Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Morality Final Paper

RUNNING HEAD: Child-Rearing, Autonomous Morality, Expertise Intuitions

Child-Rearing Techniques Promoting an Autonomous Morality Based on Expertise Intuitions

Nellie Gotebeski

University of Notre Dame


Morality must be studied through many different scopes and across a multitude of domains. The multidisciplinary approach examines morality from a multi-perspective analysis and gains insight into moral development. From this point of view, it is accepted that morality prioritizes relationships, both with known and unknown others. The preservation of these relationships is central to human survival and development. Human flourishing can only be achieved through sensibilities and expressions, cooperating and taking perspectives, reasoning about distributing rights and responsibilities, and through sharing the benefits and burdens of a community. This form of living, puts morality at the forefront of human life. 

Morality Defined

While the importance of morality is indisputable, the definition of morality has stirred heated controversy in the field of psychology. Kohlberg’s rationalist approach argues that morality is based on reasoning and originates from the moral principles of justice and reciprocity (Kohlberg #). His six stage moral model demonstrates the development of morality through the three major levels of reasoning. Individual moves from preconventional stages including obedience or instrumental exchange to a conventional morality based on interpersonal concordance or the letter of the law. Finally, the individual can graduate to the postconventional level by reasoning prior-to-society or reorganizing their understanding of personal principles. 

James Rest applauded Kohlberg’s research, but transformed his hard invariant sequential stages into soft stages, which allowed each moral decision to be made with an access to all prior stages (Rest #). Other psychologists were less accepting of the six stage model and criticized Kohlberg’s overemphasis on justice and limited account for cultural difference in moral reasoning. 

Jonathan Haidt developed a new theory to emphasize the implicit processes occurring during moral functioning. The intuitionist approach claims that moral judgment is made quickly and effortlessly using emotion-based heuristics as a guide (Nazvaez 2). Within this model, reasoning was limited to post-hoc rationalizations and held little significance in moral judgment. The social intuitionist model has made many innovative contributions to psychology, but can be critiqued for its oversimplification and misrepresentation of moral functioning (Narvaez 4). Intuitionism is only applicable to simple moral evaluations ignoring the complexities of moral dilemmas in everyday life. Furthermore, the model belittles the role of reasoning and deliberation and places too much emphasis on naïve intuitions (Narvaez 4). 

Therefore, the definition of moral functioning cannot be captured by focusing on rationalism or intuitionism, but can best be understood by an integration and transformation of the two. According to Darcia Narvaez, “Both come together in ethical expertise and moral deliberation, where well-education intuitions and good reasoning are vital” (Narvaez 1). This paper will focus on the integration of these two theories and the development of expertise morality from the scope of neuroscience. 

Defining Moral and Immoral

The moral “rightness” or “wrongness” of actions is another area of intense debate. Individual circumstances and cultural differences largely determine the morality of an action and must be accounted for when judging their moral value. There is no absolute definition of a moral or immoral act that is applicable to all societies. Similarities exist across-cultures, but cultural conventions complicate the establishment of a universal moral code. Furthermore, even though moral commonalities are shared amongst cultures, other cultures have distinct moral expectations that break from a possible moral mold. 

In order to pinpoint a shared moral code, psychologists have shifted their focus back on intuitions. Intuition provides some quick and effortless power over the ability to determine if an action is “right” or “wrong,” but this intuition is usually based off assumptions about human nature, acquired schema formation based on experience, and can be overridden by reason and deliberation. Therefore, further investigation of assumptions and experience is necessary to gain a better understanding of morality. 

Human Nature 

The Hobbesian view of nature claims that “war is natural” (Fry #). This view of human nature has become widely accepted despite the false assumptions that lie behind it. These unrealistic assumptions have lead to unrealistic conclusions, which have obscured our thinking about morality. Moral development is often clouded by a negative view of human nature leading to less motivation for moral action and a narrower scope of social responsibility. In order to reach the expertise level of moral functioning, the existing view of humanity needs to change. Douglas Fry dismantled the implicit assumptions that war is ancient, intergroup relations were hostile, women were captured as a goal of war, resources were scare, and leadership was evolutionary favored (Fry #). Through archeological evidence and research on nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes, Fry offers an alternative view of human nature, which he calls the human potential for peace. 

Moral Evolution

The human potential for peace is a segway into the comprehension of moral evolution. According to Kreb, who’s research is based off Darwin’s account of the moral sense, there is a set of stages to account moral evolution. These stages include a recognition of social instincts, intellectual abilities, language development, and the ability to learn habits in response to community influence (Kreb 152). The recognition of the evolutionary importance of cooperation is central to the understanding of morality. The research of Jean Piaget is central to the understanding of a morality of cooperation and his findings had innovative implications for moral development. 

