Moral Development and Reality: Beyond the Theories of Kohlberg and Hoffman


John C. Gibbs

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    Dedicated To John Lowell Gibbs


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    It can be confidently ventured that the present work by John Gibbs will be one of the most widely discussed contributions to moral psychology in quite some time. The achievement is not simply one of fine exegesis or cogent summary. Although the book is a comprehensive primer on foundational matters, it also provides insights of astonishing integrative power across a wide range of literatures and disciplines. Even those who are well versed in the theoretical subtleties of moral cognition, empathy, and development will find the present work rich with penetrating insights. For example, the critical distinction between constructivist and internalization processes in moral development is drawn with remarkable clarity. A social-cognitive framework is folded quite easily into the theoretical narrative, including the vast literatures on social-cognitive distortions (or sanitizing euphemisms) that corrupt our moral appraisal. The analysis of antisocial youth and how to treat them is the best that I have seen on this question. Currently relevant case studies—for example, of Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh—will be read with keen interest. On top of this, the text is quite alive intellectually, a real page-turner for those who are animated by cutting-edge debates in the moral domain. This is a work of accomplished and assured scholarship. It offers the best analysis of the contribution of Kohlberg and Hoffman to moral development theory currently available. And the best part is this: It has a surprise ending!

    For all the helpful insights and integrative work evident in this book, it would be a mistake to see it simply as an attempt to clear away the theoretical detritus that has grown up around these venerable theories. It does this, certainly, but the objective is more ambitious. It is, in addition, a sustained argument for a way of understanding the very nature of our existence. It asserts a reality that is deeper, Platonic, noumenal, but not entirely hidden from us. This deeper reality can, indeed, be glimpsed after careful excavation of moral development theory. A more fundamental reality is said to lie “beyond” our theoretical understanding of moral cognition and empathic arousal, but these theories can point us in the right direction if properly considered. Professor Gibbs takes on this task with admirable skill. The reader is gradually seduced into a project of moral archeology that progressively uncovers a remarkable find but only after sifting through the fine points of developmental theory, brushing away the incoherence of the empirical record, and reconstructing the linkage between cognition and empathy in moral functioning. Not everyone will be happy with the speculative conclusions. The book's ontological claims will be a source of enduring reflection, debate, and controversy. Yet the ambition is breathtaking and cannot be faulted. Indeed, if Piaget's genetic epistemology can dare to resolve epistemological problems with the empirical facts of cognitive development, and if Kohlberg's project can aim to defeat ethical relativism with the data of moral development, then it is just a short step to use developmental theory to face up to questions of existence and reality.

    I want to give just one example of how careful theoretical excavation yields an insight that sustains the central claims of this book. Professor Gibbs argues that Kohlberg's stage theory fails largely because his best Piagetian insights were corrupted by his fascination with Dewey's writings on internalization and group conformity. Hence, Kohlberg's formulation of moral stages has a strong Piagetian source, but his formulation of the preconventional, conventional, and postconventional typology can be traced to Dewey. Grafting this typology to developmental stages was, according to Gibbs, a big mistake. Kohlberg's embrace of this typology led him to confuse construction with internalization and to underestimate the moral competence of children and adolescents. To put it differently, Kohlberg to some extent abandoned Piagetian constructivism for an internalization view of moral development. Hence, constructivist notions of the “active child” and schema building were assimilated to a modified version of moral internalization—and this to keep faith with Dewey's notions about group conformity. To call Kohlberg's Deweyan commitments the “Procrustean bed” that distorts his developmental theory is a startling claim.

    The attack on exclusive internalization views of morality is sustained throughout the text. Professor Gibbs argues that the construction of moral structures, or of moral reciprocity, cannot be reduced to the internalization of moral norms, principally because reciprocity and justice are sui generis cognitions that have the necessity of logico-mathematical knowledge. Logical necessity is the operational property of Piagetian structures and, when applied to moral judgments, sustains the view that moral obligation entails a sense of obligation related to the necessities of logic. In short, moral reciprocity is akin to logic. If this is true, then justice develops a motive power all its own, independently of affect or empathy. The claims for logical necessity and the auto-motivating quality of moral judgments are a crucial thematic point. It allows Professor Gibbs to press the following analogy that underwrites the central objective of the book. Just as physicists use mathematics to describe reality that we cannot see, then, if decentered moral judgment or moral reciprocity is akin to mathematics, moral reciprocity also can point to an unseen deeper reality. Hence, the claim of logical necessity for moral judgments, derived from a Piagetian source and wielded against the rival internalization view, is pressed into the service of ontological claims about the nature of a deeper, Platonic reality. The possibility of a deeper reality is suggested not only by the logical foundations of such moral notions as ideal reciprocity, mutual respect, or the Golden Rule but also by empathic love and the meta-cognitive reflection of adults on the “limit questions” that Kohlberg once instantiated as a “Stage 7” concern.

    This brief example is just an invitation to join Professor Gibbs in the most interesting exploration of moral development theory that one is likely to encounter. This book offers a compelling reason to believe in the ability of social-cognitive development to offer cogent, powerful explanations of cognitive-emotional development and a framework for understanding and treating troubled, antisocial youth. It will be of profound interest to developmental theorists and practitioners who draw inspiration from clinical-developmental theory. Each chapter will be read with profit, is rife with fresh insights, and will make a contribution to the literature. And be ready to confront the most interesting questions of our moral existence.

