Monday, March 9, 2009

Two Articles on Moral Development

Stages of Moral Development
by Lawrence Kohlberg (1971)

I. Preconventional Level

At this level, the child is responsive to cultural rules and labels of good and bad, right or wrong, but he interprets the labels in terms of either the physical or hedonistic consequences of action (punishment, reward, exchange of favors) or the physical power of those who enunciate the rules and labels. The level is divided into the following three stages:

Stage 0: Egocentric judgement. The child makes judgements of good on the basis of what he likes and wants or what helps him, and bad on the basis of what he does not like or what hurts him. He has no concept of rules or of obligations to obey or conform independent of his wish.

Stage 1: The punishment and obedience orientation. The physical consequences of action determine its goodness or badness regardless of the human meaning or value of these consequences. Avoidance of punishment and unquestioning deference to power are values in their own right, not in terms of respect for an underlying moral order supported by punishment and authority (the latter is stage 4).

Stage 2: The instrumental relativist orientation. Right action consists of what instrumentally satisfies one's own needs and occasionally the needs of others. Human relations are viewed in terms such as those of the market place. Elements of fairness, reciprocity, and equal sharing are present, but they are always interpreted in a physical, pragmatic way. Reciprocity is a matter of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch your", not loyalty, gratitude, or justice.

II. Conventional Level

At this level, the individual perceives the maintenance of the expectations of his family, group, or nation as valuable in its own right, regardless of immediate and obvious consequences. The attitude is not only one of conformity to personal expectations and social order, but of loyalty to it, of actively maintaining, supporting, and justifying the order and identifying with the persons or group involved in it. The level consists of the following two stages:

Stage 3: The interpersonal concordance or "good boy-nice girl" orientation. Good behavior is what pleases or helps others and is approved by them. There is much conformity to stereotypical images of what is majority or "natural" behavior. Behavior is frequently judged by intention -- "he means well" becomes important for the first time. One earns approval by being "nice".

Stage 4: The "law and order" orientation. The individual is oriented toward authority, fixed rules, and the maintenance of the social order. Right behavior consists in doing one's duty, showing respect for authority, and maintaining the given social order for its own sake.

III. Post-Conventional, Autonomous, or Principled Level.

The individual makes a clear effort to define moral values and principles that have validity and application apart from the authority of the groups of persons holding them and apart from the individual's own identification with the group. The level has the two following stages:

Stage 5: The social-contract legalistic orientation (generally with utilitarian overtones). Right action tends to be defined in terms of general individual rights and standards that have been critically examined and agreed upon by the whole society. There is a clear awareness of the relativism of personal values and opinions and a corresponding emphasis upon procedural rules for reaching consensus. Aside from what is constitutionally and democratically agreed upon, right action is a matter of personal values and opinions. The result is an emphasis upon the "legal point of view", but with an additional emphasis upon the possibility of changing the law in terms of rational considerations of social utility (rather than freezing it in terms of stage 4 "law and order"). Outside the legal realm, free agreement, and contract, is the binding element of obligation. The "official" morality of the American government and Constitution is at this stage.

Stage 6: The universal ethical-principle orientation. Right is defined by the decision of conscience in accord with self-chosen ethical principles that appeal to logical comprehensiveness, universality, and consistency. These principles are abstract and ethical (the Golden Rule, the categorical imperative); they are not concrete moral rules like the Ten Commandments. At heart, these are universal principles of justice, of the reciprocity and equality of the human rights, and of respect for the dignity of human beings as individual persons.

Values and Morals Clarification
Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. and Jolyn Wells-Moran, Ph.D.

It is important to develop a good understanding of your values, because of how influential your values are in determining and motivating your behavior. If you don't understand your values, you won't understand how to orient yourself in a direction that is likely to be satisfying. Your behavior, your actions will be more oriented towards putting out fires (satisfying your immediate needs), and less oriented towards developing your long term potential. You won't have a plan. You will instead, just be reactive. Because if you don't understand what they are you don't know what motivates you. Or what could motivate you - towards becoming a better person.

People's values define what they want personally, but morals define what the society around those people want for them. Certain behaviors are considered to be desirable by a given society, while others are considered to be undesirable. For the most part, however, morals are not written in stone, or proclaimed by God above, but instead reflect local sensibilities. Different societies have different ideas about what is acceptable and not acceptable. There are only a relative few behaviors (usually including murder, and various forms of abuse, including incest and adult-child sexual contact of any sort) that are pretty much universally despised by stable societies.

People are not born understanding their society's morals. Instead, these understandings develop and mature over time. Psychologist Lawrence Kolhberg's famous work has provided us with a developmental mapping of how moral understanding tends to progress through childhood and early adulthood.

  • According to Kohlberg, infants have little or no moral sense, because they are not born with an understanding of the nature of human relationships. As children reach elementary school age, they enter into the first major stage of moral understanding, known as the "pre-conventional" stage. Pre-conventional children are essentially selfish in orientation. They do not think about what behaviors will serve the greater good, but rather think in terms of what will most benefit themselves. They respond primarily to power, and think of morality as a matter of following rules so as to avoid punishment.

  • As children grow into adulthood, they typically enter into the stage of "conventional" moral understanding. Some children will be developmentally delayed in this regard and become adults who have the moral understanding of children; we call them sociopaths, narcissists, and anti-social personalities. The majority of people that do make it to the conventional moral understanding start thinking in terms of duty; a duty to do what is necessary to promote the greater good. They orient towards behaviors that are most likely to gain other people's respect and admiration. Part of conventional morality is the duty to behave lawfully. Some people take this duty further and understand it as a duty to conform to what other influential people around them want.

  • Most adults never actually achieve the final stage of morality, known as post-conventional morality, mostly because in order to get there, people have to throw off their sense of duty to what others around them want, and reinvest their moral sense in higher principles, such as (but not limited to) "honesty", "reciprocity," and "social welfare." Such people become willing to take unpopular stances and make unpopular decisions simply because those decisions represent the right thing to do. For example, a post-conventional CEO might decide to offer full medical coverage for all employees because it is the right thing to do (to use the company to raise up all participants), even though to do so would anger shareholders who might see this as a drain on profits. It is very difficult to achieve a post-conventional morality in what is largely a conventional world. The CEO in our example would probably not last long, unfortunately.


frogponder said...

Mine Dad hired the first African American executive and the first woman executive in his Fortune 500 company. I figure he made it to the last category. :-)

Joy said...

Definitely sounds that way!

Berry Blog said...

I still have all the stuff in my files. I taught this every year and liked to collect stories of moral dilemmas which we pulled out of our readings. Usually I tied this in with the fairy tale unit and mythology.