Moral Development

According to Piaget, moral realism is “a natural and spontaneous product of child thought” (Piaget 189). Piaget claimed that young children exclude intention from the moral compass and focus on the result or consequence of their actions (Piaget 190). Young children do not have the mental ability to understand that other people have different opinions and beliefs from others. The interpretation of the world in terms of the self limits introspection and leads to egocentrism. The egocentrism of the child is a consequence of adult constraint rooted in rules and commands.

The moral training techniques implemented by parents are infective and strengthen egocentrism. During the first years of life, children are bombarded with moral commands and duties which remain incomprehensible. Morality remains external until the child is capable of grasping the reasons why these commands and duties exist (Piaget 191). The child develops a morality of external rules which leads to a certain degree of realism (Piaget 191).

Parents moral training techniques are compliment the child’s naïve belief that rules constitute an obligatory and untouchable reality. Parenting techniques focus on catching the child committing a wrong-doing and punishing their actions to promote obedience and order (Piaget 192). The child is dominated by the continued search for the parental approval and inwardly admit the authority that wields over him (Piaget 192). The natural and spontaneous mentality of the child synthesizes with the notion of objective responsibility (Piaget 191).

Fortunately, the child can break away from this egocentric tendency through cooperative interactions (Piaget 189). Through peer interactions, children begin to recognize the perspectives of others and become interested in the intentionality of their own actions (Piaget 189). This movement towards an idea of cooperation heightens the importance of morality. 

Piaget argues the presence of two separate moralities in children and one intermediary phase. The first process is moral constraint, which leads to heteronomy and moral realism. Moral constraint originates in the adult and leads to a moral obligation based on unilateral respect (Piaget 195). The rightness and wrongness of an act is based on heteronomy. Right is to obey the will of the adult and wrong is to have a will of one’s own (Piaget 195). The relationships between parents and children are not restricted to those of constraint. Mutual affection motivates children to act generously and can spawn a morality of good. This morality develops concordantly with the morality of right or duty, and in some cases completely replaces it. 

The intermediary phase involves the internalization and generalization of rules and commands. During this phase, the child begins to understand that punishable behavior is bad in itself and even if it were not punished, one should not engage in the behavior. Piaget emphasizes the importance of intelligence in the process of generalization of moral rules and the differentiation between them (Piaget 196). The intermediary phase paves the way for the second morality of children, a morality of cooperation (Piaget 194). 

The morality of cooperation leads to autonomy. The individual recognizes the perspectives of others and strives to treat others as he himself would wish to be treated. Therefore, reciprocity and mutual respect are the determining factors of autonomy (Piaget 196). The child discovers that moral goodness is necessary in the global community and the child is finally independent of external pressure (Piaget 196). 

Account for Individual Differences

According to Nucci’s studies, the child’s moral understanding is independent of specific religious rules and separate from one’s religious concepts (Nucci 50). Nucci analyzed the responses of devout Christians and Jews and secular children and found that morality was composed of the same set of interpersonal issues; justice and compassion.

Gilligan claims that there are two modes of moral reasoning, which include this set of interpersonal issues identified in Nucci’s studies. The two modes of moral reasoning are distinguished in boys’ and girls’ discussion of moral dilemmas. Boys are oriented to a morality based on justice and rights, and girls focus on compassion and care (Gilligan 199). When faced with a moral dilemma, males use logic to resolve the issue and females use care. Gilligan believes that, “the contrasting images of hierarchy and web derive from childhood experiences of inequality and interdependence” gives rise to the ideal of justice and of care (Gilligan 199).

The emergence of care and compassion as moral guidelines evoked skepticism in many psychologists due to the common understanding of development as a progress of separation and a movement toward individual success and independence. Development as a progress of human relationships was an unfamiliar representation, but it has taken precedence in recent psychological research.

The importance of relations can be understood by our tendencies towards cooperation. As social beings, humans interact with each other on a daily basis. These periodical interactions trigger moral dilemmas and opportunities for moral action with known or unknown others. From the standpoint of development, it makes sense for humans to make moral judgments based off of justice and care, because this set of interpersonal issues are central to the formation and preservation of relationships. 

Gilligan’s bimodal design is critiqued because the decision-making process of females can be boiled down to the basic underlying principle of justice. Women simply used a broader landscape of relationships when making moral decisions, while men’s reasoning was narrower regarding relationships. 

Cultural Differences

When examining cultural differences and their emphasis on relationships, Nucci suggests that there are moral concerns comparable across societies and groups. His findings suggest that moral education can be independent from religion and some presence of universality (Nucci 51). 

Miller further analyzed cultural influences on moral reasoning by comparing the domain categorization of American and Indian subjects. His findings challenge the assertion that there is a universal moral code (Miller 21). In concordance with Nucci, Miller found that both samples considered moral issues ones that threatened justice (Miller 20). The differences between the two cultures pointed toward a morality within a cultural framework, of which individuals become interdependent parts of a social whole. Moral commitments are deemed those obligations to the social whole by responsiveness to the needs of the interdependent parts. 

