Morality, Moral Development and Moral Reasoning

Associate Professor Michael Segon

Learning Objectives

The objectives of this topic are:

  • To define morality and understand its function in society
  • To understand the relationship between morality and law
  • To understand the concept of personhood and its characteristics
  • To understand the differences between accountability and responsibility
  • To develop the ability to analyse action and determine who is accountable and who is morally responsible
  • To understand the levels of moral maturity and how people decide between what is right and wrong.

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Morality

Arnold, Beauchamp and Bowie (2018) state that morality refers to the rules or principles sf moral conduct.

Morality suggests a social institution composed of a set of standards pervasively acknowledged by the members of a culture

In this context morality is concerned with practices defining right and wrong

Morality

Buchholz (1989) states that morality refers to judgements of Right and wrong, good and bad.

Three characteristics are associated with such judgements.

  • whether the judgements are universal
  • Whether the importance overrides other considerations
  • Whether moral praise and blame can be accorded to morally right and wrong actions

Moral Act

  • As we identified in the first unit, we hold a person morally accountable for their actions when they action with intent and a conscious of their actions.
  • A moral act is usually described as one that is committed knowingly and freely.
  • In other words for an individual to be conferred moral praise or blame they must satisfy certain conditions.
  • These conditions relate to the knowledge that they were capable of making the decision without any other factors that make affect their decision- these are the conditions of personhood-

Morality

Buchholz (1989) states that morality refers to judgements of Right and wrong, good and bad.

Three characteristics are associated with such judgements.

  • 1. whether the judgements are universal
  • 2. Whether the importance overrides other considerations
  • 3. Whether moral praise and blame can be accorded to morally right and wrong actions

Moral principles

Moral principles are statements or general guides as to what is morally right or wrong, what can be considered good or bad, or what we should or ought, or shouldn’t or ought not to do.

They may take various forms including:

  • Laws
  • Policies
  • Cultural principles
  • Spiritual or religious beliefs
  • etc

Moral standards

  • Moral Standards concern behaviour that can be of serious consequence to human welfare that can profoundly injure or benefit people.
  • Moral standards take priority over other standards, including self interest. they are more important than other considerations in guiding our actions.
  • The soundness of the standard depends on the adequacy of the reasons that support or justify them.

Characteristics of moral principles

Moral principles can be characterised on the basis of several conditions:

Prescriptive: They are applied consistently

Universal: They apply to all situations without exception

The override other considerations

They are public and known

They are practical and serve to guide action

Etiquette and morality

  • Etiquette refers to any special code of behaviour.
  • Rules are established in terms of acceptable conduct in certain circumstances.
  • If you violate the rules then you are considered ill mannered, uncivilised etc.,
  • Scrupulous observance of the rules of etiquette may not make one moral, in fact it may camouflage moral issues.

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Approaches to Ethics

We typically operate in two levels:

1. personal level in which we wish to judge and act in accordance to our conscience

2. the third person level in which we wish to judge the actions of others from an objective point of view, but do not wish to know or cannot know the subjective state of the one performing the action.

Problems with moral judgements

Where do our moral standards come from ?

Some argue that moral principles are established by:

religion

an issue of ethical relativism

a function of the society that we are examining

our parents and upbringing

schools and universities

peers and friends

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Religion, spirituality and morality

  • Any religion provides its followers, believers, with a world view which will involve a degree of moral instruction, values and commitments.
  • Religion involves not only a formal system of worship but also prescriptions for social relationships.
  • Similarly spiritual beliefs that are not religious, including many indigenous value systems, provide rules of conduct that allow for a functioning society.

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Conscience or morality?

  • Conscience is the development that occurs over time as we internalise the moral codes and instructions given to us by parents and authority figures.
  • As we become older we become morally independent, thus our own moral codes and those of the developed conscience may differ.

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Morality and law

Morality and law share concerns over matters of basic social importance ad have in common certain principles, o obligations and criteria of evidence.

Law is the public’s agency for translating morality into explicit social guidelines and practices and stipulating punishment for offences.

In theory and practice, law codifies customs, ideas, beliefs and a society’s moral values

Law reflects the changes that occur in a society’s outlook in its view of right and wrong.

Law can be viewed as the minimum moral standard of a society.

(Arnold, Beauchamp and Bowie, 2018)

Morality and law

  • An important issue is whether a person found guilty of an offence under “law” is similarly morally guilty?
  • Such judgements are not necessarily correct but rather depend on the moral acceptability of the law upon which the decision has been reached.
  • Similarly both law and morality change over time which adds to the complexity of aligning law and morality in all situations.

