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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review - Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

The huge claim of this book is that morality is synonymous with justice and that justice is synonymous with equality. The purpose of this book is to argue that moral education (which for him is justice education) should be part of public education. Kohlberg insists that justice education is not value re-education of other people's children because what he is interested in is the growth of the concept of justice in the child (the complexity or level of abstraction of the child's thinking about justice) rather than any particular idea of justice. Fascinating idea!

But then--

This has to happen in school because Kohlberg does not think anyone will think deeply or clearly unless they are "stimulated into it." If I did agree that children need to be "stimulated" into thinking deeply, I would still find it annoying that Kohlberg assumes that school is better at achieving this than the child's parents or life in general. Moreover, I find it annoying that Kohlberg thinks school even can accomplish this since my experience in school was that it was unable to stimulate (force) those who were not interested in thinking deeply to do so and it was a cumbersome waste of time for those of us who were going to think deeply anyway.

But this is neither here or there because Kohlberg's arguments, for anyone paying attention, are all subterfuge. Kohlberg absolutely wants value re-education of other people's children. He wants America to buy into his idea of equality (Harrison Bergeron style socialism). He wants to accomplish this through the education system.

This repetitive, contradictory, and boring mess of a book should have been a concise report on a very small (and disorganized) study that Kohlberg did on 50 similar boys and how their concept of justice developed over a decade or two and how that compares to 1 philosopher Kohlberg likes. Of course, it would have been dismissed instantly, since Kohlberg completely failed to control any variables, but at least it would have been clear. Instead this book tries to be Piaget's theory of development as applied to the concept of justice. And since Kohlberg draws on many fascinating ideas and even appears intelligent at times, the reader who is not paying attention may mistake Kohlberg's mess for actually proving something. Kohlberg does not have the research to back up the conclusions-for-all-of-mankind that he makes and I seriously hope, for his sake, that this book was a giant attempt at manipulation via distraction because otherwise he is a just a terd who should not be taken seriously who wrote a book called, "No one should be allowed to be prettier than anyone else!"

Kohlberg claims that he is not arguing for any one specific idea of justice, but since all the level 6 philosophers he includes agree on what is just... he is. (And note that by "all" the level 6 philosophers I do not mean the claims Kohlberg makes about Martin Luther King or Jesus, but rather the one or two who participated in his study which I have a sneaking suspicion were both Kohlberg.)

Kohlberg's theory of justice is equality. He says, "The rationale for government is the preservation of the rights of individuals, that is, of justice." Let me clarify this since Kohlberg struggles so much with clarity: You have a right to be as smart as your neighbor! You have a right to be as pretty as your neighbor! Your government is here to make sure equality prevails! To make sure no one has the freedom to be better at anything than anyone else! Your government will preserve your rights to have no freedoms whatsoever!

It entertained me when Kohlberg tackled Objectivists on page 156 (I believe this is what he was doing, he never stated it explicitly): "The metaethical questioning that appears typically as a transitional phase in the movement from Stage 4 to Stage 5 does not always lead directly to stage 5 thinking. Instead, it may generate a number of ideologies whose common feature is the exaltation of the self... Although our work suggests that such college student ideologies are usually short-lived... there is no doubt that under some social conditions such ideologies become stabilized orientations... At their best, they celebrate a moral conscience little distinguishable in its principles from the stage 3 or 4 moral sense but held as the sacred possession of an inner self whose moral integrity comes before both community welfare and rational discussion."

Lol. All rational people know that community welfare is best served by making everyone wear a mask so no one is prettier than anyone else!

According to Kohlberg, you cannot "move past stages 3 and 4" unless you:
1. buy into Rawl's veil of ignorance and
2.  agree that the highest value above all, is human life and that preservation of that life is the standard of morality in all situations. "We know that it is alright to be dishonest and steal to save a life because it is just, because one person's right to life comes before another person's right to property."

This drove me insane while reading this book. Over and over in this book we are told that property is subordinate to human life. Never is it mentioned that to create property requires the time of a human life and to take his property is take his time--which means, to enslave him. You cannot get to stages 5 and 6 unless you agree that enslaving in order to save a life is moral.