Miller emphasized the marked cultural differences observed among children in comparison to college students. According to his research, American children more frequently classified more violations as objective obligations than did American adults. Similarly, both American and Indian children categorized social responsibilities as objective obligations, which “reflect common cognitive and affective experiences of human infancy” (Miller 23). 

Infants depend on their primary caregiver to fulfill their needs. These earliest relationships based on dependency could result in the impression that mandatory obligations exists to help others who are also in need. This universal experience among infants in all cultures may explain the commonalities in American and Indian children’s views despite other cross-cultural differences (Miller 23). As children are exposed to belief systems and values within their cultural contexts, the constructs present during infancy are modified. In India, the children’s initial construct is supported as children acquire conceptions that valorize the importance of other relationships aside from paternalistic familial relationships. On the contrary, as children in the United States grow older, they begin to narrow their construct to stress the voluntary aspects of interpersonal commitments (Miller 23). 

Moral Education for Children

From Miller’s research, we can see that there are very little differences between the moralities of children within and across cultures. The child’s dependency is a shared experience which influences their perception of morality. Furthermore, based on the developmental stages of Jean Piaget, moral development commences from a morality of constraint. This morality originates from parenting techniques that cause the child to view morality as a form of obedience. In order to explain this child experience, it is necessary to delve into neuroscience, specifically focusing on the research of Margot Sunderland. 

According to her research, the reptilian brain evolved around 300 million years ago and is responsible for controlling body functions to secure survival. The reptilian brain instinctively controls bodily functions such as breathing, hunger, digestion, and territorial instincts (Sunderland 16). When we feel unsafe, impulses from the reptilian brain and mammalian brain can override higher human functions, and we either fight or flee. This part of the brain also control territorial instincts and can lead us to behave like a threatened animal. 

The mammalian brain, or lower brain, is also known as the emotional brain. This region evolved 200 million years ago and introduced new programs for bonding, playfulness, caring, and nurturance (Sunderland 18). The lower brain is synonymous to the limbic system, which functions to control the primitive flight-or-fight impulses (Sunderland 18). The mammalian brain is the emotion control system and needs to be managed by the rational brain. 

The rational brain, or higher human brain, evolved 200,000 years ago. It located in the frontal lobe or neocortex. It functions to promote creativity and imagination, problem solve, reflect, empathize, and reason sophisticatedly (Sunderland 19). 

The development and interactions of these brain is essential for human behavior. Positive parenting styles promote brain development and help form connections in the child’s brain necessary for communication and control. 

There are three systems genetically wired at birth to secure surival. These systems include rage, fear and separation distress. (Sunderland 24). They are genetically predisposed in order to help protect infants from predators and promote attachment with caregivers. The underdevelopment of the high-brain causes the infant to become overwhelmed by the activation of these systems, because there are few tools intact to help them think, reason and calm themselves down. Sunderland advises parents to do anything possible to calm a distressed baby. Responsive parenting techniques helps develop the frontal lobe of the baby’s brain and form pathways that will, over time, help manage stressful situations effectively (Sunderland 24). If the baby is not comforted, his brain will not be able to calm the alarm states in the lower brain and later in life he will not develop the higher human capacity for concern or self-reflection (Sunderland 24). This child’s actions will be driven by the primitive systems set up at birth and an overactive alarm system in the lower brain.

As parents, we are responsible to move our child from a morality of constraint toward a morality of autonomy. This only occurs through secure and responsive parenting techniques and an education system similar to the developmental discipline model. Parents must understand that intense outbursts of rage and distress is a cry for help. These bursts of emotions represents the immaturity of the infant brain and the underdevelopment of the higher brain. If parents do not comfort the intense feelings of their child, the child will have trouble controlling these emotions later in life and could develop and overall skepticism of others and a general fear or distrust of the world. There is also evidence that more reserved or even antisocial and depressive personalities could develop from ineffective parenting. These types of personalities will not promote movement toward an autonomous morality and the child may remain stuck in the morality of constraint. Furthermore, any chance at reaching moral maturity will be unattainable. The importance of effective parenting and moral education is crucial for the moral development of children. 

Moral Maturity 

From a morality of autonomy, individuals can move into moral maturity and reach expertise intuitions. This morality is achieve through immersion, focused practice, and expert to novice instruction (Narvaez 10). Through this type of training, good intuitions are formed, which can be applied in real-life contexts. The immersion and explanations from mentor educate intuitions and improve reasoning skills. These skills will eventually be applied automatically and the individuals will be capable of reacting to a moral situation in a morally appropriate way. The cooperation between the novice and expert is essential in the development toward moral maturity, but can only be achieved if the individual begins training with a morality of cooperation. 

