Monday, January 30, 2006

Moral Development

My wife is a psychology teacher, and she and I recently had a discussion about Kohlberg's stages of moral development. I was intrigued, so I started doing some research in the interest of evaluating on which stage of reasoning classical liberal principles are based. Most sources on the subject suggest that democratic society, and/or the Constitution are based on Stage 5 moral reasoning. I think this is a fair assessment, but I believe that the underlying principles of classical liberalism...the rights to life, liberty, and property go beyond Stage 5 reasoning and into Stage 6.

Now maybe this is just me being arrogant. After all, Kohlberg himself had a difficult time finding enough individuals who operate at such a high stage of reasoning to prove conclusively that such a stage actually exists. Still, history and the works of many great liberal economists have shown that these principles are indeed universal, and that they bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number. This thought gives me a little more perspective on the difficulty of the task of adhering to and standing up for these principles.

It also provides some insight into the moral reasoning of various other groups of individuals. The State, for instance, appears to reason at Stage 4 but act according to Stage 3. The common criminal may reason at Stage 1, concerned only with the potential consequences of his actions. In fact, it's interesting to note that the greater the extent of the ubiquity of Stage 1 reasoning across society is ignored, the more obvious its proliferation becomes.