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Care and Justice: Moral Development
The criticisms of Kohlberg’s moral development
stages seem to center around three major points, his research methods,
the “regression” of stage four, and finally his goals.
The first criticism that I would like to
address is that of his research methods. Kohlberg is often criticized for
not only his subject selection, but also the methods by which he tries
to extricate data from those subjects. His initial study consisted of school
boys from a private institution in Chicago. The problem with this is fairly
obvious, that this does not represent a significant portion of the population
to allow for generalized conclusions. In other words, how can we test some
boys from Chicago and ascertain that this is how all people develop worldwide?
I believe that the answer to this criticism
comes from the theory that it relates to. Kohlberg’s moral development
schema is highly dependent upon the idea that there are fundamental truths
that cannot be dismissed. These ideas are “in the ether”, wound into the
very fabric that constructs human nature. Granted, his descriptions of
the various stages also seem very dependent upon the surroundings and social
institutions that an individual would be subjected to. Yet these institutions
would be have to be built upon people, all of whom would share these ideological
truths. It seems fairly obvious that all people have undeniable needs,
survival and some group membership. Kohlberg’s stages are merely methods
by which one could fulfill these needs. For instance, Spartan societies
were adamant about maintaining the purity and strength of the civilization.
Citizens saw no wrong in exposing a sick or lame baby to the elements so
that it might die. Surely an act of cruelty today, but in that society,
a necessary evil The prosperity and wealth of the whole was of greater
importance than that of the individual.
In addition to these justifications, additional
research substantiated Kohlberg’s claims. Different subjects were tested,
from all ages and regions, and the same conclusions were drawn from the
data. Assuming that these conclusions are correct, and the data leads to
the same interpretation, is there any other possibility? This argument
seems most impressive, especially considering the differences between people
that are evident in everyday life. Similarities on such an abstract level
must be supportive of Kohlberg’s claims.
Another criticism of Kohlberg assumes that
his subjects are biased, but proposes that his methods are even worse.
To get the perspective of another person, he confronts them with seemingly
impossible, unrealistic, and confrontational dilemmas. I, myself, had trouble
with the Heinz dilemma because of my inability to believe that it was something
that could take place in the real world. Even more so, the situation was
something that was very foreign, and very hard to relate to. Anyone who
has contemplated something very life changing, like a death in the family,
then experienced it, understands how different it is to actually be faced
with the dilemma. When theorizing, it is hard to maintain the intimate
connection needed to truly react to a moral dilemma.
My defense of this situation comes from
a lack of a suitable alternative. True moral dilemmas are not only rare,
but extremely hard to document. When faced with a situation that demands
not only one’s complete attention, but emotional vigor, it is really hard
to find time to document or discuss feelings (let alone the motivation
to do so!). For example, looking at the Heinz dilemma, it would be very
hard to explain why one was chasing
a man around while he tried to find
a cure for his dying wife. An even less enticing alternative would be trying
to sit him down and discuss how he was feeling.
So, the only proper and effective way to
get a response is to propose a hypothetical situation, and document replies.
It may not elicit the pure data that one desires, but according to the
Heisenberg principle, it is impossible to measure anything without influencing
it. Some research methods indicate that it is more important to follow
one’s thoughts through the reasoning process, rather than just asking for
possible solutions. However, I have to believe, and justify from personal
experience, that people have incredibly low attention spans. Asking someone
to explain how they think through a decision is almost as likely to yield
useful data as asking them to volunteer their PIN numbers. It seems as
though people are able not only to be influenced, but to influence themselves
into making different decisions. This can lead to the “endless circle”
The criticism that I find most interesting
is the supposed “regression” that occurs when going from stage three to
four. Personally, I must agree with the idea that it is, in fact, a priority
change. I also believe that this comes from my undeniable faith in the”goodness” of humanity. I would like to believe that in their heart and
soul, everyone is good natured. So, to see that one must develop stage
four is disappointing.
Yet, I will agree that it is necessary.
