the spectrum to the virtuous. And Gallagher’s book helps parents understand Aristotle’s conception of the person and how the application of his principles help one develop in virtue.
After explaining the underlying principles and the process of developing virtue, Gallagher walks the reader through the four cardinal virtues: prudence, fortitude, temperance, and courage. He quickly dispels the modern interpretation or understanding of these virtues in favor of the classical or Aristotelian understanding. As part of this explanation, and as a constant theme throughout the book, he explains that a key component to a child’s–or adult’s–development in any of these virtues is true friendship. True friends help us practice the virtues, and true friends lead us to virtue (just as we should lead them to virtue).
Gallagher explains how Aristotle’s model allows us to achieve happiness through growth in the virtues. And, perhaps more importantly, how your children can realize their full nature not only as rational animals, or social animals, but as virtuous human actors in the world. Obviously, Aristotle did not have the benefit of divine revelation, but his view of human nature is spot on. Later generations would take Aristotle to the next level, which may be a future project for Mr. Gallagher.
This book sets out to do what it says–to give parents a roadmap regarding how to raise virtuous children and to understand what they need to realize their potential. And Gallagher’s book does it through an enjoyable style and with helpful “Playlists” at the end of each chapter: a few salient take-home points from each chapter. Gallagher also provides an extensive glossary at the end, a parenting assessment test (a review of the points covered), some practical advice for implementing the virtues in your home, and notes on the chapters. All in all, this is a thorough explanation of a philosophy just as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.
I recommend this book to any parent who is trying to figure out the “Why?” behind the “What?” of parenting. This book will not give you specific tools to use in parenting, but it will give you the vision for parenting, which may be more important in the end.