(Arnold, Beauchamp and Bowie, 2018)

Moral position and reasoning

A moral position is one that can be supported through reason ( rationale)

Moral reasoning is the process of using rational decision making to analyze and using factual information to support a particular position or decision that has moral dimension

Moral reasoning requires that:

  • The decisions that are impartial
  • the arguments that support the reasoning are valid
  • the arguments that support the reasoning are sound

Personhood

Personhood is conferred on people when:

They are considered sentient and fully aware of themselves.

The capacity to make rational and informed decisions.

They have the capacity to assess the impact (consequences) of their actions on others.

They have memory that allows for reflection on past practice as a means of projecting judgments into the future

They have and act with “purposefulness”, which can also be referred to as intent- a critical feature for assigning moral responsibility.

A person satisfying these conditions is considered to be a “moral agent” also sometimes referred to as a moral actor.”

Accountability for a moral act

  • When assigning moral praise or blame for an action and its consequences, we are making judgments about others.
  • An important distinction is to look at the action and the “individual” who caused it to occur- the perpetrator of the act and then to determine whether they should be held accountable- i.e. do they satisfy the conditions of personhood?
  • In this sense we recognize the action and the outcome have moral significance, however holding the individual responsible for these is not necessarily the same thing!

Moral accountability and responsibility

  • The two terms ”accountability” and responsibility” are related, often used interchangeably and sometimes have slightly different meanings in different disciplines.
  • We a can distinguish between the two in terms when examining a moral act in the following way
  • Accountability: An individual is accountable if they committed an action to took a decision that results in an outcome.
  • We are merely identifying the perpetrator of the act.
  • Responsibility: The issue of responsibility is linked to personhood and whether the individual had the capacity to make an informed decision.

Accountability and Responsibility

The distinction between accountability and responsibility allows us to consider several options in examining a moral act

  • An individual could be both accountable and responsible for an act.
  • An individual may be accountable for an act but not responsible for it.
  • An individual may be responsible for an act but may not have committed it.

Factors that mitigate moral responsibility

Mitigating factors that can lessen a person’s moral responsibility.

  • 1. circumstances that leave a person uncertain about what he or she is doing
  • 2. circumstances that make it difficult for a person to avoid an action
  • 3. circumstances that minimise, but does not completely remove a person’s involvement in an act

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Persons and Non-Persons

  • The distinction between accountability and responsibility raises the issue of what is a person and what is not.
  • Generally speaking we recognize human beings as “persons” satisfying the conditions of personhood.
  • Animals are not persons and we do not hold them responsible for their actions. For example, shark that attacks and kills a swimmer can be identified as committing the act which results in a bad outcome.
  • Yet their behaviour was “natural”- we would not hold the shark morally responsible for the act.

Humans and personhood

A debatable and controversial aspect of personhood is at what point do we recognize an individual as satisfying the conditions of personhood and thus their capacity to make moral decisions?
Similarly can a person “lose” their capacity thus no longer satisfy the conditions of personhood?

  • These questions are relevant in many contexts for people such as:
  • when is a fetus regarded as sentient,
  • when does a child have the cognitive ability to make informed decisions
  • when a mental illness affects a person’s ability to make decisions

Moral maturity

  • Our ability to make ethical or moral decisions is in part determined by our cognitive ability to analyse the context of the decision and how we relate to others either affected by or who have some interest in the decisions.
  • Lawrence Kohlberg found that people need to decide what course of action is morally right and then they must choose the morally right path over others.
  • Kohlberg’s theory primarily focuses on the first process, the process by which people decide what is morally right (French & Granose 1996, Velasquez, 2006, Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015).

Cognitive moral maturity

  • Kolhberg suggests that there are three basic levels of cognitive ability which we all go through sequentially. As our level of cognitive moral maturity develops, so does our ability to understand more complex ethical dimensions to the problems that confront us.
  • However, he also contends that people can only understand the perspectives and decisions of others within their own level or those below and that they struggle to understand those above.

(French & Granose 1996, Velasquez, 2006, Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015).

Cognitive ability

  • Our ability to make ethical or moral decisions is in part determined by our cognitive ability to analyse the context of the decision and how we relate to others either affected by or who have some interest in the decisions.
  • Lawrence Kohlberg found that people need to decide what course of action is morally right and then they must choose the morally right path over others.
  • Kohlberg’s theory primarily focuses on the first process, the process by which people decide what is morally right (French & Granose 1996, Velasquez, 2006, Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015).