It is a comprehensive step, and an improvement from the stage three point
of view. No matter how enticing and supposedly noble stage three appears,
it is lacking components necessary to promote the functionality of the
person who holds it. A loss of innocence is not necessarily a detriment,
especially when considering personal experience. Skin tends to thicken
as one gets older. Therefore, is it necessarily a regression that someone
would tend to trust others less, and be more interested maintaining social
I believe that this in no way represents
a regression, but rather a broadened scope and interpretation of surroundings.
At level three, you are totally interested in fulfilling the obligations
that are expected of you. The world seems a very small place, one person
and your surroundings, people, places, and things. If the requirements
that are expected from day to day, from people who are very close to you
can be fulfilled, that is the absolute goal. As one grows older, you are
exposed to more of the institutions and methods that are integral to the
relationship and interaction of all people. The rules have changed. There
are more requirements, more expected of you. Unfortunately, every person
does not have limitless resources with which to meet all of these goals.
So, priorities must change. New social institutions now appear to be the
driving force in happiness and security. So, they now encompass all the
priorities that drove a person at stage three. To fulfill the previous
stage’s goals with this new scope, one must dedicate resources to it.
Finally, I would like to discuss Kohlberg’s
point of view when considering what I call his “goals”. Some have criticized
that Kohlberg is trying to objectify morality to a Natural Law, or justice
perspective. Although he does seem to abstract characteristics to a societal
level, I do not believe that his is an honest attempt to undermine the
gathered data integrity. In other words, although it seems he is drawing
the same conclusions over and over, he is not distorting it to do so.
Kohlberg is often criticized for a libertarian
ideological bias in his conclusions of gathered data. In addition, it has
been observed that his conclusions are carefully explained, argued and
defended, but they can be twisted and contorted to fit any range of different
opinions. They mandate an agreement to social contract, that being used
as a philosophical base from which moral guidelines are built. But social
systems differ from region to region, and within regions by people.
I believe that the criticisms themselves
do not harm Kohlberg’s views, but rather enforce them. As I have discussed
before, there are undeniable personal needs that every individual works
to fulfill, regardless of stated motives. Everyone needs to survive, and
to be emotionally fulfilled by belonging. The systems by which people administer
their interaction are simply tools by which they meet those needs. However,
I have also said that I have a flawless devotion to the goodness of mankind.
Thereby, I believe that people are trying to better their situation relative
to one another and the situation of society as a whole. Kohlberg may view
these moral ideals as too socially interactive, but isn’t that what the
true goal of any of this is? People truly feel good when they have met
their desires, and one of those is to exist with other people in a cohesive
social system. As unbelievable as it may sound, Kohlberg’s findings do
not represent distorted data, but rather the incredible coincidence that
all people, on some level, are inherently similar.
It would be unfair to try to enforce the
ideas that come with Kohlbergian justice without also defending Carol Gilligan’s
theme of caring. Therefore, I would like to address three criticisms: the
paradox of self-care, the idea that care is a regressive movement, and
finally, the seemingly huge jump from stage one to two.
I personally find the self-care characteristic
of caring to be the most interesting to discuss. During class sessions,
everyone seemed most interested with this perspective. It seems as though
it is the ethical issue that plagues society. Where does the balance lie
between seeking to fulfill one’s own interests, and meeting the requirements
placed upon one by others? I believe that we all recognize a need to initialize
and solidify a healthy caring for oneself before it is possible to be outwardly
caring for others.
However, the way that this method is proposed
makes it appear as though it might be a cop-out.
My perspective comes from the fact that
there is no really appropriate way to show self-care without seeming self-centered.
No matter how little one dedicates to oneself, no matter what the circumstances,
someone will see it as too much. Yet, there is no effective way to show
compassion, respect, or contentment with the outside world without first
developing all of these attributes within oneself. When constructing this
self-persona, the goal is not to become conceited, but rather to develop
a foundation upon which more complex interactions can be constructed. Of
course, any well intentioned act can be construed into something that it
is not. I truly believe that this is the case when critiquing self-care.
I would also like to argue that self-care
as a whole is not what it seems to be, nor is it what it’s name implies.
Rather, it is a competence at a certain level personal and societal development.