Narvaez stresses the importance of early experience in the process of forming moral exemplars. Experience is crucial to foster the development of chronically accessible constructs and reach moral maturity. In addition to expert-novice training, which guides our intuitions and develops reasoning, individuals also need to form habituated empathetic concern (Narvaez 12). Empathy is rooted in nurturant caregivers and through education that emphasizes community and fosters prosocial behavior (Watson). 

Morality in a Personal and Public Arena

In order to move expertise intuitions from the personal to the public arena, the skills need to be practice and generalized over different contexts. This repetition and rehearsal will help the constructs and schemas become automatic, unconscious and generalizable (Narvaez). The child will be able to take what they learned and apply it to different contexts leading the life of a moral exemplar. 


Moral development is a three stage process beginning at birth. As infants our rage, fear, and separation systems, control our destiny for a morality of constraint in early childhood. The shift toward a morality of cooperation is influenced by supportive and secure parenting styles. Once the child is able to act cooperatively, they will be able to develop toward becoming a moral exemplar with expert intuitions. This level of moral maturity is achieved through an expert-novice pedagogy, which is designed to educate intuitions and foster deliberative reasoning (Narvaez). 


Colby, A. & Damon, W. (1999). The development of extraordinary moral commitment. In M. Killen & D. Hart (eds.), Morality in everyday life (pp.342-370).  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Gilligan, C. (1982). New maps of morality: New visions of maturity. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 58, 199-212.

Haidt, J. (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review, 108, 814-824.

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1968). “The Child as a Moral Philosopher.” Psychology Today, 2, 24-30.

Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. In   T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and Behavior (pp. 31-53). NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Wilson. 

Miller, J. G. (1994). Cultural diversity in the morality of caring: Individually oriented versus duty-based interpersonal moral codes. Cross Cultural Research, 28, 3-39. 

Miller, J., G., Bergsoff, D.M., Harwood, R.L. (1990). Perceptions of social responsibilities in India and the United States. Journal of Social and Personality Psychology, 58, 33-47.

Piaget, J. (1932/1965). The moral development of the child (Chapter 1, pp.13-100

Narvaez, D. (2008). Human flourishing and moral development: Cognitive science and neurobiological perspectives on virtue development. In L. Nucci & D. Narvaez (eds.), Handbook of Moral and Character Education (pp. 310-327). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Nucci, L. (2001) Education in the Moral Domain, excerpt. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Watson, M. (2008). Developmental Discipline and Moral Education. In L.Nucci & D. Narvaez (eds.) Handbook of Moral and Character Education. New York: Routledge.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Nellie Gotebeski

November 24, 2009

Moral Development

What kind of moral education approach did my K-12 school (s) use? Did my K-12 teachers use developmental discipline? How do my experiences of classrooms fit with the descriptions of ideal classrooms? Were they effective for me, for others?

Developmental Discipline: Ideal classrooms

For several years, schools have implemented Traditional Character Education. This approach focuses on the adult rather than the child. The student is considered a “blank-slate” or “sponge-like.” The teacher transmitted knowledge to the student to promote good behavior. The Traditional approach to teaching values direct instruction and orders, judicious use of rewards and punishment, and controlling techniques to manage the classroom. Education focused on the transmission of knowledge, passive acceptance, and behavioral control. If the child is obedient and passes the class, it is counted as a success.

Luckily, Piaget’s research shifted moral education from the rigid authoritative structure toward an autonomous approach.  Children are viewed as cooperative and good-natured beings as opposed to the savage-like image held by the Traditional proponents. Piaget stressed the importance of autonomy and understanding. Teachers realized that to acquire knowledge, children need to interact with the world to alter their schemas. 

During the 1980s and 1990s, developmentally oriented educators focusing on moral or prosocial development realized they needed to create new approaches to classroom management and discipline. The Child Development Project designed an approach to classroom management consist with developmentally theory and research. The four step model promotes relationships, environments, and situations for the child to morally grow. The first step explains the importance of a warm, supportive, and mutually trusting teacher-child relationship. The second step states the need for a caring and democratic community in which each child needs for competence, autonomy, and belonging are met. Third, children would need opportunities to discuss and refine their understanding of moral values and how they apply to everyday life in the classroom. Finally, teachers would need to use both proactive and reactive control techniques to help children act in according with prosocial values that enhance the above goals. 

My Experience:

In second grade, my teachers established warm and caring relationships with her students. The students developed a special bond with the teacher and with each other. From this secure relationship, students were able to develop mutual respect and a sense of belonging. This environment encouraged students to learn. In second grade, my teacher was following a developmental discipline model, because she encouraged our self-autonomy and prosocial values. Instead of punishing misbehaviors, she listened to her students and guided them to find solutions. She met with our parents monthly and made sure that we were all on the same page. I felt confident in her class and participated regularly. The friends I met in my second grade class have been friends with me forever. If it had been a different classroom, we may not have taken the time to get to know one another. She also encouraged our imagination and tried to guide our development of ethical skills. I truly believe her classroom management approach and developmental discipline model had a lasting impact on my life. 

