Ordo Amoris: The Right Order of Affections

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Ordo Amoris: The right order of affections

Have you read Circe Institute’s Principles of Classical Education? It runs through the various principles upon which a classical education is founded. And the second principle is that of ordo amoris or order of affections, but what exactly is ordo amoris?

Why is it important?

To quote C.S. Lewis,

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ordinate affections or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful.  ~ C.S. Lewis

The Right Order of Affections

Ordo amoris, or the order of affections, is the order of priorities we have: what is most important and what is least important. This isn’t to say a given item is bad, but that it’s not as high in our affection (or priority list) as something else.

For instance, I think it would be fair to say, we all like having money. Money buys food for our family, clothing, trips to the movies, and education for our children.

However, money is not at the top of our order of affections. If it was, we’d all be thieves and criminals. No. We hold following the law as a greater order of affection than having money.

Following the law isn’t at the top of our order of affection though. As my children and I were discussing modern history last year, we debated human rights versus the law. Is following the law a higher order of affection than the rights people have to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

No, sometimes we are called to break the law because human rights have a greater order of affection.

Why do we place human rights so high? I know for myself it comes down to the call to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Which comes from a love of God.

While Aristotle speaks of the aim of education is making the pupil like and dislike what he ought. We want to teach our children to hate evil and love good, to detest wrong, and to adore right.

Ordo amoris leads directly to the purpose of classical education which is to teach our children wisdom and virtue. Ordo amoris gives us a method of doing so.

Ordo amoris is one method we teach our children the principle of virtue in classical educationTeach Children to Love What is Right and Good

We teach our children to love what is right and good. We teach them to hate what is wrong and evil. And we read stories of good versus evil to our children. We fill their heads with fairy tales teaching right from wrong.

As the children get older, we use history and literature to discuss value systems. We compare the characters of historical figures and how events were affected by these men and women.

We discuss why people behaved the way they did, and how people should have behaved. How would we behave in a similar situation?

Ultimately ordo amoris teaches our children how to choose between what is good and what is better.

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  1. I Love this post! I’ve never read this before, but certainly believe in this type of home schooling. Bravo to you for putting it down so eloquently 🙂

  2. I love it too! Very simple way of explaining ordo amoris. I find that it is really easy for me to teach spelling, math, and the like, but these heart matters are so difficult =) This is definitely going to be a focus in my home this summer and next year. Thanks for another great post!

    1. The heart matters are much more difficult. They require a lot of listening and thoughtful replies. It’s actually easier with little ones and harder with teens! 😉

  3. I just saw this post – good to read your thoughts on this, Sara. I’ve been reading in a couple of different books lately about the aim of education – ie to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.

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