(Freeman, 2005)

Cognitive Moral Development Model

Kohlberg’s six stages:

Pre-conventional level:

1. punishment & obedience

2. fairness to oneself

Conventional level:

3. emphasizes others rather than themselves

4. right is determined by considering one’s duty to society

Post Conventional level:

5. concern for upholding the basic rights, values, & legal contracts of society

6. right is determined by universal ethical principles

(Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2011, French and Granose, 1995)

Pre-conventional

Stage 1: punishment & obedience

In stage one, the decision as to what behaviour is right is largely determined by the rewards and punishments and favours associated with the action.

This suggests people follow laws and rules automatically because they do not want the negative consequences, e.g. reprimands, fines etc. or, because they are rewarded through prizes, salaries etc.

Stage 2: fairness to oneself

At stage two, recognition of personal reward and satisfaction and a duty to oneself develops.

This concept is known as reciprocity. The “scratch my back and I’ll scrat

People engage in behaviour that they know will yield possible favours in return, or feel obliged to repay a debt.

(Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015, French and Granose, 1995).

Conventional

At this level people have recognised the importance of a group of society, usually family or some important group. e.g. and organisational work group or the company.

What is determined as right is generally living up to the roles and expectations others, unfulfilling duties and obligations and following rules and laws.

Stage 3: emphasizes others rather than themselves

At stage three what is morally right is that which either helps or is approved by others close to you.

The important concepts are those of trust and loyalty. So people may do what is asked of them by a boss or managers because they want to please them or because others whom we respect say its important to follow the directions of our bosses.

Stage 4: right is determined by considering one’s duty to society

At stage four our perspective broadens to consider the wider societal group.

People tend to make decisions based against the agreed duties and following rules which are designed to promote the common good.

(Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015, French and Granose, 1995)

Post-conventional

At this level people have gone beyond notions of self interest or referent groups, rather they make decisions based on more principled notions consistent with justice and rights.

Stage 5: concern for upholding the basic rights, values, & legal contracts of society

In this stage people still regard rules and laws are important, because they maintain social cohesion (known as the concept of social contract), however people are prepared to change laws for usual social purposes.

In addition people consider the concept of moral law, that which exist beyond the written law as contributing toward societal well being

Stage 6: right is determined by universal ethical principles

At stage six people have moved to a higher level in which the notion of universal laws and principles are applied.

Decision are made by an appeal to what individuals believe are universal truths.

(Ferrell, Fraedrich and Ferrell, 2015, French and Granose, 1995)

CMD Summarized

Principle based

Is my behaviour guided by

universally accepted principles?

Conformity

What behaviour do I need to
demonstrate to be accepted by my
peers / my organisation?

Self interest

If I behave in this way, will
I be punished or rewarded?

Stages of Moral Development

As people progress through stages of CMD, and with time, education, and experience, they may change their values and ethical behavior

Kohlberg’s approach seeks to explain is how they came to make the decision.

It helps explain how they see the world and the critical factors which influence their decisions.

The ethics bank as a moral concept

American Philosopher Tom Donaldson (1998) in an address to the European Business Ethics Network proposed that another way of looking at behaviour is transactional.

  • He suggested that some people’s approach to ethical decision is not based on notions of what is right or wrong. Rather it is a conscious decision to follow an action which they know to be wrong, but argue that it is mitigated by other good deeds they have done in the past.
  • Thus the concept of the ethics bank in which an ethics balance is established where good behaviour could be deposited so as to allow the occasional withdrawal via bad behaviour.
  • This concept appears to have greater relevance at an organisational level where organisation who create harm or do not meet their obligations in one area, may engage in CSR activities as a trade-off.

Benjamin’s moral typology

Kohlberg’s model helps identify why people make decisions based on their ability to assess the level of ethical complexity associated with a decision. It assumes that individuals attempt to make ethical decisions based on their level of cognitive moral development. However it does not identify the characteristics of individuals who clearly engage in unethical practice.

Benjamin developed such a model that identifies four personality types, which are unlikely to uphold integrity (French and Granose, 1995, pp 166-9).

  • The moral chameleon: anxiety for acceptance and to avoid dispute means they are prepared to abandon ‘previously avowed principles in order to placate others’.
  • The opportunist: are those who are able to continually move on from initial moral positions to gain short-term advantages.
  • The hypocrite have ‘one set of values for public display and another that they keep hidden, but which actually motivate their behaviour’
  • The self-deceiver: are perhaps the most dangerous. Such people often espouse high integrity behaviour and fervently believe they uphold their well intentioned values, without being aware that their actions suggest otherwise

Morality and Relativism

  • Given this discussion it is clear that moral principles and perspectives are linked to a variety of sources including culture, religion, education, intelligence amongst others.
  • What should also be clear is that these factors differ based on place and time.

    The differing perspectives on morality is referred to as relativism- and is the main focus of the next topic of the unit.

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