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Conventional Morality Essay

Lawrence Kohlberg: “Physical consequences of an action determine its goodness or badness regardless of the human meaning or value of these consequences. Avoidance of punishment and unquestioning deference to power are valued in their own right, not in terms of respect for an underlying moral order supported by punishment and authority. ” (Duska, R. and Whelan, M. , 1975) Summary: The concern is for self – “Will I get into trouble for doing (or not doing) it? ” Good behaviour is associated with avoiding punishment.

Inadequacy of Stage 1 reasoning: Avoidance of punishment regardless of the ethical value of the actions is unhealthy especially under “bad” authorities such as Adolf Hitler. * Stage 2: Instrumental Relativist Orientation Lawrence Kohlberg: Right action is “that which instrumentally satisfies one’s own needs and occasionally the needs of others. ” “Human relations are viewed in terms like those of the marketplace; elements of fairness, reciprocity and equal sharing are present, but they are always interpreted in a physical or pragmatic way.

Reciprocity is a matter of ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,’ not of loyalty, gratitude or justice. ” (Duska, R. and Whelan, M. , 1975) Summary: The concern is “What’s in it for me? ” It is still egocentric in outlook but with a growing ability to see things from another person’s perspective. Action is judged right if it helps in satisfying one’s needs or involves a fair exchange. Inadequacy of Stage 2 reasoning: Where the needs of different individuals conflict, can there ever be a fair exchange? Doesn’t this conflict call for sacrifice from one of the parties?

Level 2 – Conventional Morality People at this stage conform to the conventions / rules of a society. * Stage 3: Good Boy-Nice Girl Orientation Lawrence Kohlberg: “Good behavior is that which pleases or helps others and is approved by them. There is much conformity to stereotypical images of what is majority or ‘natural’ behaviour. Behavior is frequently judged by intention. ‘He means well’ becomes important for the first time. One earns approval by being ‘nice. ‘” (Duska, R. and Whelan, M. , 1975) Summary: The concern is “What will people think of me? ” and the desire is for group approval.

Right action is one that would please or impress others. This often involves self-sacrifice but it provides the psychological pleasure of ‘approval of others. ‘ Actions are also judged in relation to their intention. Inadequacy of Stage 3 reasoning: * Same person, different roles OR Different groups, different expectations * Different people, different roles * People not living up to their duties or roles * Stage 4: Law and Order Orientation Lawrence Kohlberg: “Right behavior consists in doing one’s duty, showing respect for authority and maintaining the given social order for its own sake.

” A person in this stage “orients to society as a system of fixed rule, law and authority with the prospect of any deviation from rules as leading to social chaos. ” (Duska, R. and Whelan, M. , 1975) Summary: The concern now goes beyond one’s immediate group(s) to the larger society … to the maintenance of law and order. One’s obligation to the law overrides one’s obligations of loyalty to one’s family, friends and groups. To put it simply, no one or group is above the law. Inadequacy of Stage 4 reasoning: * Unquestioning obedience toward authority is unhealthy.

* Accepted social order may not be the best possible order. The laws of society may even be bad. Level 3 – POSTConventional Morality The moral principles that underline the conventions of a society in this level are understood. * Stage 5: Social Contract Orientation Lawrence Kohlberg: “Generally with utilitarian overtones. Right action tends to be defined in terms of general individual rights and in terms of standards which have been critically examined and agreed upon by the whole society … with an emphasis upon the possibility of changing law in terms of rational consideration of social utility (rather than rigidly maintaining it in terms of Stage 4 law and order). ” (Duska, R. and Whelan, M. , 1975) Summary:

The concern is social utility or public interest. While rules are needed to maintain social order, they should not be blindly obeyed but should be set up (even changed) by social contract for the greater good of society. Right action is one that protects the rights of the individual according to rules agreed upon by the whole society. Inadequacy of Stage 5 reasoning: How do we arrive at a consensus on the rules that are good for society?

Should a majority group impose their preferences on a minority group? What if you disagree with the decision of the majority? * Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principle Orientation Lawrence Kohlberg: “Right is defined by the decision of conscience in accord with self-chosen ethical principles appealing to logical comprehensiveness, universality and consistency. These principles are abstract and ethical (the golden rule, the categorical imperative) and are not concrete moral rules like the Ten Commandments.

At heart, these are universal principles of justice, of the reciprocity and equality of human rights, and of respect for the dignity of human beings as individual persons. ” (Duska, R. and Whelan, M. , 1975) Summary: The concern is for moral principles … an action is judged right if it is consistent with self-chosen ethical principles. These principles are not concrete moral rules but are universal principles of justice, reciprocity, equality and human dignity. Inadequacy of Stage 6 reasoning: Our conscience is not an infallible guide to behaviour because it works according to the principles we have adopted.

Moreover, who or what determines these universal principles? Although moral reasoning does not necessarily lead to moral action, the latter is based in part on one’s capacity to reason about moral choices. Kohlberg was more concerned with the reasoning of the action than the action itself. And that reasoning when acted upon becomes our motivation. II – ETHICAL RELATIVISM * Cultural Relativism (sociological relativism): The descriptive view that different groups of people have different moral standards for evaluating acts as right or wrong. A.

