This essay considers the relationship between knowledge and virtue in Come-nius‘s conception of moral education, and compares this with the conception char-acteristic for the era known as modernity. Its starting point is the situation of ethical „deficit“ felt by contemporary Czech (and not only Czech) society, prompting a liter-ally „mass demand“ for „virtuous“ (decent) people that has been noticed by some of our leading experts. Ethical themes have thus been moving from the margins to the centre of interest at all levels of the life of society. Sociologists talk of a dramatic decline in moral literacy and social capital (people do not trust each other). G. Lipovetsky even warns that „the twenty-first century will either be ethical or it will not happen at all“.
The contexts of the critical state of mod-ern moral sensibility are outlined in this study against the background of Comenius‘s theory of moral upbrining, and for a good reason. In his writings Comenius made a thorough study of the theme of ethics and moral education and indeed considered this the heart of his educational practice. Furthermore, the intellectual foresight with which he managed to predict many of educational problems and treat them in a timeless manner is generally known. This applies equally to Comenius‘s concept of the relationship between knowledge and virtue as close but not one of identity. The modern concept by contrast involves the belief that knowledge and understanding will be an automatically humanising factor in the process of cultivating humanity, for he who has „right“ knowledge will also act „rightly“.
The author demonstrates this concept using the example of Emil Durkheim‘s notion of moral education.
Comenius does not believe that knowl-edge in itself leads to morality (or piety). In his conception it is quite the opposite. Just because knowledge does not in itself guar-antee its proper moral use, moral education is also necessary. If this is neglected, the situation runs against the grain of human nature, and is an „unhappy tearing“, because - according to Comenius - it is given to man not just „to be a knower of things“ but also to use his knowledge well (by which the Creator will also be honoured). A human being who does not use his knowledge well is not truly educated; he may be knowledgeable, but without morality he is a „useless burden on the earth“, and even a „misfortune“ for himself and others, for the more knowledge there is, the worse it is when it is used for evil.
The premises of Comenius‘s moral education are woven throught with metaphysics that did not accord with the intellectual agenda of modernity, particular that which served the socialist (and communist) ideology. This was why his „method of morality“ and „method of piety“ was marginalised as a „residue of his time“. Nonetheless the crisis of the modern paradigm that we have been witnessesing for some time opens up new interpretational horizons in relation to pre-modern conceptions. Not everything that is old is necessarily antiquated. Comenius‘s concept of moral education is undoubtedly old and unmodern, but in the context of the state of „modern“ morals we might well ask whether this is not its greatest virtue.