Moral Development. Morality and Religion. Is something good because God says it is good or does God say it is good because it is good? . Research.
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Boss: “According to a 2006 Pew Research Center poll, 32 percent of Americans believe that religion and the Bible should be more important than the will of the people in government and political decisions, especially decisions concerning moral issues such as abortion, war, homosexuality, stem cell research, and the death penalty.”
Boss: “In addition, while 49 percent believe that ‘conservative Christians have gone too far in trying to impose their religious values on the country,’ even more Americans - 69 percent - believe that ‘liberals have gone too far in trying to keep religion out of the schools and the government’.”
Boss: “Divine command theory claims that morality is dependent on or relative to God’s commands and, therefore, can change from time to time and person to person. Natural law theory, on the other hand, maintains that morality is based on universal, unchanging principles and that God commands or approves something because it is right prior to the command.”
Boss: “Just as morality for the cultural relativist is relative to cultural norms and commands, for the divine command theorist, morality is relative to what God commands or wills. There are no independent, universal moral standards by which to judge God’s commands. No other justification is necessary for an action to be right other than that God commanded it.”
Boss: “The primary concern with divine command theory is its apparent arbitrariness since there are no objective criteria for us to use to determine whether a particular claim or action was actually based on God’s command.”
Boss: “There are no criteria for determining whether God actually issued a particular command. Because divine commands are issued to particular individuals or groups rather than being grounded in universal principles, we are left with no rational or objective means of determining if a person or group actually was commanded by God or if they were mistaken or delusional.”
Boss: “Relativistic theories do not allow for rational discussion of what is the right thing to do, thus contributing to a rigid ‘either you’re with us or against us’ mentality. The only way left to resolve differences regarding what God commands is through apathy or violence.”
Fallacy: If you can’t prove someone is wrong so that then makes him or her even more sure that they are right. Atheists will sometimes say that the fact that you can’t prove there is a God means that there is no God. Religious people will argue just the opposite way. But ignorance does not prove anything except that we don’t know.
Boss: “Natural law ethicists disagree with the divine command theories. Instead of an action being right because God commands it, natural law theorists maintain that God commands an action because it is moral beforehand and independently of God’s commanding it at that moment.”
Boss: “According to natural law theory, morality is universal and grounded in rational nature rather than being particular and relative to God’s commands. Natural law does not mean laws of physics, but laws of rational human nature, which, unlike the fixed laws of physical nature, are free and autonomous.”
Boss: “Reason constitutes the divine spark within humans; it is our essence. Natural or moral law is unchanging and eternal. Natural law is universally knowable to humans through reason. It is also universally binding on all humans.”
Boss: “The guidelines contained in natural law are very general, unlike normative moral rules that contain specific content and guidelines for actions such as ‘do not steal.’ According to Thomas Aquinas, the basic principle of natural law is ‘do good and avoid evil’.”
Boss: “The Golden Rule of Judeo-Christian religion is another example of one of the principles of natural law. Because the moral guidelines contained in natural law are very general, we need to use our reason in deriving normative rules from natural law and in applying natural law to real-life situations.”
We can learn a language when we are babies, whether English, Chinese, or any other language, because we are “hardwired,” so to speak, to learn language. The specific language is simply the software program that is used by our brain (computer). In a similar way, natural law states that we are hardwired to look for the good and to do what is right. It may not be perfect, but it is there as part of our basic working gear in human beings.
Boss: “1. Not all people agree on what is morally required. Because the basic principles of natural law are so general, it is open to divergent interpretations. This problem is further compounded by the fact that humans are not perfectly rational. Because we have imperfect reason and are subject to error, different people may interpret natural law and its application differently. Consequently, reason alone is insufficient to determine what is moral.”
Boss: “2. Natural law theory is based on a dualistic worldview. Natural law assumes that humans are a special creation who have incorporeal souls and, hence, are free and autonomous. As such, humans are qualitatively different from other purely physical animals. However, not only is human reason imperfect, reason is found throughout the animal kingdom to various degrees. In addition, reason can also be programmed into artificial intelligence.”
Boss: “4. There is disagreement among natural law theorists on the list of fundamental goods. It is simply assumed that we intuitively know what the fundamental goods are. However, not everyone agrees about what these fundamental goods or goals are.”
Boss: “French sociologist and philosopher Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) argued, in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, that God stands in the same relationship to worshippers as society does to its individual members. God is the symbol of society, and each society creates God in its own image.”
Religious people want to think religious values and practices are good for a country, but Karl Marx is one among many writers who want to caution us about the problems of mixing church and state. Many of the founders of the United States were equally worried. Patriotism and religion are powerful sources of motivation for both good and bad things. History is clear about that!