In third grade, my teacher approached discipline differently. He felt a need to exert more power over his students. I specifically remember an incident in fourth grade that destroyed the trust and respect I had for my teacher. During mathematics, one boy was disrupting the class with his chuckling. The teacher decided to make an “example” of him, so he was forced to stand in front of the class with a clown nose. The student was teased the entire year and remained an outcast until he eventually moved schools. The clown nose was not the only punishment approach that aimed to humiliate the child. He would also color a circle of chalk on the board and force his students to stick their nose against the blackboard and keep the chalk on their nose the rest of the day. He would have children stand in the corner or immediately send them down to the principal’s office without hearing their explanation. Discussion about incidents was rarely carried out. Within my elementary school, there were two opposing approaches to development. One model took on the style of developmental discipline while the other remained true to Traditional Character Education. 

As I transitioned into middle school, teachers began to encourage moral behavior by awarding “Lincoln Links.” These tokens were awarded to students who exhibited good behavior. Once you collected twenty tokens you were allowed to choose a reward (Free pizza, take a teacher to lunch, etc.). The award system disrupted the class because it created a division. There were those students who were motivated to do good deeds because they wanted to a reward. These children were teased for being teacher’s pets. On the other hand, the children who never tried to earn tokens were shunned by the rest of the class and teachers considered them unmotivated and labeled them “bad kids.” The reward system clearly has numerous flaws. It encourages “good behavior” based on a reward as opposed to encouraging good actions solely because they are moral. This may have blinded students to believing that good behavior would always be rewarded with a prize. 

In high school, teachers implemented developmental discipline and traditional character education. Most teachers tried to establish trusting relationships with their students, but it was difficult because each teacher saw hundreds of students and for short periods of time. 

In conclusion, research supports the developmental discipline model and demonstrates that it leads to better academic success and motivates moral development. My K-12 schools had very few teachers who used developmental discipline, because most teachers were stuck in the Traditional Character Education theory. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009


 Nellie Gotebeski

November 17, 2009

Moral Development

How is the parenting I received related to my attitudes towards human nature?

In The Human Potential for Peace, Fry criticizes implicit and explicit assumptions. He warns us that unrealistic assumptions can lead to unrealistic conclusions. He focuses on implicit assumptions, because these assumptions are simply taken for granted.  Several implicit assumptions have led us to confidently assume that humans are innately aggressive and that war is ancient. However, after investigating these basic assumptions, we can find flawed reasoning leading to unrealistic conclusions. These unrealistic conclusions paint a negative image of humanity and consequently affect the way we view human nature. The aggressive and violent side of humanity is considered natural and unavoidable. This viewpoint is becoming ingrained into children at a very young age and nowadays it is difficult to find people arguing for the peacefulness in human nature. 

Fortunately, certain parenting styles can encourage us to challenge these flawed implicit assumptions and alter negative attitudes towards human nature. Parents are not uncontested in the campaign to win our understanding. Any children raised during the 1990’s could switch on their television and find violence and aggression. The media is obsessed with war and most outside sources seem to drive this idea of a violent humanity. Without even thinking twice or investigating false premises, we conclude that humans are naturally violent and war is inevitable.

With a tough competitor arguing for the aggressiveness in human nature, parents enter a difficult challenge. They must remember that their parenting style is a strong indicator of their child’s attitude towards human nature. Therefore, the outcome of their victory is invaluable. 

I believe in the brighter side of humanity. I do not negate the prevalence of violent and aggressive behaviors sweeping our world, but I believe that we enter the world as peaceful beings and have the tools to remain that way. Everyone could agree that naturally we are born unable to defend ourselves. We depend on our parents to help us survive. The book The Science of Parenting describes three brains that we develop throughout our childhood; the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, and the rational brain. It is our parents’ responsibility to make sure this development occurs in such a way to produce compassionate and rational adults. I was born into a warm and loving family. I formed a secure-attachment with my mother, who was always aware of my needs. Beyond this sensitivity, she tried to meet my needs to the best of her ability. She felt my pain and tried to communicate her understanding with a language I understood. She soothed my pain and let me know that she would always be there. 

With her warm and meaningful touches throughout the day, I grew to understand and appreciate compassion. By being exposed at a young age to compassion and peaceful human beings, I was raised appreciating this form of human nature. As I grew older, I became confident in my relationships with others. My mom’s constant support and attentiveness to my needs and our secure and loving attachment with one another influenced my attitudes towards human nature. I form peaceful relationships with many people and believe that we all have peacefulness inside of us. I understand that conflicts often arise between humans, and I am willing to admit that on occasion I react out of fear and anger. However, I believe that despite the existence of the reptilian brain (and the negative outcome associated with it), we are naturally created to develop our three brains in such a way to optimally balance them. The balance of the three brains will ensure peaceful behavior. Warm and loving parents that are attentive to their child’s needs will help develop their child’s brain in such a way to create a caring and compassionate adult. Not only this, but the child will develop a peaceful understanding of others and challenge the implicit assumptions that argue otherwise. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Nellie Gotebeski

November 10, 2009

Moral Development

How was I raised in relation to some of the ideas in the readings? How did it possibly influence my moral development? When do I operate primarily from each ethic (what situations trigger each in me (security ethic, engagement ethic, imagination ethic)?