Hence, it is not an ethical doctrine–it’s a sociological or observational conclusion–even so; the view is somewhat ambiguous. B. For example, different groups might have the same basic moral principle, but apply the principle in radically different situations. 1. A second sense of cultural relativism is less obvious. I. e. , that different cultures differ on basic moral principles. 2. A possible reason for the observation of cultural relativism is shown by the example of basic moral principles which could be said to support different moral rules according to the interpretations of different cultures.

In the following diagrams, there are two vastly different interpretations listed for each moral principle. * Ethical Relativism: the prescriptive view that (1) different groups of people ought to have different ethical standards for evaluating acts as right or wrong, (2) these different beliefs are true in their respective societies, and (3) these different beliefs are not instances of a basic moral principle. A. The ethical relativist often derives support for his position by two basic mistakes: 1.

The relativist confuses cultural (or sociological) relativism with ethical relativism, but cultural relativism is a descriptive view and ethical relativism is a prescriptive view. (E. g. , cultural relativismdescribes the way the way people actually behave, and ethical relativism prescribes the way people ought to behave. 2. The ethical relativist often argues as follows: “An absolute ethical standard has never been proved beyond doubt in the history of thought. Thus, an absolute ethical standard does not exist. ” This argument is an instance ad ignorantiam fallacy.

p is unproved; not-p is true. From the fact that a statement has not been proved, we can logically draw no conclusion. B. Objections to ethical relativism. 1. The Differing Ideals Objection (or, as it is sometimes called, the linguistic objection): it is inconsistent to say that the same practice is considered right in one society and considered wrong in another. (If “right” and “wrong” are to have consistent meaning, then the terms must be used in the same manner. ) Possible counter-objections (by the ethical relativist): a.

The relativist sometimes states that “right” and “wrong” have no consistent meaning. These words reflect only emotion or perhaps the ceremonial use of language. In other words, this defense shades into ethical subjectivism. Counter-counter-objection (by ethical absolutist): The problem with believing that “right” and “wrong” have no consistent meaning is the ordinary use of words in this case results in meaninglessness. What would happen if people used the same word in different situations to refer to different things? Communication would not take place. b.

Some ethical relativists believe ethical words are reducible to non-ethical values; e. g. , these words have to do with recommendations for survival or well-being. Counter-counter-objection (by ethical absolutist): the problem here is just the difficulty of understanding the nature of a non-ethical value. Would a non-ethical value be an aesthetic value? c. Some relativists believe we can justify relativism by intuition, revelation, authority, etc. Counter-counter-objection (by ethical absolutist): these attempts are subjectively based; they differ from time to time and place to place.

2. Mental Health Objection to ethical relativism (from the definition or criterion of a group): If “what is right in one group is wrong in another,” where exactly does one group end and another begin? Counter-objections to the Mental Health Objection (by the relativist): * Right and wrong are to be determined in the situation. * Right and wrong are to be determined by what the majority determine at the time and place. * Right and wrong are ultimately established by power or authority. 3.

Ad Populum Objection to the relativist’s belief that ethics is established by what most people believe: Simply because most people think something is right does not thereby make it right. Simply because most people think a statement is true does notmake that statement true Counter-objections to the ad populum objection (by the relativist): a. The same difficulty of establishing the meaning of “right” and “wrong” exits for the absolutist, pari passu. The absolutist has been unable to state a universally agreed upon meaning to the terms.

(Notice that this response is a variant of the ad hominem—tu quoque.) b. Other solutions to the questions of the meaning of key ethical terms according to the relativist are possible by appealing to survival value, consensus gentium, and so on 4. Moral Progress Objection: If ethical relativism were correct, there could be no such thing as moral improvement or purpose in cultures or a person’s life. To have improvement, we must have a standard by which to judge the difference in moral values. Counter-objections (by the relativist): a. That’s correct–we can make no such judgment that one society is better than another. We could only judge by our own values.

b. If something like “survival value” is used to ground moral beliefs, then moral improvement might be identified with “increased knowledge concerning survival of the society. ” * Ethical Absolutism: the prescriptive view that there are basic or fundamental ethical principles which are true without qualification or exception as to time, condition, or circumstance. * Ethical Nihilism: the view that ethical terms such as “right” and “wrong” have no meaning or are nonsense. A. Objection: but something is meant when we say, “X is wrong. ” Counter-objections (by the nihilist):

1. If there is no empirical meaning to the terms, they have no “cash value. ” (Q. v. , positivism. ) 2. “Whatever can be said, can be said clearly. ” The burden of proof that the terms have meaning is on the non-nihilist. * Ethical Skepticism: the view that ethical terms such as “right” and “wrong” might have meaning but their meaning cannot be established. A. Objection to skepticism at this point is methodological. Ethical skepticism should not be held a priori at the beginning of an investigation but should only be a possible outcome after a thorough study.


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