At earlier times in one’s life, the easiest way to contribute to surroundings
is to not harm them. For instance, it would not be expected of a toddler
to assist in the preparation of dinner. The best that he could hope to
do is not destroy anything! At this level of development adequacy is defined
by not harming something, not necessarily working towards it’s betterment.
So, caring for oneself is not self-centered at all, it is the best method
available. By caring for oneself, you are bettering your personal situation.
In turn, this improves the quality of not only your life, but those around
you. You are more presentable, easier to associate with, and more productive.
With my previous point in mind, I would
like to move onto the idea that the levels of caring are actually a regression
from previous stages. This assumption comes from comparisons of Kohlbergian
stage three attributes, with that of Gilligan’s care stages. Stage three
(Kohlberg) seems to represent the “Prince Valiant” of personalities. One
should work towards becoming a better person, fulfill societal requirements,
forgive transgressions, and exhibit constant unadulterated pacifism. It
truly seems to be a noble individual, the likes of which exist only in
fairy tales and fantasy novels. Stage one of caring then comes along, representing
a more introspective, self-interested individual. This new person is very
afraid of hurt from others, and does everything within his/her power to
avoid it. In fact, this includes not reaching out to others in any way,
so that there is no chance of being scarred.
It seems as though this is an almost childish,
selfish response to harsh reality. But reality is the point! Reality does
not allow for Prince Valiant to be effective. Instead, he is abused, stepped
on, and taken for granted. These are not exactly prime rewards for someone
who is dedicated to being a good person and helping others. However, this
raises a conflicting point, when we now consider that society’s mistreatment
of people leads them to lose their faith. So all people must be inherently
abusive, right? I should hope not, but rather, that it is a case of poor
timing. Granted, there will be cases where people are, in fact, not “role
models”. They will be non-supportive, destructive, and frustrating. From
personal experience (and thereby bias), I find that most people are not
evil, but just not at the same stage. Everyone can remember back to grammar
and middle school, where children are not only non-supportive, but cruel
and incredibly hurtful. As they grow older, these characteristics disappear.
In the meantime, however, they are busy dismantling the naive nobility
of stage three. If, somehow, all people could be raised to the same levels
at the same time, there is a chance we would never see the desensitizing
that we do. So, it is not a regression, but a move forward, a better ability
to deal with the real world.
Finally, one of the biggest critiques of
the caring system is the difference between the first and second stages.
While stage one has been criticized for being a regression, stage two has
been attacked for being a quantum leap from stage one. The morals and guiding
themes of stage two are so diametrically different from that of stage one,
that it seems almost an impossible move. Also, there is an argument that
stage two admits that stage one was a regression, stage two merely brings
us back up to par.
Stage two, admittedly, is a huge step in
personal thinking. Instead of the self-centered, protective nature of stage
one, stage two is predicated on self-sacrifice, maternal instincts, and
maintaining peace. To me, this is not a step back up to a stage that was
lost during a stage one regression, but an incredibly comprehensive step
forward. The key is that this stage does not even attack the same issues
in a similar way. Rather, it depends upon using oneself as a tool to show
interest and caring for others. In terms of conflicting views, this could
be the most impressive point towards unifying them. Some view this entire
stage as a complete change of heart, throwing out all ideals and starting
anew. Instead of looking at it with the previous stage’s perspective, the
way to attack this is to recognize that this way of thinking is an entirely
(The next section is assuming that one
would naturally move from a Kohlbergian stage three to Gilligan’s stage
one). Stage three was nice, but too nice. It allowed too many opportunities
for those who did not share stage three to abuse someone who does. It was
obviously inadequate. So, instead of rashly charging into a different mindset,
one takes time to “rebuild the foundation” (Gilligan stage one). With a
new base to build upon, one can put together another plan of attack. Those
undeniable human goals are still there, it is just a matter of coming up
with a good system to accomplish them.
At stage two, with the scars of inefficient
methods still showing, one can try to develop a new system that is comparable
to all previous attempts, but slightly better. If hurt significantly by
stage three’s inability to deal with conflict, caring stage two may not
come about until much later. Stage one is a healing process that leads
to a new outlook, and a greater ability to deal with the problems that
plagued stage three. It seems silly to assume that people develop by trial
and error, but I would like to meet the person who hasn’t! Everyone makes
bad decisions, then tries to make sure that those events do not repeat
themselves. This idea is integral to the stage two leap.