My mother gave natural birth to her five children. I am the youngest child and I believe that my childhood has influenced my moral development. Most of my mother’s parenting skills matched those recommended in the book The Science of Parenting. I was breast-fed and co-slept with my mom until I was ready to sleep alone. Everyday I had warm meaningful touches by multiple caregivers and my basic needs were hardly ever thwarted. As a toddler, I was encouraged to play outside and my imagination was always put in motion by child-led play. I grew up in a small town and therefore, there were not many danger issues that restricted our freedom to explore the neighborhood. I had four older siblings and many cousins which exposed me to multi-age play groups. I was always engaging in rough and tumble play with my brothers and sisters and hugged and kissed by my parents.

One troubling experience in my childhood stands out and has had a tremendous impact on my life. For the majority of my childhood, I had no problem falling asleep, but when I was about twelve years old I could not sleep in my own bed. I had trouble sleeping over at my friend’s houses, because I knew I would be the last one to fall asleep. However, even at this age, my mom kept her door open and understood my pain. She discussed my problem on my level and she did not belittle it. I don’t know what caused me to have this “relapse” into bad sleeping habits; however, I am blessed to have a mother who handled the situation as well as she did. This experience has made my secure-attachment bond with my mother much stronger and it has helped me in other areas of my life. First, I cannot remember the last time I had a difficult time falling asleep and secondly, I believe I am more capable of handling stressful situations. I credit all of these accomplishments to co-sleeping and the secure attachment bond my mother and I formed during my toddler years and again as a teenager.  

I truly believe that this experience has influenced my moral development. My moral sensitivity can reach its full potential, because I am able to handle stressful situations. When some people face a frightening situation, their fear system is triggered and they can no longer concentrate on anything but their fear. These individuals usually take the path of “fight or flight” and do not examine the possibility for moral action. I believe that my childhood rearing has allowed me to avoid overreacting to stressors. This has given me an opportunity to rationally examine the situation and therefore, I am more inclined to notice situations that require moral action.

The security ethic is based primarily in instincts of survival and physical flourishing. It often triggers our fear system and our rage situation. These situations usually result in actions of self-preservation. It can also lead to physical flourishment by status enhancement and in-group loyalty. The security ethic is triggered in situations, which evoke fear or rage. This ethic commonly surfaces after national disasters (as we saw happened after 9/11). For me, this ethic is triggered during sporting events. During field hockey games, we often chant, “Let’s kill them,” and “Only the strong survive.” We justify our actions by saying, “We did it for the team” and assume we are better than our opponents. Even though this mob-like behavior has not led to destructive situations against other teams; in other situations the security ethic can cause devastating consequences. For example, after 9/11, the United States illogically and unmorally entered a war against a “supposed” enemy with weapons of mass destruction. The security ethic was activated and the course of action was war. 

The ethic of engagement involves the emotional systems that drive us towards intimacy. It has roots in our social and sexual instincts, empathy and parental care. This ethic is triggered in any social situation. I believe my warm supportive childhood has led me to flourish socially. The secure attachment with my mother allowed me to feel confident with my personal relationships later in life. The chapters we have read in the book The Science of Parenting have emphasized the role of mothers in their children’s upbringing. However, I am interested in the influences of the father figure. My childhood was dominated by my mother and I wonder what implications this has had. 

Finally, the ethic of imagination is the source of deliberation. This ethic has the potential to combine compassion with active problem solving. This ethic is triggered when we need to deliberate. If we have optimized our engagement ethic and our imagination ethic, it is quite likely that overreactions associated with our security ethic will be minimized. The ability to balance these three ethics is rooted in our early childhood experiences. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Nellie Gotebeski

October 27, 2009

Moral Development

What kinds of moral identities do I see around me? Do I know any moral exemplars? What are they like?

As a college student, I see many different moral identities at Notre Dame. One aspect of moral identity is the mergence of self goals with moral goals. Dedication to eliminating chauvinistic attitudes that repress women, inspiration to sustain energy, and motivation to bring $5 foot-longs to Lafortune’s Subway are examples of moral goals on Notre Dame’s campus. The chance that these goals will be reached depends on whether they are merged with personal goals. Some people create moral goals, but have no aspiration to fulfill them. Those who accomplish their moral goals usually have aligned these goals with their personal goals. 

