A site of endless curiosity

What stage are you in the development of moral reasoning?

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Read the related article – The Sociopath Next Door

Read the story and decide what you would do

A woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of Radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to produce. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife.

Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?

A Theory of Moral Development

What follows below is is a very brief (and incomplete) version of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development

First a few terms

Conscience – The sense of obligation based on emotional attachment to others.  ( Read much more )
Moral reasoning – the process by which we determine just what the obligations consist of and how to accomplish it.

The development of moral reasoning consists of a progression across these three stages.

1. Pre-moral reasoning ( Children 7-10 years old )

Defer to adult authority and obey rules based on the expectation of punishment

2. Conventional societal reasoning ( Children at about age 10 )

Decisions are guided by the opinions of other people and a desire to conform.  Obeying authority becomes a value in itself without reference to rewards and punishment or higher principles

3.  Post-conventional morality ( starts in adolescence but seldom achieved even in adulthood)

The individual formulates abstract moral principle and acts on them to satisfy his own conscience rather than to gain the approval of others.  This includes abstract concepts such as freedom, dignity, justice, and respect for life.

So what is your answer to Heinz’s moral dilemma?

  • A response of “Heinz should not have done that because he would have been punished” gets you a moral development stage of “Pre-moral
  • A response such as “No, he should not have stolen the drug.  Stealing is against the law. Everyone knows that.” gets you to the Conventional societal reasoning stage
  • A response such as “Human life is more important than money, and the sanctity of life was a moral law that superceded society’s rules about stealing.  So, Heinz should steal the drug.” gets you the highest form of moral reasoning – Post-conventional

So what does this have to do with sociopaths and Dr. Stouts proposition that 1 in 25 people in the population is a sociopath?

What has gone wrong in sociopaths is conscience.  There is no obligation or attachment to others so the whole process of Moral Reasoning (what obligations do I have to others and how do I accomplish it) goes out the window.  Moral reasoning simply does not exist because sociopaths are devoid of a conscience.

Don’t take the last piece of pizza

This theory of moral reasoning revolves around an assessment of societal norms.  But what happens when these societal norms move and adapt from generation to generation? 

In the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck about the Great Depression in the 1930’s the Joads family refuses to take charity.  It was beyond their dignity to take charity.  They refuse charity ( “relief” when offered and continue to look for work.

The last clear definite function of man—muscles aching to work, minds aching to create beyond the single need—this is man. To build a wall, to build a house, a dam, and in the wall and house and dam to put something of Manself, and to Manself take back something of the wall, the house the dam; to take hard muscles from the lifting, to take the clear lines and form from conceiving. For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges ahead of his accomplishments.

At the time of this writing in 2010, people can be on unemployment benefits for 92 weeks.  Unlike the Joads in the Steinbeck novel, people today are not embarrassed to continue unemployment benefits for as long as possible and to pass up work if the “free” benefits remain.

In a story a few months ago, an employer offered an out of work individual a job.  The individual asked if he could start in 4 weeks from now.  The employer asking why delay the start by 4 weeks  got a response that the individual still had 4 weeks unemployment benefits left and would begin work only after the benefits ran out.

So, is this person a sociopath?  Or, is society moving in such as way that what was sociopathic (no obligation to others and self-centered)  a generation ago is now the new statistical societal norm? 

If it is the new statistical societal norm than the vast majority of people at stage two (Conventional societal reasoning stage) have a new standard in moral judgement and the welfare state is well on its way to be a morally acceptable way of life – ( until the federal government runs out of other people’s money )

Written by frrl

June 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. No, I think he should not have stolen the drug. Doing so stems from an attitude of entitlement which must eventually collapse as there become more consumers than producers. Furthermore, if this behavior becomes wide spread, it will eliminate the incentives for future researchers so that eventually people will be dieing not from lack of ability to pay but from lack of any known cure at all. The best behavior is that which sustains the species, not the individual.

    Elwood Downey

    June 27, 2010 at 2:40 am

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