Part Two: Integration of Care and Justice
The major point of this part of the paper
is to hypothesize and analyze Kohlberg’s stage three and four, along with
the transition between the two. From what I have gathered from the assignment,
the goal is to reanalyze both the stages, show their adequacies and inadequacies,
then integrate the two to form a stronger quasi-stage four. I have discussed
the stage three to four “regression” in the first part of my paper, but
this segment will be more dedicated to the integration of the stage’s details,
rather than the blatant defense of the perspective.
My first job will be to show stage three’s
adequacies. Stage three is a personification of what we all wish we could
be. Noble, strong, and almost saintly, it represents all of the qualities
that everyone wants to possess. The stage is almost entirely based upon
the idea that all people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity,
regardless of the previous actions, or outward complexion. I find that
the word “faith” seems the best to describe this stage. Faith in people
around you, and in their motives.
However, some of the shortfalls of stage
three are very aptly listed in the handout packet. It can be indeterminate,
arbitrary, idealistic, indecisive, and localized. Indeterminacy has it’s
root in the enactment of the “golden rule”. It seems so simple and easy
to discuss, but in practice, it’s execution is questionable. “Do unto others
as you would wish them to do to you.” But why does that indicate that it
is the right choice? Isn’t it a matter of personal preference? Suppose
I enjoy being beaten with a bat! Does that give me the right to do it to
someone else? This rule assumes that all people share the same interests,
likes, and dislikes. If the entire population has an aversion to physical
harm, then this rule will work. However, can’t an assailant justify his
actions by proving that he enjoys physical harm? Although morally enticing,
the golden rule does not set down concrete guidelines that should mold
Localization and the in-group also propose
a significant criticism of this view. Stage three almost mandates that
those people who surround you are the most important in the world. One
should fulfill their obligations to the in-group above and beyond all others.
In other words, you must desensitize yourself to the rest of the world’s
problems, and just deal with those that involve your direct family. How
in the world can this be considered a moral competence? You are selecting
those people for whom you will show compassion and caring, and excluding
others by rule. Unfortunately, stage three has no allowance for integrating
the social contract into moral development. Instead, it totally excludes
it with this in-group system.
To close this point, I would like to raise
the hypothesis that stage three is theoretically the best stage that can
be achieved. It assumes that people are moral by nature, and with a little
guidance, can show this in their treatment of others. The assumption is
made that regardless of perspective, there are undeniable rights and respects
that every human deserves. No matter what the priorities of each individual,
they will not infringe upon the rights of others. However, in practice
it is simply not effective. Based upon the competence achieved up until
the stage three level, it seems the best policy of interaction. But in
practice, it stinks!. It just does not function on a level that would allow
it to be the predominant
method for interpersonal relations and ethical
decision-making. The system is based upon trust and values, neither of
which people tend to put much faith into.
Stage four remedies many of the stage three
inadequacies with the introduction and assimilation of a social contract.
Many of the same ideas from stage three remain, given new functionality
and definition. For instance, the golden rule has been replaced with social
reciprocity, the idea that merit is given to good citizens. The social
system itself takes over as the primary guiding focus of the people.
Because of this new agreed upon social
contract, the holes of stage three have been filled. There is no longer
the indecisive, abstract nature of the previous stage, because a contract
has been agreed upon by the masses. Not every little niche of the policy
agrees with every person, but for the most part, it holds the beliefs of
the population. A certain “golden rule” has been put into place, with designated
actions that warrant punishment. If you do this, you will be punished accordingly.
There is no chance for arbitration (although one is able to change the
system itself, or prove their innocence through the proper channels). Rules
have been set down, agreed upon, and now enforced.
At the same time, the localization of stage
three has also been removed. The system that works to enforce this “new
golden rule” has to be agreed upon by all people. It’s flavor may change
slightly from region to region, but generally, they must all follow the
same guidelines. So, just to achieve stage four we must banish the localization
of stage three. Personal priorities then follow the system. Instead of
prioritizing the in-group above all others, a new conglomerate is formed
of everyone’s in-groups into one society. The survival of that society
is supreme, since it is the chosen protector of all these familial microcosms.
