RUNNING HEAD: Child-Rearing, Autonomous Morality, Expertise Intuitions
Child-Rearing Techniques Promoting an Autonomous Morality Based on Expertise Intuitions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.