Boss: “Bellah suggests that the primary role of civil religion is the creation of a sense of cultural or national identity and purpose. He defines civil religion as an institutionalized set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals that provide a religious dimension to a nation’s collective life.”
Bellah says it is not the traditional religion of Christianity or Judaism that tells the U.S. that we should spread democracy. If anything the scriptures advocate for a monarchy. So what happens when you combine basic Christian principles with democracy, capitalism, and patriotism? You get American civil religion.
Boss: “This new democratic social order is identified with God’s divine plan for human progression toward moral perfection.” Notice how it mentions “Providence,” but not Jesus or Allah or Krishna. This is not advocating for a specific religion, but for basic religious values that then are combined with basic American values into a new unity that can be called civil religion.
Boss: “American civil religion expresses itself in symbols such as the American flag, the national anthem, war memorials, national holidays (holy days), and documents that outline our special status and mission as a ‘chosen’ nation, such as the U.S. Constitution. In addition, references to God appear in the Pledge of Allegiance, on our money, and in oaths for public office.”
When our country suffers problems such as national disasters, people often look to the moral life of our nation as an explanation. Some ministers have been known to go on national T.V. and explain certain disasters as a response to specific sins.
Boss: “In American democracy, although sovereignty officially resides in the people, it is implicitly understood that the ultimate sovereignty rests with God and that our country’s actions are judged by a higher law. The president’s ultimate obligation is to this higher law.”
Boss: “In this capacity, if the majority of citizens or elected officials make a decision that the president, as ‘head’ of American civil religion, deems to be at odds with God’s plan, then he can refuse to go along with the majority. This happened when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (1863).”
When Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech part of its effectiveness was that he was appealing to Americans to find this higher calling and higher law. This is the good side of civil religion.
Boss: “By sacralizing cultural norms and values, civil religion gives them a transcendent authority that they would otherwise lack. Rather than looking to natural law to judge a nation, the nation itself becomes the object of worship, and any dissent or moral criticism is oppressed in the name of patriotic duty.”
Boss: “The moral ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution have never been fully realized in this country. While these documents may not be sacred and are certainly not perfect, to their credit, the founders of this country sought to discern natural laws and incorporate them into our nation’s thinking.”
Boss: “Immanuel Kant once said that the basic questions of philosophy - including the question “What ought I to do?” - are all fundamentally related to anthropology, or “What is man?” The study of moral development takes place at this juncture of philosophical theory and the social sciences. Any adequate theory of morality must take into consideration the relevant facts about human nature and human behavior.”
Boss: “Self-knowledge can help us toward this goal. By learning about the psychological mechanisms that govern our moral development, we can actually advance our moral growth.” This is important because it means that the striving for self-knowledge actually helps us to grow into morally mature persons.
People who do not mature morally sometimes think that moral behavior simply seems to require too much effort. But in the long run, if happiness is your goal, it seems that practicing goodness is an important skill to learn.
Boss: “The English word conscience comes from the Latin words com (‘with’) and scire (‘to know’). Conscience, in other words, provides us with knowledge about what is right and wrong. However, it is more than just a passive source of knowledge. Conscience involves reason and critical thinking; it also involves feelings. Conscience not only motivates us; it demands that we act in accord with it.”
Boss: “Philosopher George Hegel defined ‘true conscience [as] the disposition to will what is absolutely good.’ Many religious people view the conscience as divine guidance or the voice of God speaking through our hearts. In Judaism, worshipping and following one’s conscience are inseparable: ‘When our conscience is not at one with the actions of our body, then our worship of our Creator is imperfect’.”
Boss: “The Ethiopian Book of the Philosophers compares conscience to an inner light in the soul that not only bears the fruit of love for one another but also gives us the ‘wisdom that distinguishes what should be.’ The comparison of conscience with light or energy is found in many other philosophers.”
Boss: “There is strong evidence that the frontal lobe cortex in the brain plays a key role in moral decision making. Most of the work in this area has been with sociopaths - people who apparently lack a conscience or moral sense. A study of prisoners found that, when sociopaths were compared to nonsociopathic criminals, the former had specific deficits associated with frontal lobe functioning.”
Boss: “Although natural moral dispositions are apparently present at the time of birth in most people, this is not enough to ensure the development of moral character. Without community and nurture, a moral capacity cannot develop.”
Cultural relativists tend to think our conscience is totally formed by our surroundings, but this is now in serious doubt. Studies have shown that even very young children seem to have an inbuilt system for gauging whether things are good and bad. That is not to deny the also well-established fact that our culture plays a huge role in influencing how this inner sense of right or wrong is understood and then applied in real life situations.
Boss: “Although innate and external forces can influence our conscience, the exercise of the conscience demands active participation on our part through the use of conscious and responsible deliberation.”