Laws, rules and regulations take over for individualistic judgement, helping
to herd everyone into the proper behavior.
With this new system, we obviously lose
some of the aspects of stage three that were most attractive. We no longer
have the family dedicated, honor above-all-else person that we did in the
previous stage. He has been replaced with someone who is now, at best,
a law abiding citizen. The principles of stage three have been incorporated,
though not fully, into the pragmatism of stage four. For instance, a lawless
or unconventional act that would not have been tolerated at stage three
would be ignored at stage four so that the integrity of the social system
would not be compromised. We lose the hardcore justice orientation, and
replace it with a more flexible society-inclusive system.
Increasing the size of anything to encompass
more increases it’s complexity. Complexity means that this system is not
only hard to maintain, but increasingly slow to acquiesce to the changing
needs of the people. It takes a lot of time to change an entire society’s
interpretations. Status-quo stagnation occurs very quickly, and reform
seemingly takes forever.
So, imagine that we could take stage four,
plop in into a blender, add some stage three, and come out with an even
better system. What would we do? This is the next question to be addressed.
Looking at stage three’s and stage four’s adequacies and areas of lacking,
we need to incorporate pieces of both into an entirely new system.
The real goal is to somehow take stage
three’s interpersonal nobility and faith, and give them to a stage four
person. At the same time, we do not want to undermine the societal interactiveness
of stage four! I believe that what we end up with is the theoretical model
of a democracy. For instance, we take stage four’s society agreed upon
contract (assuming that it is somewhat noble, as opposed to something from
the Third Reich). We now assume that an act has been committed that borders
between criminality and unconventionalism. How could we approach this?
Stage three says: “If it isn’t a threat to my immediate person, or those
who surround me, then don’t worry about it.” Stage four would reply: “What
of it’s effect on the social system, is it against the law?” What we really
need to do is combine the two perspectives. If this act is first viewed
to warrant public action (an arrest, trial, or hearing), then that should
be the course of action. It is what takes place next that is very important.
During the proceedings, each and every person must come to terms with it
in their own way. They must decide if it is destructive, constructive,
or indifferent. As a group, they must decide on the best course of action.
This way we have incorporated the individualistic judgement and nobility
of each person and fused it with societal administration. In addition,
we have allowed each person to place part of their own golden rule interpretation
into the system.
By carefully combining the features of
two very different stages, we have come up with a system that is better
suited to meeting the needs of a population. Unfortunately, it was invented
hundreds of years ago, and implemented in the United States Constitution.
Granted, it does not work perfectly, but it seems a suitable compromise
when considering the alternatives. It may be a slow process, and one that
can be abused to fit one’s needs, but it is the only one that incorporates
the individual into the molding of the system.
The final part of this paper will be dedicated
to the combination of two very different arenas of thought, the moral development
paths of justice and care. Some have argued for and against each, some
have argued for and against both. What we will try to do is to build an
entirely new moral system on the strengths of these two. Theoretically,
we should come up with a super-competent solution, one that is better than
the two individually. Rather than try to develop this step by step and
point by point (which would be intolerable after about the second line),
I’d like to just give my interpretation of what the final product would
look like. One note: the most that can be possibly asked of any person
in any system is that they give 100 percent all the time. Therefore, any
theorizing that we do is subject to the fact that people only have the
resources to accomplish certain things.
To combine the best features of two diametrically
different institutions of thought we have to first identify what those
features are. Kohlbergian justice is the pragmatic, society oriented variety
that is admittedly dedicated to preserving social systems. Gilligan’s caring
is predicated on good interaction between people. Although they sound like
they might be trying to achieve the same things, they are going at it in
two separate ways. Kohlberg wants to invent a system by which all people
know what is expected of them. Rules are proposed, agreed upon, set down,
and enforced. Each and every person knows what is appropriate behavior.