Another aspect of moral identity is a sense of moral responsibility. On campus, there are some students who can walk by a homeless person in South Bend, without feeling responsible to do something to reduce poverty. Other students will have what I call a “short-term desire” to make a change and will rush to their local food drive to volunteer a few hours. And few will be greatly affected by this social influence and will remain motivated for a lifetime. Lastly, our accessibility to moral schemas is a big indicator of our moral identities. Those who find it easy to access moral schemas and apply them to everyday life, are more likely to achieve moral goals than those who have trouble accessing them.

Jeff, a student at Notre Dame, is a great example of a moral exemplar. As a sophomore, Jeff traveled to Africa and studied HIV/AIDS with a team of doctors. He knew this research experience would look great on his transcript for medical school and above all, he was very excited about enjoying an experience in a different country. Jeff became very interested in the AID epidemic and was deeply distraught about the poverty he witnessed in Africa. After he returned to the United States, he wrote a paper about Aids-related stigma and became motivated to find a solution to this problem. Furthermore, Jeff decided to take action about the injustice he saw occurring in a continent thousands of miles away. He decided to start a nonprofit organization with the goals of reducing poverty in Africa and decreasing the number of people infected by HIV/AIDS. 

A few summers ago, I decided to participate in a Summer Service Projects associated with his foundation. During that summer, we traveled to various parts of South Africa and provided food and school supplies to the less fortunate. We also purchased and revamped a RV to be used for a medical outpatient testing vehicle. The vehicle allowed the nurses to provide an HIV testing facility to communities outside of Johannesburg. The vehicle was an improvement to the tents the nurses originally used and the vehicle’s mobility allowed more people to get tested. Since this trip, the foundation has continued to provide aid to Africa. The organization raised enough money to build several schools in Kenya and is in the process of raising money to build health clinics. 

In many ways, Jeff is the moral exemplar that Colby and Damon describe in their article “The Development of Extraordinary Moral Commitment.” Jeff’s social influence has guided his morality. He decided to attend Notre Dame with aspirations to become a doctor. He then decided to go to Africa to make himself more marketable for med schools. However, in Africa he underwent a goal transformation. After returning to the United States, he abandoned his Pre-medicine major and formed an organization dedicated to improving lives in Africa. This interaction of person and context led to his goal transformation and his moral dedication. His personal goals became closely aligned with his moral goals, which is a critical characteristic of a moral exemplar. As Colby and Damon stated, “The exemplars’ moral concerns and commitments are continuous with most people’s moral concerns and commitments but greater in degree.” 

Jeff’s moral concern is far beyond the norm. He believes moral action is not a choice, but the only option. His moral schemas are not limited to his volunteer work in Africa, but extend to other areas of the world. Jeff applies his moral schemes to everyday life situations and consequently, he is aware of the injustices occurring around him. He aspires to fulfill his moral responsibility, and takes this responsibility to the maximum. Jeff is very certain about what he wants to accomplish, but he remains open to a new goal transformation that could occur at any point in his life. He is aware of his moral responsibility and has a strong work ethic devoted to fulfilling it. He is very optimistic about the future and his positive attitude is contagious to those around him. 

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Nellie Gotebeski

October 13, 2009

Moral Development

If my culture has taught me to believe one thing (humans are violent and war is inevitable), can I change to the opposing view (humans are peaceful and war is preventable)? What would it mean to hold the second view? How might the society change?

In The Human Potential for Peace, Fry discussed the ability of a peaceful culture to become violent and a violent culture to become peaceful. The flexibility and changeability of peaceful and violent statuses can impact the way we view human nature. To support this statement that societies can change, we can refer to history data. Sweden is a great example to prove the transition from a violent to a peaceful society. During the time of the Vikings, Sweden was considered a violent and bloodthirsty culture. However, today Sweden is a peaceful society with very view instances of violence. If societies can change their behavior from violence to peace, I believe it is very likely for individuals to change their beliefs about this issue. Over the past several years, the mass media has influenced our view point by showing humans behaving violently and emphasizing the inevitability of war. This viewpoint has become ingrained in our own cultural beliefs and has led to “group think.” However, humans are capable of moving away from this rigid mold and should strive to break the mold instead of remaining stuck in a pessimistic outlook on life. 

In history, we can find several examples to support the ability of society to change their belief systems. For example, we once believed the world was flat and that was slavery was justifiable, but we were able to move away from these beliefs once we held an open mind and explored the world for ourselves. We can become our own investigators of truth. Once we begin searching for answers, we can find several instances of peaceful societies and find the evidence to support the ability of societies to transition toward peace.

Once we accept the belief about the peaceful nature of humans and the preventability of war, we must then accept the possibility of a more peaceful world. This possibility will have numerous implications at the individual level and at the national level. For example, we can no longer use excuses to justify our violent actions or the actions of others. We no longer can say, “That's just human nature” after someone commits an act of violence and when deciding whether to enter a war, we can no longer claim, “There has always been war and there always will be war.” We are forced to consider alternatives. We must acknowledge the more peaceful side of humanity and should take into our own hands the human potential for peace. We should search for possible solutions and more ways to achieve peace, because violence and war are no longer acceptable alternatives. 