Boss: “Aristotle emphasized the importance of habituation - practicing virtuous behavior. Confucian philosophy also teaches that, although inborn moral sentiments are important, only through conscious reflection can we achieve perfect goodness.”
Boss: “The ability to engage in conscious moral direction - to be a morally mature person - entails accepting responsibility for our actions rather than simply reacting to our environment. One of the basic assumptions of moral philosophy is that humans have free will and can, at least to some extent, overcome negative influences in our lives.”
A fairly safe position is to accept that much of our life is in fact conditioned, but that within those conditions, we not only have some freedom, but we also have the possibility to grow in freedom as we grow in consciousness.
Boss: “Because conscience is much more than gut feelings or a list of instructions about how to behave, to make use of it, we also need to develop our powers of discernment and to cultivate our moral sentiments.”
Some people think that morality is simply a matter of thought. We should be able to work out rationally the right thing to do and then go from there. Other people put the emphasis on emotional development. These people say that it does not matter how smart you are, if you don’t have the capacity to be sympathetic, then you will not be all that moral.
Sometimes you cannot explain why something is wrong. Perhaps you do not have the words or you do not know enough about the issue, but something in you just does not feel right. These are our emotional sentiments. The most basic one is probably sympathy.
Sympathy has been studied in very young children who have not yet developed the capacity to reason logically. This is part of the evidence that we are born with something that we call a conscience and also that our moral feelings anticipate our ability to actually reason morally.
Boss: “Without sympathy, true intimacy and a genuine sense of community would be impossible. To many moral philosophers, sympathy is the greatest virtue and the cultivation of sympathy and compassion our primary moral duty. Compassion, a more active form of sympathy, is the combination of sympathy with praxis or social action.”
Boss: “In our ‘live and let live’ society, righteous anger is frowned on and passing judgment on others is considered disrespectful and even arrogant. ‘Who are you to pass judgment?’ we are admonished. Given this nonjudgmental atmosphere, it is not surprising that the moral outrage that often accompanies moral judgment is often regarded as a bad feeling that we should work to get beyond.”
“Live and let live” does not mean we have to put up with abuse and injustice. Gandhi in India and Martin Luther King, Jr. in our country have shown us that it is possible to take a stand in a loving way, without being self-righteous or hating our enemies. But again, this takes training and development.
An easy way to remember the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt comes from the inside and shame comes from the outside. We do not need to give in to shame, but we ignore guilty feelings at our own peril.
Boss: “Both pain and guilt act as damage control. Physical pain occurs when we damage our bodies, as a signal for us to take steps to fix the damage or remove the cause of the harm. In the same manner, guilt lets us know when something is morally wrong so that we can take steps to correct the situation.”
Boss: “The cognitive side of our conscience is involved in making rational judgments about what we ought to do. If we neglect or fail to develop the critical cognitive side of our conscience, our moral sentiments can get us into trouble or even lead us to commit immoral actions. Moral sentiments by themselves are uncritical.”
Boss: “People who are uncritically sympathetic make easy targets for those who would take advantage of their kindness. Other people feel overwhelmed with guilt but are unable to discern why or to devise a plan of action to remedy the situation that gave rise to the guilt in the first place.”
Boss: “Rationalization involves the use of rhetoric, fallacies, and resistance, rather than logical analysis. People who rationalize their harmful actions suffer from what is known as weakness of the will or a weak conscience. Weak-willed people place nonmoral values such as popularity or economic success above moral values and the demands of their conscience.”
Boss: “Acting in good conscience seems to be necessary for maintaining our sense of personal integrity. Our conscience compels us to question cultural norms that require us to be insincere or to pretend that we are someone we are not. To be at odds with our conscience is to be out of harmony with our very being.”
Boss: “Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was one of the first to systematically study moral reasoning in children. Children, he noticed, go through distinct stages in their moral development. The first stage he labeled the stage of heteronomy. This stage is based on a ‘morality of constraint.’”
Boss: “The second stage, the stage of autonomy, is based on a ‘morality of cooperation.’ Although Piaget regarded moral development as part of human nature, he also believed that interrelationships between the individual and society are essential to nurture the development of a sense of moral duty.”
Boss: “Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg believed that humans, with the exception of sociopaths and other severely impaired people, have an inherent potential for growth from the lower (earlier) to higher stages of moral development. These stages are transcultural and represent ‘transformations in the organization of thought, rather than increasing knowledge of cultural values.”
Boss: “Each stage, according to Kohlberg, is distinct and reflects a level of moral judgment that is more complex than that of the preceding stage. Gains that are made in moral judgment tend to be retained. The lower stages are not so much replaced by higher stages as incorporated into them - much like elementary school arithmetic becomes part of our way of understanding calculus.”
