Are You Moral Enough?
Moral development is the development of thoughts and feelings on certain values and principles, that consequently affect (or prescribe) future behavior. It has two dimensions - intrapersonal and interpersonal dimensions. The intrapersonal dimension on moral development focuses on the self, whereas the interpersonal dimension of moral development relates to other people. Suppose you believe and engage in platonic relationships.Your conservative practice when it comes to relationships may be tempered if you also believe in the value of free choice, that is, you also believe that other people have the right to choose the type of relationship they want to engage in (thought), and consequently, you allow other people to engage in more liberal types of relationships (behavior).
The Druggist and the Dying Wife
Consider the story below to check how moral you are:
There was a man whose wife is terribly ill, and only one drug can save her life. Within the neighborhood is a druggist who was able to concoct the drug that could save the man's life. However, the druggist was selling it for $2000, fromthe $200 he initially spent making the drug. When the man learned this, he asked the druggist to buy the drug for $1000 instead, because he couldn't raise enough money in time for his wife's recovery. But the druggist refused. He has worked hard to make the drug, and he wants to make money out of his hard work. Because the druggist wouldn't let the man buy his drug for half the price, the man broke into the druggist's house and stole the drug. Do you think what the man did was right? (Choose which answer best describes your first thought on this.)
- No, because stealing will get the man imprisoned.
- Yes, because he was able to save his wife's life.
- Yes, because that is what good husbands do.
- No , because stealing is prohibited by the law.
- No, because the druggist owns the drug and worked hard for it.
- Yes, because the wife's life is more important than money.
Levels of Moral Development
The study on morality and moral development started with Lawrence Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development. Based on 11 stories of moral dilemma (like the one above), Kohlberg evaluated the moral reasoning of people of various ages. He found that moral development is sequential and age-related. As you might have noticed from the example above, it doesn't matter whether the answer is "yes" or "no". Rather, what is important is the reasoning behind those answers. Kohlberg was able to categorize moral development into 3 different levels, with 2 stages each level.
- The Preconventional Level is based on punishments and rewards. Heteronomous Morality is all about punishments. Children begin to develop a sense of what is wrong when they start to be punished. They consequently align what is wrong with what is punishable. Therefore, from the example above, the first response is concerned on imprisonment as punishment for stealing the drug. On the other hand, Individualism, Purpose and Exchange involves rewards. This basically strengthens what is right and reinforces actions that align with such rewards. Therefore, from the example above, the second response is concerned on saving the wife's life as a reward from stealing the drug.
- The Conventional Level is based on agreements, both spoken and written. Mutual Interpersonal Expectations, Relationships and Interpersonal Conformity involve oral agreements of what is right and what is wrong. These oral agreements are learned from parents' expectations, and expand with others whom we consider "authorities", such as older siblings, teachers and peers. The Social System Morality, on the other hand, involves written agreements, and particularly what the law says. Policies, rules and regulations serve as the main bases of morality. Therefore, from the example above, the third response justify stealing with the common social expectation that good husbands risk imprisonment for the life of their wives. And the fourth response stress the importance of what the law says.
- The Postconventional Level is based on values and abstract principles that transcend conventions (or laws). The two stages under this level are classified according to their locus of attention. Social Contract/Utility and Individual Rights involve values applicable only to serve personal rights. Universal Ethical Principles, on the other hand, involve values applicable for the entire humanity. Thus, from the example above, particularly the fifth response, the druggist's right to sell his drug in his own terms underscore the principle behind "right to property". Also, from the example above, the last response underscore the principle behind "right to live".
Advancing Morality One Step at a Time
According to Kohlberg, one can advance from one stage to another, and from one level to another, with the help of various factors:
- Maturation of Thought. This comprise the biological aspect of moral development, particularly the development of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is involved in planning, reasoning and organized thinking. With highly developed brain comes the capacity to understand long-term consequences and to follow others' reasoning.
- Opportunities for Role-Taking. Moral development comes with widening perspective. Trying on different roles aid in the development of empathy, concern and understanding of other people's circumstances.
- Opportunities for Discussing Moral Issues with a Person who Reasons on a Higher Plane. Moral development oftentimes stunts because of of lack of exposure to higher level of moral reasoning. Becoming exposed to higher level moral reasoning provides new opportunities to exercise mental faculties, and also serves as a "goal" and model for practice. However, Kohlberg warns against discussing moral issues with parents, because parental relationship is oftentimes too power-oriented.
Criticisms on Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development
Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development, no matter how compelling and original, has its critics. For one, moral reasoning does not equate to moral behavior, although there is high likelihood that we oftentimes act on what we believe in, and vice versa, that we justify our actions based on our beliefs. Secondly, Kohlberg's theory has been strongly criticized by renowned psychologist Carol Gilligan. She claims that the theory gives insufficient attention to the interpersonal dimension of moral development, which she believes came from the patriarchal context of his research, pointing that Kohlberg is a male, and that he used only male participants in his research. Gilligan's Care Perspective stress harmony as part of morality.