Broadening the view of morality, and a study of moral development


The aim of this chapter is to describe how the conceptualisation of what is moral has broadened from Kohlberg’s (1984) and Gilligan’s (1982) views, presented in Chapter 5, and how that has influenced the study of moral development.

Simply put, moral beliefs are socially shared beliefs about what bad/wrong or good/ right is and what one thinks should or should not be done according to a code of conduct put forward in a smaller or larger group (Gert, 2015). Furthermore, it is stated that moral beliefs differ from attitudes and nonns, for example, so that they appear to be perceived as more objective and universally true and are treated as morally motivating and obligatory (Skitka, 2010; Turiel, 1983). It is worth noting that it is common to differentiate between ethics and morals, and ethics is often referred to as a philosophical study of morality. However, in moral psychology, the concepts of “ethics” and “morals” tend to be used interchangeably and fairly freely, and typically both of them are used to refer to everyday views of right and wrong (e.g., Rest & Narvaez, 1994).

Furthermore, moral psychology has a long tradition of defining morality and moral issues by drawing on philosophy (e.g., Blasi, 1990; Lapsley & Narvaez, 2005). Such research that would have been truly open to respondents’ personal views and definitions of morality has been missing. Typically, a researcher selects the issues that she or he considers to be moral questions, and then research participants respond by choosing from preselected options, as on questionnaires (Makiniemi, 2016). However, there is disagreement among researchers about what should belong to the moral domain (e.g., Kugler, Jost, & Noorbaloochi, 2014; Suhler & Churchland, 2011). For example, it has been suggested that work-related values, which are not explicitly included in any moral psychology approach, should be defined as moral values (Myyry & Helkama, 2001). It has also been noted that if the definition of morality is too restricted, relevant lay views of morality may be excluded (Blasi, 1990; Vainio, 2005). Therefore, we assume that theories and methods should be broad or open and able to capture possible novel themes and lay definitions associated with the moral domain (cf. Makiniemi, 2016; Makiniemi, Pirttilâ-Backman, & Pieri, 2011, 2013).

Nonetheless, views about the principles that are considered moral ones have broadened in recent decades. In the 1980s, Gilligan’s (1982) approach broadened and complemented Kohlberg’s (1984) approach of justice-based moral reasoning by focusing on the development of care-based moral reasoning. Evidently, the above-mentioned important debate within moral psychology regarding what belongs to the moral domain has broadened the view of the criteria that characterise morality. Furthermore, a step towards the triadic view of morality was taken in the 1990s with the introduction of the big three of morality: autonomy, community, and divinity (Shweder, Much, Mahapatra, & Park, 1997), and ultimately, the fivefold view of the moral domain was presented in the 2000s by Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues (e.g., Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009). The need to broaden the scope of morality mainly stemmed from cross-cultural and anthropological findings indicating that justice and harm-based morality are not the most relevant aspects of morality outside of Western countries, and therefore, create too narrow a frame of reference for comparative studies (e.g., Haidt & Kesebir, 2010).

Approaches to studying moral issues can be placed along a continuum from moral universalism to moral relativism. Cognitive-developmental approaches (e.g. Kohlberg, see Chapter 5) emphasise the elements that are common across different cultures and social groups and characterise morality as a domain that is perceived as universal and generalisable (e.g., Turiel, 1983). However, in practice, it has been shown that the issues viewed as belonging to the moral domain in one culture or subculture may be perceived as belonging to the personal or social domain in another, supporting the notion of some kind of moral relativism coexisting with the universal aspects of moral reasoning (e.g., Shweder, Mahapatra, & Miller, 1987; Sverdlik, Roccas, & Sagiv, 2012). Within the cognitive-developmental approaches, the universally shared structure of moral reasoning is understood to be distinct from the content, which may vary culturally (e.g., Kohlberg, 1969, 1971; Piaget, 1932), whereas cultural psychological approaches do not make a clear distinction between the structure and content. For example, Richard Shweder and colleagues (1987) suggested that, culturally, there are both universal and variable aspects in what is regarded as structure in the cognitive-developmental approach. In order to capture this variation across different approaches, we use the broad definition proposed by Lind (1992), where structure refers to the relationship of elements of moral reasoning, and content refers to the elements themselves, such as values that people use for justifying their moral views or behaviours and the issues that are discussed.

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