Boss: “Kohlberg identified three levels of moral development, each with two distinct stages. In the preconventional stages, moral duty and moral community are defined primarily in egocentric terms of oneself. Young children are preconventional reasoners.”
Boss: “The majority of adults in the United States are in the conventional stages of moral reasoning. They are heteronomous moral reasoners who look to outside sources - their peers or cultural norms - for moral guidance. Less than 10 percent of American adults ever reach the postconventional stages of autonomous moral reasoning.”
Boss: “Higher stages are preferable because people at these stages are more satisfied with their moral decisions. People, in general, prefer a solution to a moral problem that uses the highest stage of moral reasoning conceptually available to them. People who operate at a higher stage of moral reasoning are less likely to make moral decisions that they will later regret.”
It simply feels better to include more in our moral community rather than less. It is also more logical. As a result of bringing emotions and mind together at a higher level, there is more inner harmony.
Boss: “Most of the world’s moral philosophers have long held that autonomous moral reasoning, universality and impartiality, compassion and a concern for justice, and mutual respect are the hallmarks of sound moral reasoning.”
Boss: “Carol Gilligan, who had studied with Kohlberg, decided it was time to study women. In her interviews with women and through her study of women in literature, she concluded that women’s moral development tends to follow a different path than men’s. Men tend to be duty and principle oriented, women are more context oriented and tend to view the world in a more emotional and personal way.”
Boss: “Women’s moral judgment, Gilligan found, is characterized by a concern for themselves and others, accepting and maintaining responsibility within relationships, attachment, and self-sacrifice. She named this the ‘care perspective,’ in contrast to Kohlberg’s ‘justice perspective.’”
If boys and girls are playing a game and someone loses and starts to cry, the boys will often ignore the crying and move on. After all, the rules are the rules and they must be adhered to! The girls will often want to give the person who lost another chance. It is not that they don’t care about the rules; it is just that they care more about preserving the relationship.
Boss: “In both Kohlberg’s and Gilligan’s theories, the postconventional stage is represented by autonomous moral reasoning. The person looks to transcultural values - whether in the form of principles of justice and respect or moral sentiments such as compassion and empathy.”
One of the positive changes that seems to be slowly but surely happening is that patriarchy is dying, and men and women are coming together in new kinds of relationships that bring new levels of moral maturity to both groups.
Our moral stances may have less to do with our gender and more to do with how our sexuality is shaped. In cultures that separate the sexes strictly, there will be more differences. In cultures like our own, these differences may become less oriented toward gender differences, and simply represent different personality types that can be found in both men and women.
Boss: “Proficiency in making moral judgments clearly does not in itself guarantee that one will act morally. For example, we may fail to act morally because of fear or pressure from peers or authority figures even when we know what is right, a complex phenomenon that cannot be represented as a single variable.”
Boss: “Moral sensitivity is the awareness of how our actions affect others. It involves that ability to empathize and imagine ourselves in another person’s shoes. Problems such as poverty, social isolation, and homelessness exist, in part, because we simply don’t see the problem.”
Boss: “Only when we are painfully sensitive to actual suffering can we begin to move toward changing the social conditions that perpetuate injustice and suffering. Indeed, one of the strengths of feminist care ethics is its recognition of the importance of cultivating moral sensitivity.”
Boss: “Moral judgment that is not tempered with moral sensitivity can lead to behavior that is rigid and unfeeling. Justice untempered with feelings of mercy can lead to taking revenge on the offending party.”
Boss: “Moral motivation entails putting moral values above competing nonmoral values. Nationalistic and economic values as well as concerns about our popularity and conformity can all take precedence over what we clearly recognize to be the morally right action.”
Boss: “The last component of moral behavior is moral character. Moral character is related to integrity. A person of high moral character has managed to integrate the other three components of moral behavior into his or her personality. Moral character predisposes us to act morally. It includes personality traits such as ego strength, high self-esteem, courage, assertiveness, perseverance, and strength of convictions.”
Boss: “Our moral development, how we interact with others, and our self-actualization are all intimately connected. The higher our level of moral development, the more consistent our behavior will be with our beliefs and our conscience.”
Boss: “Morally good people not only sympathize with those who are suffering but, when feasible, take active steps to alleviate that suffering, and to restore justice and a sense of community. They are willing to speak out on behalf of themselves and others when they witness an injustice and will take effective and well-though-out action to correct that injustice.”
Boss: “Moral maturity involves overcoming resistance and rigidity in one’s thinking and one’s perception of the world. The ability to be flexible in our thinking involves both the recognition that there is more than one way to approach a given problem and the ability to effectively integrate the various components of moral development.”