Even at stage five, the supposed highest known stage of Kohlberg’s development,
the society rates very high. There may be different ways to approach running
a society, but there is no question that there must be something running
Gilligan seems to agree that people need
rules by which they can relate to one another. However, she seems to delve
deeper into the actual motivations of those rules. While obeying the regulations
of society, you must also show some sort of compassion and caring for other
people. As a trivial example, Kohlberg’s system would say that it was rude
to interrupt someone who is speaking. Gilligan would say that merely not
interrupting is not adequate. Instead, you must show interest in what that
person is trying to say. You must somehow relate with the speaker on some
level. In doing so, you not only draw more from his words, but you show
that you can identify with him.
Another feature of Gilligan’s work that
I feel should be integrated into the justice theme is that of self-care.
When put down in words it seems somewhat egotistical and self-centered.
Kohlberg would be interested in self-care only if it contributed to maintaining
society. But balancing the needs of the many, and the needs of the few
is the hardest part about effectively administering any group of people.
Some individuals will have very menial needs, others will say they require
luxuries. The key is to provide a method by which all people can fulfill
those needs. Self-care will differ significantly between even similar people.
So, rather than trying to meet their needs outright, it is better to just
provide a chance by which they can provide for themselves. Thus achieving
a balance between self-care and still allotted care for others. (I know,
I’m drawing the democracy parallelism again, sorry!)
Kohlberg provides us with the minimal framework
by which regulations maintain the necessities of people. If his guidelines
are followed, it can be said that everyone who lives by them will be at
least partially satisfied. Gilligan, on the other hand, shows us that there
is a much deeper level to which we can all aspire. Putting effort into
everyday interaction, from talking to listening, can greatly enhance every
experience. In doing so, we are not only improving the quality of our own
lives, but also the lives of those we interact with.
Another aspect of caring that I would like
to bring into the “justice world” is included in level three, the highest
level of caring. It states that there are absolutely no black or white
issues. What might be correct for one person, is not necessarily the same
for another. This would fill a huge hole in the Kohlberg moral development
system. Justice is largely criticized because it “forces” everyone into
a social group. It then slaps some rules down, and expects that they are
applicable to everyone. Gilligan states that this is not true, but rather,
everything is a shade of gray. Be careful though! This does not mean that
rules are now not applicable to anyone. Rather, it states that we must
use our judgement when considering transgressions of the law. There may
be special circumstances that need to be addressed.
Finally, Kohlberg’s critics have said that
stage five is too arbitrary. It is not easy to tell exactly how much one
owes to the social contract, or what to do with people who do not necessarily
agree with it. Gilligan would argue that there is a way to resolve this
conflict of interests through dialogue, attention, and compromise. Where
Kohlberg’s system leave opportunity for arbitration, Gilligan’s says that
there is no need. Instead of giving people a hard set of rules to live
by, or demanding their surrender to a contract, we could talk to them individually
and address the situation.
At the same time, justice maintains that
there are undeniable rules that must be obeyed. So, we are combining the
best of both worlds. Using Kohlberg’s justice orientation, we are guaranteeing
the sanctity of all those who have already agreed to the social contract.
Concurrently, we’re taking it upon ourselves to listen to a non-supportive
person, and possibly come to a small compromise to fit their needs.
In conclusion, it seems that there is definitely
a way to combine the Kohlberg justice theme and the Gilligan caring theme
of moral development. Mr. Kohlberg provides a method to police a society
that does not include 100 percent utopian citizens. Ms. Gilligan gives
us the ability to relate to each and every person, as a person. She indicates
ways that we can identify with their perspectives, understand their needs,
and compromise. Although the real world seems infinitely more complex than
either of these models, they bear a frightening resemblance to real societies
and real people. Maybe someday, a perfect model will be constructed, judged
by a perfect path of moral development. Until then, I hope that I have
found a good combination of these two ideas.
One last side note: I think I could spend
weeks typing a paper on this subject. There are thousands of facets of
each system that could fit into the other’s potential flaws. However, I
think I’ve been long-winded enough as it is. I have tried to make my points
as succinct and reasonable as possible, but without sacrificing exactly
what I wanted to say. Thank you for your patience.