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									                      Rival Traditions of Character Development:

        Classical Moral Philosophy and Contemporary Empirical Science

                                         David W. Lutz
                                     University of St. Thomas

 Excerpts from a paper presented to the Joint Services Conference on Professional Ethics XVII
                          Washington, D.C. - January 25-26, 1996

While a solid foundation has been laid, there is still work to be done to increase our
understanding of the excellent military commander’s virtues and the way they are acquired.

In looking for a theory of character development for military leaders, we have two major options.
The virtue ethics tradition of Plato, Aristotle, and others is both a theory of morality and a theory
of moral development. One acquires the virtues by acting virtuously. Becoming virtuous is good
both for other persons and for oneself (though doing what is good for others may lead to one's
death on the battlefield). This tradition assumes that we have free will, and one of the virtues--
military practical wisdom--enables one to make excellent decisions about the military protection
of the common good.

The other option begins with philosophical assumptions--some acknowledged and some
unacknowledged--about what it means to be an effective leader or a morally-mature person, and
then attempts to increase our knowledge by using empirical research methods patterned after
those of the natural sciences. It produces results that have the appeal of empirical evidence, but
that suffer from the philosophical mistakes upon which the empirical research project itself is

                                    Kohlberg’s Moral Theory

Concerning the second option, the chief figure in new moral development theory is psychologist
Lawrence Kohlberg, whose work was influenced strongly by that of Swiss psychologist Jean

Piaget and Kohlberg belong to the cognitive-developmental tradition of developmental
psychology. A key concept of this tradition is that moral reasoning and its development occur
naturally or spontaneously (without formal training) when people interact with others in social
groups. As Piaget makes the point, the child's attitude takes shape without any direct influence
on the part of the adult. We already see a sharp contrast with the virtues tradition. According to
Aristotle, one of the objectives of a practically-wise political leader is to enact legislation that
will contribute to the moral formation of children:

       It is difficult to get from youth up a right training for virtue if one has not been brought
       up under right laws; for to live temperately and hardily is not pleasant to most people,
       especially when they are young. For this reason their nurture and occupations should be
       fixed by law; for they will not be painful when they have become customary.
Piaget conducted his research by observing school children at play and asking them questions
about the rules of their games and certain hypothetical ethical dilemmas. After interviewing
nearly one hundred children between the ages of six and twelve, Piaget concluded that he had
identified three great periods in the development of the sense of justice in the child. One period
lasting up to the age of 7-8, during which justice is subordinated to adult authority; a period
contained approximately between 8-11, and which is that of progressive equalitarianism; and
finally a period which sets in towards 11-12, and during which purely equalitarian justice is
tempered by considerations of equity.

Kohlberg’s work relies heavily on Piaget's: Our psychological theory of morality derives largely
from Piaget, who claims that both logic and morality develop through stages and that each stage
is a structure which, formally considered, is in better equilibrium than its predecessor. Kohlberg
identifies three levels of moral development—preconventional (most children under 9, some
adolescents, and many criminal offenders), conventional (most adolescents and adults), and
postconventional (reached by a minority of adults).

Kohlberg and his colleagues have conducted empirical research in Britain, Canada, Honduras,
India, Israel, Mexico, Taiwan, and Turkey, as well as in Chicago:

       Over a period of almost twenty years of empirical research, my colleagues and I have
       rather firmly established a culturally universal invariant sequence of stages of moral
       judgment. Under all conditions except extreme trauma, movement is always forward,
       never backward. Individuals never skip stages; movement is always to the next stage up.

Kohlberg’s method of empirical research involves presenting persons with hypothetical ethical
dilemmas and then asking questions. When we see that Kohlberg is doing moral philosophy, not
just empirical science, we can compare his moral theory to those of moral philosophers. We have
already seen that there is no mention of virtues or vices within his stages of moral development.
The following is part of his explanation of his low regard for virtue ethics:

       The emphasis on moral virtues that are acquired by habit derives from Aristotle, whose
       bag of virtues included temperance, liberality, pride, good temper, truthfulness, and
       justice. Hartshorne and Mays’ bag included honesty, service, and self-control. The Boy
       Scout bag is well known--a Scout should be honest, loyal, reverent, clean, and brave. My
       quick tour through the ages indicates that the trouble with the bag of virtues approach is
       that everyone has his own bag. The problem is not only that a virtue like honesty may not
       be high in everyone’s bag, but that my definition of honesty may not be yours.
                         Lawrence Kohlberg’s Six Moral Stages

                                     Level I: Preconventional

                (characteristic of most children under 9, some adolescents, and
                        many adolescent and adult criminal offenders)

Stage 1: Heteronomous Morality

Content of Stage:

What is right. To avoid breaking rules backed by punishment, obedience for its own sake, and
avoiding physical damage to persons and property.

Reasons for doing right. Avoidance of punishment, and the superior power of authorities.

Social Perspective of Stage: Egocentric point of view. Doesn't consider the interests of others or
recognize that they differ from the actors; doesn't relate two points of view. Actions are
considered physically rather than in terms of psychological interests of others. Confusion of
authority’s perspective with one's own.

Stage 2: Individualism, Instrumental Purpose, and Exchange

Content of Stage:

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

Reasons for doing right. To serve one’s own needs or interests in a world where you have to
recognize that other people have their interest, too.

Social Perspective of Stage: Concrete individualistic perspective. Aware that everybody has his
own interest to pursue and these conflict, so that right is relative (in the concrete individualistic
                                     Level II: Conventional

      (characteristic of most adolescents and adults in our society and in other societies)

Stage 3: Mutual Interpersonal Expectations, Relationships, and Interpersonal Conformity

Content of Stage:

What is right. Living up to what is expected by people close to you or what people generally
expect of people in your role as son, brother, friend, etc. Being good is important and means
having good motives, showing concern about others. It also means keeping mutual relationships,
such as trust, loyalty, respect, and gratitude.

Reasons for doing right. The need to be a good person in your own eyes and those of others.
Your caring for others. Belief in the Golden Rule. Desire to maintain rules and authority which
support stereotypical good behavior.

Social Perspective of Stage: Perspective of the individual in relationships with other
individuals. Aware of shared feelings, agreements, and expectations which take primacy over
individual interests. Relates points of view through the concrete Golden Rule, putting yourself in
the other persons shoes. Does not yet consider generalized system perspective.

Stage 4: Social System and Conscience

Content of Stage:

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 social duties. Right is also
contributing to society, the group, or institution.

Reasons for doing right. To keep the institution going as a whole, to avoid the breakdown in the
system if everyone did it, or the imperative of conscience to meet ones defined obligations.

Social Perspective of Stage: Differentiates societal point of view from interpersonal agreement
or motives. Takes the point of view of the system that defines roles and rules. Considers
individual relations in terms of place in the system.
                           Level III: Postconventional, or Principled

                                (reached by a minority of adults)

Stage 5: Social Contract or Utility and Individual Rights

Content of Stage:

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, however, in
the interest of impartiality and 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

Reasons for doing right. A sense of obligation to law because of one’s social contract to make
and abide by laws for the welfare of all and for the protection of all peoples rights. A feeling of
contractual commitment, freely entered upon, to family, friendship, trust, and work obligations.
Concern that laws and duties be based on rational calculation of overall utility, the greatest good
for the greatest number.

Social Perspective of Stage: Prior-to-society perspective. Perspective of a rational individual
aware of values and rights prior to social attachments and contracts. Integrates perspectives by
formal mechanisms of agreement, contract, objective impartiality, and due process. Considers
moral and legal points of view; recognizes that they sometimes conflict and finds it difficult to
integrate them.

Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principles

Content of Stage:

What is right. Following self-chosen ethical principles. Particular laws or social agreements are
usually valid because they rest on such principles. When laws violate these principles, one acts in
accordance with the principle. Principles are universal principles of justice: the equality of
human rights and respect for the dignity of human beings as individual persons.

Reasons for doing right. The belief as a rational person in the validity of universal moral
principles, and a sense of personal commitment to them.

Social Perspective of Stage: Perspective of a moral point of view from which social
arrangements derive. Perspective is that of any rational individual recognizing the nature of
morality or the fact that persons are ends in themselves and must be treated as such.

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