Harvard Educational Review
  1. Moral Development

    A Compendium

    Edited by Bill Puka

    New York: Garland, 1994. 7 volumes, 2,784 pp. $454.00

    Bill Puka, a professor at Rensselaer Institute, has compiled over one hundred articles and commentaries into a seven-volume compendium of moral development literature touching on a variety of approaches, but focusing centrally around the cognitive-developmental tradition of Lawrence Kohlberg. Although many different opinions are represented in the collection, including an entire volume on criticism, the central task of the compendium seems to be to trace the evolution of Kohlberg's conception of moral development and present a wide range of subsequent research and debate based on his theoretical approach and findings.

    Editor Puka begins his introduction to this series by defining his vision of the field of moral development, saying the field "focuses most on how we think about these ethical issues (using our cognitive competencies) and how we act as a result" (vol. 1, p. vii). Puka's framing of the field of moral development in this way is telling, and characterizes both the vision that guides this compendium and the Kohlbergian approach that it sets out to illuminate. To situate this compendium within the history of the field of moral development, I will address both of Puka's assertions made in the statement above.

    I agree with Puka's suggestion that the mainstream of the moral development field has been, and remains, largely dominated by Kohlberg's cognitive-developmental model. This model focuses on "cognitive competencies" to the exclusion of other aspects of moral experience, such as emotions and passions, empathy, self-knowledge, personal relationships, and various forms of identity. As this compendium attests, much of the energy of the moral development field in the last twenty-five years has been dedicated to Kohlberg's theory, either in support and refinement or in criticism and challenge.

    Despite this, it is hardly fair to suggest, as Puka does, that Kohlberg's theoretical approach, in itself, constitutes "the field" of moral development. The non-Kohlbergian articles in this compendium deal with aspects of moral experience other than cognitive development, and even these articles do not adequately represent all the approaches and concerns within the moral development field. These critical essays speak clearly and forcefully of the need to transcend Kohlberg's narrow definition of morality as a particular form of liberal justice, and to reconceptualize moral experience as more than an abstract form of justice reasoning.

    Puka's second assertion is that Kohlberg's focus and measurement of cognitive competencies leads us to understand "how we act as a result." This contention seems to me to rest on even shakier ground. It suggests that Kohlberg's theory bridges the chasm between ideal moral thought and actual moral action; that is, that a particular Kohlberg "stage" of moral development (an individual's cognitive moral capacity) will determine to a large extent how a person will respond in an actual moral dilemma. To my knowledge, this link between cognitive competencies and moral action has never been established, and remains a major weakness in the approach, a point raised by more than one of the critics included in this series. Since Kohlberg's theory leaves out other aspects of human experience that are commonly cited as important contributors to moral agency — such as compassion, empathy, sensitivity, and emotional responsiveness — it seems unlikely that this approach will ever be able to clarify the relationship between moral thought and moral action. As Puka himself acknowledges:

    At higher levels, sophisticated moral reasoning can weave brilliantly self-deceptive rationalizations, ideal for hypocrisy. It not only weaves paths around responsibilities, but helps us feel justified in avoiding them. (vol. 7, p. xi)

    Despite these and other problems with the Kohlbergian approach, his theory and the research it has generated must be carefully considered. This series serves the purpose of collecting articles both illustrative of and critical of Kohlberg's central moral developmental claims, and offers historical perspectives explicating this important part of the field.

    Moral Development: A Compendium is organized into seven volumes as follows: volume one includes Kohlberg's explication of his theory and a smattering of alternative approaches to understanding moral development; volume two contains research and retheorizing by Kohlberg's followers; volume three reprints Kohlberg's 1956 dissertation, the original study on which he built his theory. Volume four, entitled The Great Justice Debate, consists of criticisms of Kohlberg's theory that focus on the philosophical inadequacy and culturally biased nature of Kohlberg's conception of morality as a particular liberal conception of justice; volume five provides new research in the cognitive developmental tradition; and volume six focuses on critiques of Kohlberg's theory, especially that of Carol Gilligan and other researchers who focus on the "different voice" of the "care" moral orientation. The final volume of the series presents articles that explore important aspects of human experience relevant to moral development — aggression, forgiveness, altruism, empathy, moral emotions, sense of responsibility, guilt, virtues, and education — that Puka calls "the most powerful motivators of action, emotional needs and feelings" (p. xi). The research offered in volume seven neither constitutes a separate approach in itself, nor is it coordinated theoretically in relation to the central Kohlbergian paradigm. Unfortunately, there is little commentary throughout the compendium addressing the similarities and differences among Kohlberg's perspectives and the other views included, a void that in many ways replicates the situation in the field in which theorists of various and potentially contradictory perspectives rarely engage in dialogue.