The other thing that drove me insane was the failure to question in any form the veil of ignorance theory. (ISN'T THAT WHAT ADVANCED COMPLEX THINKING IS ABOUT KOHLBERG?!!!!?????)

Kohlberg's sorry excuse for a study revolves around the Heinz dilemma: Your wife is dying. You cannot get enough money for the drug that will save her. Time is running out. Should you steal the drug to save her?

Kohlberg says: absolutely, and every highly evolved moral person agrees, that stealing the drug to save her is the right thing to do. Because the preservation of life comes before property and you must chose to live in a society without knowing what role you will play (i.e., in this scenario, you may be cast as the wife and in that case you would definitely want your husband to steal the cure).

So first, I hate this moral dilemma because in real life, there are always other solutions (like making a deal with the guy who has the drug to work off the cost).

Second, let's clarify this question. (Yay! This is what makes books like this fun for me!) The moral dilemma is:
-Would you enslave an enemy so that your wife may live? (Of course! Though I would not argue that it was just.)
-Would you agree to be a slave so that you may live? (Ummmm, for how long?)
-Would you enslave your husband for ten years so that you may live? (Is he okay with that?)
-Would you enslave your child for fifty years so that you may live? (Nope, I'd rather die.)
-Would you enslave the children of 100 strangers for fifty years so that you may live? (Hmmmm)
-Would you enslave 100 of your closest friends and family for fifty tears so that you may live? (Definitely not. I'd rather die.)

My point is this: The veil of ignorance combined with the preservation of life as the highest moral value is incorrect. Yes, we all want to live. But there is a limit. There are prices we are unwilling to pay. It's easy to enslave a stranger. It's hard to enslave those you love. But I would rather live in a world where the moral idea is that we do not, in fact, enslave each other. We can understand that desperate people  make desperate choices without claiming that it is moral or without condoning it legally.

Let's call this the Darth Vader Syndrome. In the Star Wars story Anakin Skywalker kills an untold number of people, because that is, he believes, the only way to save Padme from certain death. But when Padme finds out what he has done "for her" she doesn't appreciate his gift. Moreover, he has become a bad guy in order to save her life. Rawls theory has to be wrong. Anything that requires immoral action has to be wrong. It's not that I am an impractical moralist. It's the humans know deep down that the ends are never worth the means, no matter how practical those means seam.

My favorite chapter was "The Question of the Seventh Stage." These folks are post-morality. They contemplate the questions: Why be moral? The universe isn't. They renounce their demand for justice. They have to find a new reason to live and new way to face death. Which, I mean, if that's the 7th stage, doesn't it kinda kill Kohlberg's whole argument? Kohlberg claims that all level 7 folks find their answer is selfless servitude to people suffering.

In closing: What I take away from this book is that human beings are a obsessed with justice. They will do immoral things in the name of their desire for justice. If I want the freedom to be anything, to be myself, to strive, to work, to keep that for which I strove, those with whom I live must agree that it is fair, just, and right for me to be or do so, otherwise, they will rob, enslave, and punish me. Because humans are obsessed with justice.

But of course humans are obsessed with this abstract idea because they are repressing what they are really feeling and needing which is usually compassion, acceptance, and visibility. So instead of obsessing over justice, read NonViolent Communication!

My favorite quotes:

"Why is freedom to be one-self good--by what standard is it a good thing?" page 72

"Anyone who understands the values of life and property recognizes that life is morally more valuable than property." page 123

"The fundamental norm of relationship between people is justice: that is, reciprocity and equality." page 166 (note that Kohlberg relates to other human beings with control).

"Like it or not, teachers are moral educators (or miseducators) as creators of the "hidden curriculum" of the moral climate of the classroom. Insofar as educators do not critically examine the values that govern life and discipline in the classroom or simply opt out of enforcing existing conventions, they "cop out" from really dealing with the values issue, and they engage in subtle or blatant forms of indoctrination. Therefore, teachers must face Socrates' question "What is virtue." somewhere near the beginning.

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