THE PHILOSOPHY OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT: Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I by Lawrence Kohlberg

THE PHILOSOPHY OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT: Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Magnificent obsession: the first of a three-volume series of Kohlberg's collected papers on his idÉe fixe, the structures of moral thought. Despite the sweeping title and elaborate introductions to each of its four sections and ten chapters, which create the semblance of a summa psychologiae, there is really no grand consecutive argument here. Kohlberg simply applies his stages to a whole spectrum of important issues--with mixed but interesting results. Briefly, those stages are: Punishment and Obedience (naked fear of authority); Individual Instrumental Purpose and Exchange (serving the needs of self or others); Mutual Interpersonal Expectations, Relationships, and Conformity (""being good""); Social System and Conscience Maintenance (doing one's duty); Prior Rights and Social Contract or Utility (abiding by commitments); and Universal Ethical Principles. Kohlberg insists--and the jury is still out on the case--that this pattern of development is universal, common to all cultures and all periods. All thinking about justice has to advance or fall back up or down these steps, and all individuals and groups can be judged by their standing on them. The smarter and the more modern you are, the better your chances to reach a high stage, since IQ correlates closely with moral maturity and, incredibly enough, ""It is easier to develop to Stage 6 in modern American than in fifth-century Athens or first-century Jerusalem,"" Socrates and Jesus notwithstanding. Kohlberg, as always, makes enough dogmatic claims to keep an army of critics busy for 50 years. How does cognitive ""progress"" relate to a morally good life? How can one endorse ""moral evolutionism"" without buying all the racist, sexist, and Western elitist nonsense that it generally implies (the triumph of civilization and all that)? Isn't there something silly in the notion that Antigone's morality lacks ""conscience or principle,"" and that the Book of Job is ""an assertion of the 'higher' elements in Stage 4 law""? Kohlberg's strongest argument is the need for moral education in the schools. And he raises so many other crucial issues, and discusses them so intelligently, that his work is welcome--if only to be torn apart. An essential item, however overblown, for any library of educational philosophy.

Pub Date: July 29th, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row