Using the evidence from the societies that have changed from violent to peaceful, we can develop our own process towards peace. These societies can act as models for our own culture. When we examine Sweden’s success, we come across a possible method to change a society. Sweden guarantees every mother three years of maternity leave to care for their newborn baby. This is essential for the child because there is evidence to support that the additional care during this key period of development will have a positive impact on their behavior later in life. Psychologists stress the importance of early childhood development. Another possibility to achieve world peace, mentioned in Fry’s book, is the application of judicial principles at a nationwide level. This will force cultures to move away from global self-redress and become more oriented toward more peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. Fry discusses the five approaches to conflict management, which include: negotiation, toleration, settlement, mediation, and adjudication. When we accept the belief that humans are peaceful and war is inevitable, we must begin to practice these approaches to conflict management and work toward a more peaceful society. One of the issues Fry believes influences violence is social organization. The United States is, without a doubt, a state level society with a complex government and divisions between classes. What can we do as a complex society? We can start by accepting the belief that humans are peaceful and deny war as a method to resolve conflicts. We can find other more peaceful alternatives to resolve conflicts and enforce this peaceful way of life in our own culture. 

Monday, October 5, 2009


Nellie Gotebeski

October 6, 2009

Moral Development

Do I see people making moral judgments based on emotion or reason? How about people who act immorally? How about myself when I have acted immorally?

In his studies, Haidt found that, “Affective reactions to the stories were better predictors of their moral judgments than were their claims about harmful consequences.” This argument tends to side towards the belief that people make moral judgments based on emotions; however, there is other psychological evidence that supports that our moral judgments are based on reason.

Thus, the debate continues: What drives our moral judgments? Emotion or reason? Haidt proposes emotion as the powerful force driving actual behavior. He states that there is a strong link between moral emotions and moral action. This link is illustrated in the behavior of psychopaths. Psychopaths can perform atrocities, but they simply do not care about the consequences. They do not have an emotional reaction to the circumstances or care about the consequences of their behavior. 

I proposed the debate question to my roommates and found a mixed array of responses. The majority of my roommates sided with Haidt and believed that their moral judgments were based on emotions. However, after they described their moral judgment process, it appeared that reason was also used to decide. Perhaps, they just decided to side with their emotions at the end of the reasoning process. For example, I observed one of my roommates fighting with her boyfriend on the phone. She hung up and then called him back a few minutes later and yelled at him again. In between the two calls, she was debating whether she should yell  at him more or wait and talk to him in person. She briefly worked through a list of pro’s and con’s and against the advice from her other roommates, she decided to act on her emotions. Therefore, we may go through a process of reasoning, and ultimately decide to favor our emotions, even if we know that it will not lead to moral behavior. 

At the end of my intuitions journal, I stated that people who made moral decisions tended to defend their moral judgment used to make the decisions, while those who acted immorally regarded their actions as impulsive. In the same way, when we act morally, we are more likely to accredit our well-thought-out reasoning process, that apparently overpowered our emotions. When I recall my own immoral decisions, I too believe that my emotions “got the best of me” and led to this decision. Thus, when my roommates say they act on their emotions, they may only be including their immoral behavior. However, it is important to note that while emotions can cause immoral behavior, this is not always the case.

Haidt purposes  another factor that may contribute to moral judgment. He describes the weak link that exists between moral reasoning and moral action. Haidt determines that there must be some other factor involved in this equation. He alludes to Mischel’s study, which presented a “hot” and “cold” system and described this other factor, which he described as intelligence. The “hot” system is responsible for quick emotional processing and uses the amygdala-based memory part of the brain. He claims that the “cool” system is specialized for complex spatiotemporal and episodic representation and thought. In time, we can train the “cool” system to block the impulsiveness of the “hot” system. For instance, the author sites an example, in which children initially desires the immediate small reward (one marshmallow), but eventually, they are able to resist the temptation in favor of a later, bigger reward (two marshmallows). Therefore, “The integration of the cool system into this process composes the essential feature of emotional intelligence.” Using this research, he claims that the relationship between moral reasoning ability and moral behavior is weak and inconsistent once intelligence is not an element. 

I believe that intelligence is a very important aspect of our moral judgment. I wanted to examine the possibility of mixing reason, emotion, and intelligence to develop a moral judgment process. I recalled that at the end of our last Moral Development class, we began talking about the distinction between naïve intuitions and well-educated intuitions (expertise). Well-educated intuitions includes at some level reasoning and instinct. I tried to apply this definition to the current debate and finally arrived at the term “well-educated emotional-reasoning.” I believe tis concept can apply to several of my own moral decisions. I believe I incorporated all three factors into the moral judgment process. Therefore, the answer to the debate may not be one or the other, but a systematic unification of all three factors.