Integrating Care and Justice: Moral Development

Part One:
The criticisms of Kohlberg\'s moral development stages seem to center around three major points, his research methods, the "regression" of stage four, and finally his goals.

The first criticism that I would like to address is that of his research methods. Kohlberg is often criticized for not only his subject selection, but also the methods by which he tries to extricate data from those subjects. His initial study consisted of school boys from a private institution in Chicago. The problem with this is fairly obvious, that this does not represent a significant portion of the population to allow for generalized conclusions. In other words, how can we test some boys from Chicago and ascertain that this is how all people develop worldwide?

I believe that the answer to this criticism comes from the theory that it relates to. Kohlberg\'s moral development schema is highly dependent upon the idea that there are fundamental truths that cannot be dismissed. These ideas are "in the ether", wound into the very fabric that constructs human nature. Granted, his descriptions of the various stages also seem very dependent upon the surroundings and social institutions that an individual would be subjected to. Yet these institutions would be have to be built upon people, all of whom would share these ideological truths. It seems fairly obvious that all people have undeniable needs, survival and some group membership. Kohlberg\'s stages are merely methods by which one could fulfill these needs. For instance, Spartan societies were adamant about maintaining the purity and strength of the civilization. Citizens saw no wrong in exposing a sick or lame baby to the elements so that it might die. Surely an act of cruelty today, but in that society, a necessary evil The prosperity and wealth of the whole was of greater importance than that of the individual.

In addition to these justifications, additional research substantiated Kohlberg\'s claims. Different subjects were tested, from all ages and regions, and the same conclusions were drawn from the data. Assuming that these conclusions are correct, and the data leads to the same interpretation, is there any other possibility? This argument seems most impressive, especially considering the differences between people that are evident in everyday life. Similarities on such an abstract level must be supportive of Kohlberg\'s claims.

Another criticism of Kohlberg assumes that his subjects are biased, but proposes that his methods are even worse. To get the perspective of another person, he confronts them with seemingly impossible, unrealistic, and confrontational dilemmas. I, myself, had trouble with the Heinz dilemma because of my inability to believe that it was something that could take place in the real world. Even more so, the situation was something that was very foreign, and very hard to relate to. Anyone who has contemplated something very life changing, like a death in the family, then experienced it, understands how different it is to actually be faced with the dilemma. When theorizing, it is hard to maintain the intimate connection needed to truly react to a moral dilemma.

My defense of this situation comes from a lack of a suitable alternative. True moral dilemmas are not only rare, but extremely hard to document. When faced with a situation that demands not only one\'s complete attention, but emotional vigor, it is really hard to find time to document or discuss feelings (let alone the motivation to do so!). For example, looking at the Heinz dilemma, it would be very hard to explain why one was chasing a man around while he tried to find a cure for his dying wife. An even less enticing alternative would be trying to sit him down and discuss how he was feeling.

So, the only proper and effective way to get a response is to propose a hypothetical situation, and document replies. It may not elicit the pure data that one desires, but according to the Heisenberg principle, it is impossible to measure anything without influencing it. Some research methods indicate that it is more important to follow one\'s thoughts through the reasoning process, rather than just asking for possible solutions. However, I have to believe, and justify from personal experience, that people have incredibly low attention spans. Asking someone to explain how they think through a