Duties and responsibilities in adulthood: integrating care and justice perspectives


Modern democratic societies provide their members with latitude for choice regarding values and moral codes, in interpersonal relations, professional life, as well as political views on a fair society. This chapter examines two research traditions in moral psychology which view adult moral thinking in terms of reflective problem solving aroused by moral conflicts. Pertinent therein are dilemmas, that is, difficult situations in which two or more moral values collide and the individual is unsure about the right thing to do. The Piaget-inspired cognitive-developmental theory founded by Lawrence Kohlberg laid emphasis on the conceptions of justice as a core of moral reasoning and development across lifespans. This view was challenged by Carol Gilligan (1982), who argued that justice does not capture the essence of interpersonal moral conflicts women encounter in their everyday lives and suggested an alternative mode of moral reasoning, the ethic of care, to increase understanding of the essential nature of moral thought.

This chapter describes justice and care as specific modes of moral reasoning that follow developmental trajectories of their own and equip individuals with cognitive tools to solve moral conflicts they encounter in their lives. Despite their differences both of these modes represent the ethic of autonomy, viewing moral agents as free and independent decision-makers, which is a dominant moral discourse in Western countries (see Ghapter 6). A great deal of duties and responsibilities assigned to individuals can thus be understood through care and justice reasoning. According to the updated, neo-Kohlbergian view, moral reasoning alone is not enough to constitute moral action: sensitivity to moral issues, motivation to prioritise moral values, ego strength, and implementation skills are needed as well (Rest, Narvaez, Bebeau, & Thoma, 1999). Moral reasoning, also called moral judgment or moral problem solving, or decision-making, still stands for the most important determinant of qualified moral action.

Kohlberg's stages in justice reasoning development

Kohlberg (1976, 1984) was an advocate for the cognitive-developmental paradigm in moral psychology. This paradigm views individuals as active agents constructing moral knowledge in interaction with their social environments. His famous theory of moral development still lays a frame of reference for the contemporary research in moral psychology. While many of his presuppositions have been questioned (e.g., Wark & Krebs, 1996), the emphasis on cognitive processes in moral functioning and viewing moral growth in terms of development, that is, improvements in moral thinking, are still regarded as valid by the neo-Kohlbergian approach. This approach has grown out of the work by Kohlberg’s student James Rest and his associates, Bebeau, Narvaez, and Thoma, and it has made the most important contribution to renewing his theory (Rest et al., 1999).

Kohlberg (1984) held the belief that the content of moral judgment (moral belief, opinion, or value) is distinct from the structure of moral judgment. Structure refers to the general organisation of patterns of thoughts. Moral development results from the transformation of those cognitive structures, which takes place across the lifespan. This enables individuals to comprehend rights and duties from increasingly complex perspectives. The developmental stages are thus structural wholes that give the individual the general conceptual framework and a specific sense of certainty when reasoning about moral conflicts. Thus, in order to understand the meaning of an individual’s specific moral beliefs, one has to understand the present conceptual framework (stage) within which those beliefs are embedded (see Juujarvi, 2003). The stages are displayed in Table 5.1.

According to Kohlberg, growth in moral development takes place through advances in role-taking that result in increasingly complex social perspectives and an improved understanding of conceptions of fairness and justice. Kohlberg’s emphasis on the primacy of justice was inspired by the Nazi era, which raised the question of how civil disobedience against the regime could be justified in moral terms. Like Piaget, Kohlberg saw justice as central to morality, and assumed that a given Piagetian operational stage was a necessary prerequisite of the corresponding justice stage (see Chapters 2 and 3). Moral development beyond adolescence and through to adulthood could be described by using just-ice-based dilemmas as stimuli in research.

An example of a Kohlbergian dilemma from his Moral Judgment Interview is the euthanasia dilemma. A respondent has to choose whether or not the doctor should illegally give a lethal dose of morphine to a terminally ill cancer patient who is in terrible pain and asks him for a drug that will kill her. While both choices can be justified by arguments that may represent any stage, higher stage arguments are based on more differentiated social perspective taking than lower stage arguments. The choices at Stage 2, the first stage that is found among adults, are simple: it is right to

TABLE 5.1 Kohlberg’s stages ofjustice reasoning: social perspectives and criteria of what is right (adapted from Kohlberg, 1976). Printed with permission. Copyright The Finnish Educational Research Association

1 Heteronomous morality

Egocentric perspective. Does not recognize that other people’s perspective differs from the actor’s; confuses authority’s perspective with one’s own.

What is right. Avoidance of punishment and obedience of authorities.

2 Instrumental purpose and exchange

Concrete individualistic perspective. Aware that all people have their own interests to pursue and these conflict, so that right is relative.

What is right. Following rules only when it is to someone’s immediate interest; acting to meet one’s own interests and letting others do the same. Right is also what is fair, what is an equal exchange, a deal, an agreement.

3 Mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and interpersonal conformity Perspective of the individual in relationship with other individuals. Aware of shared feelings, agreements, and expectations which take primacy over individual interests. Relates points of view through the Golden Rule.

What is right. Living up to what is expected of people close to you or what people generally expect of people in your role as son, sister, friend. “Being good" is important and means having good motives.

4 Social system and conscience

Perspective of the system that defines roles and rules. Differentiates societal point of view from interpersonal agreements. Considers individual relations in terms of place in the system. What is right. Fulfilling the actual duties to which you have agreed. Laws are to be upheld except in extreme cases where they conflict with other fixed duties. Right is also contributing to society, the group, or institution.

5 Postconventional or principled morality

Prior-to-society perspective. Perspective of a rational individual aware of values and rights prior to social attachments and contracts. Integrates perspectives by the formal mechanisms of agreement, contract, objective impartiality, and due process.

What is right. Being aware that people hold a variety of values and opinions that most values and rules are relative to your group. These relative rules should usually be upheld in the interest of impartiality because they are the social contract. Some nonrelative values and rights like life and liberty', however, must be upheld in any society and regardless of majority opinion.

give the patient the drug, because she wants it, or it is not right because the doctor might risk going to jail. At Stage 3, it is the motives and interpersonal relations that count. Consequently, euthanasia is right if everybody, including the relatives and medical colleagues agree on that, or it is wrong because good people obey the law. From the Stage 4 social system perspective, the ethics of the medical profession could be interpreted as a duty to show mercy and relieve suffering, or alternatively, as a commitment to preserve life. Finally, from the prior-to-society' perspective at Stage 5, mercy killing could be defended by invoking the fundamental right of a person to decide about her life and death, or opposed by' invoking long-term consequences of disobeying the law. Kohlberg originally established Stage 6 of universal principled morality as the endpoint of development, but Stage 5 is the highest stage found in empirical studies (Snarey, 1985).

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