    Edmund Sullivan suggests in volume four that the historical importance of Kohlberg's legacy is situated in what his theory purported to offer to the social sciences in the aftermath of World War II and in response to social unrest:

    As the sixties decried the "value-free" emptiness of the social sciences, Kohlberg's theory entered the scene as knight in shining armor. In a culture deeply involved in moral problems related to race, poverty, and war, this theory offered a concept of justice which promised to deal with the quagmire of value relativity. (vol. 4, p. 47)

    Kohlberg's legacy, however, while well-meaning, has failed for a number of reasons to fulfill the promise of giving our society an understanding of morality, moral experience, and moral development that adequately supports moral growth or illuminates moral action. In his own article, Puka observes that

    [Kohlberg] decided that a particular philosophical tradition had defined the scope and adequacy of morality best. Then he set its view up as a somewhat a priori standard for moral psychology and development. (vol. 4, p. 375)

    Kohlberg chose as his guiding principle the preordained limiting of morality to that which is articulated and recognized by the Kantian form of liberal justice. This conceptualization of morality has serious consequences because it defines as irrelevant huge portions of what is commonly recognized to be within the moral domain. The aspects of moral experience that remain — abstract justice reasoning — then dictate a methodology for assessment that only serves to reaffirm the belief that moral judgment is strictly cognitive in nature. As Stranghan states:

    Kohlberg's methodology, by its very nature, virtually equates moral agency with the making of judgments about hypothetical ethical dilemmas, and this orientation must impose severe limitations on what he can say about morality proper and the real-life business of moral decision-making. (vol. 4, p. 171)

    It is also observed that there is an element of cultural bias and ethnocentricity in Kohlberg's hierarchy of moral reasoning, where reasoning is defined as the rational application of abstract principles of justice and equality, something not valued or practiced equally across cultures (Simpson, vol. 4, p. 19). Even within our own cultural tradition, there are myriad philosophies and perspectives on what is right and good, and no simple, unequivocal hierarchy has ever been agreed upon. Citing Alasdair MacIntyre's philosophical work After Virtue, Richard Schweder argues in volume four that

    if MacIntyre is right, diverse moral philosophies (e.g. Kohlberg's "stages") do not line up along some Jacob's ladder ascending to the rational recognition of the inalienable rights of man. Instead, diverse moral philosophies are coexisting and incommensurate points, and to adopt any one philosophy (e.g. stage six individual rights over stage five social utility over stage four virtue) is merely to assert one's personal or collective preference. (vol. 4, p. 72)

    While Kohlberg's work at least addresses cultural issues, it does not manifest an awareness of possible effects of socioeconomic class within our own society, Sullivan argues. Kohlberg, he says, like many of his predecessors in the liberal tradition, does not take account of "the blindness produced by one's place in the social structure" (vol. 4, p. 67).

    The other main issue of debate in this compendium is how to understand the role of gender in moral development. Gender has a complex relationship to every aspect of moral experience because the social construction of gender affects and defines socialization patterns, social role expectations, and differing gender identities with their attendant values, priorities, vulnerabilities, and ideologies. Despite an abundance of research, theorizing, and critical commentary on the role of gender in Kohlberg's research, the articles included in these volumes neither put to rest the so-called "Kohlberg-Gilligan debate" nor substantially clarify its terms. This is, at least in part, because the reader is left wondering if the two parties to this debate are speaking to each other. Gilligan's critique of Kohlberg's position and research go well beyond the familiar claim that his research protocol and scoring, having been normed on a male sample, discriminated against females. While evidence is presented by Walker suggesting that females can do as well as males on Kohlberg's revised methodology (vol. 6), Gilligan's broader critique of Kohlberg's masculinist worldview — emphasizing Kohlberg's hierarchical ordering of abstract principles, the irrelevance (or tainting effect) of emotion and personal relationship, and radical, self-defined autonomy and individualism — challenge central features of Kohlberg's approach. Kohlberg, however, seemed not to even feel the need to defend these concepts so foundational to his paradigm.

    Despite many devastating criticisms of Kohlberg's approach, no one has yet offered a broad-ranging alternative. Students of moral development will find this compendium useful for providing both a rich background of Kohlberg's successes and several critiques of the failures and oversights in his paradigm and methodology. Much of the criticism in this series suggests that we must reconceptualize moral experience, and holistically combine the rational with the passionate, interpersonal understanding with personal integrity, personal history with social context. Until we move beyond a simplistic understanding of moral experience and a rigid definition of moral development, we can hardly hope to comprehend, let alone articulate, the best ways to nurture moral selves and moral communities with a sense of agency to respond morally in their lives — the central goal and measure of any moral development theory.

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    Book Notes

    Moral Development
    Edited by Bill Puka

    Places of Inquiry
    By Burton R. Clark

    Teaching and Learning in History
    Edited by Gaea Leinhardt, Isabel L. Beck, and Catherine Stainton.

    School-Based Management
    Edited by Susan Albers Mohrman and Priscilla Wohlstetter.

    Developing Home-School Partnerships
    By Susan McAllister Swap

    Over the Ivy Walls
    By Patricia Gandara

    Composition as a Cultural Practice
    By Alan W. France

    Fugitive Cultures
    By Henry Giroux

    A New Generation of Evidence
    Edited by Anne Henderson and Nancy Berla.

    By Molly Ladd-Taylor.

    Beyond Tracking
    Edited by Harbison Pool and Jane A. Page

    School-Community Connections
    Edited by Leo C. Rigsby, Maynard C. Reynolds, and Margaret C. Wang.

    Bird by Bird
    By Anne Lamott

    The International Education Quotations Encyclopaedia
    Edited by Keith Allan Noble

    Learning from Strangers
    By Robert S. Weiss