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Workshop Title: The Psychology of Moral Development


Who is this Workshop for?

High school students with an interest in the areas of business, ethics, and/or philosophy.  

Workshop Description

Morality has to do with the activity of selecting among alternative courses of actions. The action itself may be inherently moral or not; it may produce an outcome which may be deemed moral or not. An inherently moral action may be deemed as such from a rational perspective, while an action that is judged based on its consequences may be viewed as empirical in nature.


These two “philosophies” are quite different. The latter justifies a moral action by its consequences; it then may be said that the “ends justify the means.” The former may demand that no immoral action be justified regardless of the good consequences that result. There are times when an individual may consider one or the other rationale. Still others may not even think about the nature or repercussions of his/her actions. Some consider what “society requires.” One who does not consider the rationale or consequences of a fraught action, or of what is “acceptable,” will be viewed as having low moral development.


Moral Development may have a profound impact on public trust and business efficiency. Trust, it has been said makes the economic wheels turn faster. Trust makes for better private and public governance. Imagine if all business transactions had to be guaranteed by contract rather than mere trust. Would you be able to purchase a carton of milk at the grocery store? Would you have to hire an attorney to litigate all the harms, large and small, that you suffered every day? The law, as it exists, cannot police all our activities, nor can we fall back on it to adjudicate all wrongs.


Moral Development can be tested and scored in a Piagetian-type progressive hierarchy or “taxonomy.” Jean Piaget, around 1936, first tested the cognitive development of children. He went so far as to state that “only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.” He, like Aristotle two millennia before him, emphasized the importance of education at an early age.


In this course, we will explore whether ethics can be taught outside the home under parental tutelage and, if so, up to what age? What circumstances may interfere with moral development and behavior? We will examine two Piagetian-type moral developmental taxonomies, first by Lawrence Kohlberg and later by James Rest. We then will turn to the question of whether a highly morally developed person will, in fact, act more morally than others. We will challenge the validity of the psychometric instruments that we shall use for testing individuals.

Sample Research Topics

  • Do women score higher in moral development than men?

  • Do college-educated individuals score higher than those with less than a college degree?

  • Do professionals, including doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, etc. score higher than non-professionals who have either college degrees or not?

  • Do young people beyond high school age (18 years old) exhibit lower moral development scores?

  • Do individuals with more than ten years of work experience manifest lower scores than younger workers?

Past Students' Research Projects

106-21 Student Research - Eureka Program Ethics.jpg
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