Psychology of Altruism and Morality

Psychology of Altruism and Morality
The two competing theoretical frameworks that attempt to explain the development of morality are cognitive-behavioral and cognitive-developmental. The cognitive-behavioral approach is taken by Liebert, and the cognitive-developmental approach is taken by Kohlberg.
Both sides have strong arguments that support their own theories and try to tear apart the opposing theory.

The cognitive-developmental approach has been studied extensively by Lawrence
Kohlberg. Through his studies using moral dilemmas, Kohlberg developed his six stages of
moral development. In these stages, Kohlberg concentrates on the reasons why people act the way they do; not the way they think about their actions or what action they take, but the reasoning behind their actions.

The six stages that Kohlberg defines are grouped into three levels, with two levels at each stage. They are grouped as follows:

Level 1 - Preconventional / Pre Moral

*Stage 1: Punishment & Obedience - Actions that are punished are wrong.
*Stage 2: Instrumental Relativist Orientation - focus is on the self.

How will my actions reward me?

Level 2 - Conventional

*Stage 3: People at stage three begin to value the respect of the opinion and
values of other.
*Stage 4: Law and Order - Appreciation for rules, laws, and regulations of society.

Level 3 - Post Conventional

*Stage 5: Social Contrast Legalistic Orientation
*Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principle

These stages are important to Kohlberg?s four most general beliefs. One of Kohlberg?s first assertions is that people advance through these stages in an invariant sequence. Advancement through these stages occurs in order from 1 - 6, with no stages skipped, and there is no regression. Kohlberg?s second assertion is that people cannot comprehend reasoning more than one stage ahead of their current stage. Kohlberg also believes that people are attracted to higher stage reasoning because it is more adequate, and finally, stage movement is motivated by cognitive disequilibrium.

The cognitive-developmental approach is supported by research done by Kohlberg and other researchers who have attempted to replicate Kohlberg?s findings. One study conducted by John Snarey and Joseph Reimer attempted to prove the cultural universality of Kohlberg?s stages. The study, conducted in Turkey, was a longitudinal study using ninety-two kibbutz-born Israeli?s. The results were consistent with Kohlberg?s studies done in both the United States and Turkey, making the cultural universality argument stronger.

Contradicting the cognitive-developmental approach is the cognitive-behavioral
approach, which is the position taken by Robert Liebert. This approach asserts that ?there are universal moral principles, found at the end of the progression, the cultivation of which will elevate the human condition.? (Liebert 1984) The relativist approach is expressed through cognitive-behaviorism, believing that there are no absolute truths. Moral development is approached on an individual, case-by-case basis, and the development of morals is the development of moral sophistication. Individual?s actions are determined by cues taken from their surroundings.

Research done to support the cognitive-behaviorist approach have been done by
psychologists Liebert and Lickona. When writing about moral education in children, Liebert states ?the best way to ensure that the child will display any desired response is to teach the response explicitly, model it consistently, and reinforce it reliably.? (Liebert 1984) Lickona found that ??simply telling the child straight out that a judgment based on intentions was right, and explaining why this was so? was more effective than any of three more elaborate methods designed to stimulate underlying moral structures.? (Lickona 1971, cited in Liebert 1984)

The most compelling argument for the cognitive-developmental approach is the
extensive research is the cross-cultural research done by Kohlberg and his associates.
Throughout all of their research, there have been very few flaws. Using an array of different subjects, and a wide variety of testers, results have been very consistent in finding a pattern among the scoring of moral development.

Support for the cognitive-behaviorist approach can be found in problems with Piaget?s work. Based on a study done by Austin, Ruble, and Trabasso (1977), Liebert concluded that ?the observed difference between older and younger children?s moral judgments turns out to rest on strictly cognitive grounds and does not reflect an additional change in underlying values or moral understanding.? (Liebert 1984)

As I have mentioned in other papers, I tend to lean toward the cognitive-behaviorism approach, even though there is persuasive evidence for the opposing view. With the research and views given, I cannot say that I will never change my mind, but I believe that the evidence given persuades me to favor relativism.

Psychology of Altruism and Morality 9.1 of 10 on the basis of 2460 Review.