    Daniel K.Lapsley, Ph.D. Ball State University

    Figure and Tables

    • 8.1 Diagram of the Operating Room at the Barrow Neurological Institute 197
    • 3.1 Outline of the Life Span Development of Moral Judgment and Reflection 74
    • 7.1 Problem Names and Thinking Errors 163
    • 7.2 The Equipment Meeting Curriculum in a Nutshell 172
    • 7.3 Alonzo's Problem Situation 178
    • 7.4 Gary's Thinking Errors 182
    • 7.5 Victims and Victimizers 185

    Personal Preface and Acknowledgments

    First among my acknowledgments in this personal preface are the two names in the title: the late Lawrence Kohlberg and Martin L. Hoffman. Their theories are central to moral psychology (Lapsley, 1996). Kohlberg's and Hoffman's works were already prominent in 1971, the year I asked each of these men to contribute to my doctoral study of social influences upon children's resistance to temptation (Gibbs, 1972). Hoffman mailed from the University of Michigan his measure of parental nurturance, and Kohlberg, on my campus (Harvard University), participated as a member of my reading committee.

    After completing my dissertation in 1972, I continued collegial interaction with both theorists, especially with Kohlberg. In 1975, Larry, as everyone called him, invited me to join him at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This I did gladly, collaborating as a research faculty member in the completion of his longitudinal moral judgment project (Colby, Kohlberg, Gibbs, & Lieberman, 1983; Gibbs, Kohlberg, Colby, & Speicher-Dubin, 1976) and assessment manual (Colby et al., 1987). In the free atmosphere of Harvard, I also was encouraged to develop certain theoretical and empirical contributions. After reading the page proofs of my 1977 Harvard Educational Review revisionist critique of his stage typology, Larry told me that I “could be right.”

    I remain deeply appreciative that Larry continued to support and encourage my work in moral development even after I left Harvard (in 1979) for a faculty appointment at The Ohio State University. He wrote the foreword to an early group-administrable moral judgment assessment instrument that colleagues and I developed (Gibbs, Widaman, & Colby, 1982). He also continued to consider sympathetically my revisionist argument, even proposing (in part along the lines of that argument) a reconceptualization of adult moral development (Kohlberg, 1984). He appreciated our (Gibbs & Schnell, 1984) overview of his moral developmental approach vis-à-vis moral socialization approaches such as Hoffman's. He was interested in our (Gibbs et al., 1986) work on exemplary prosocial behavior. He even shared my interest in the near-death experience and the question of a deeper reality of human existence. Hence, although he died in 1987, years before the start of this book, Larry Kohlberg in effect nurtured its advance shoots.

    I have also kept in touch with Martin Hoffman, for whose continued encouragement and help I am also grateful. Like Larry, Marty appreciated our (Gibbs & Schnell, 1984) overview of his and Kohlberg's approaches to moral development (indeed, he had provided helpful comments on a preliminary version). He also constructively commented on a subsequent chapter and article of mine (Gibbs, 1991b, 1991c) that proposed an integration of his and Kohlberg's theories. He (Hoffman, 1991) even wrote a commentary on that article. (Remarkably, Marty's commentary began, “The last time I saw Larry Kohlberg, about a year before he died, we decided to get together some day soon and try to integrate our theories. We never did” [p. 105]; but cf. Hoffman, 2000.) Contemporaneous with that article and commentary, and thanks in part to a recommendation from Marty, my graduate advisee Julie Krevans gained funding for her proposed doctoral dissertation. The result was an important study of Hoffman's theory of moral internalization (Krevans, 1992; Krevans & Gibbs, 1991, 1996; see Chapter 4 of this book). More recently, Marty (Hoffman, 2000) supportively commented that he was “impressed with the variety of [social perspective-taking] methods” (p. 293) used in our (Gibbs, Potter, & Goldstein, 1995) multicomponent program for the treatment of moral judgment developmental delay, self-serving cognitive distortion, and other factors in antisocial behavior (see Chapter 6). Several times during the 1990s, in fact, Marty encouraged me to write this book.

    Marty's first “encouragement” was actually a one-word challenge. At the 1987 American Educational Research Association meeting in Washington, D.C., Martin Hoffman and Nancy Eisenberg presented an Invited Dialogue. As the discussant for their presentations, I commented that Marty's theory presumed “affective primacy” (empathy as the exclusive source) in moral motivation. Marty replied, “So?” Unpacked, that meant, I think: So what's wrong with that? A fair question, I thought. This book reflects in part my effort to respond to Marty's question; my hope is that the book will stimulate anew our continuing dialogue.

    Writing this book has meant for me the thrilling opportunity to seek some closure concerning questions that have consumed my interest over the past three decades since 1971: What is morality? Can we speak validly of moral development, as Kohlberg and Hoffman claim, or is morality relative to the particular values and virtues emphasized in particular cultures? Is the moral motivation of behavior primarily cognitive, a matter of justice (Kohlberg)? Or is it primarily affective, a matter of empathy (Hoffman)? Are Kohlberg's and Hoffman's theories integrable? Can they adequately account for exemplary prosocial—and, for that matter, chronic antisocial—behavior? What are their implications for treating antisocial behavior? Finally, going beyond the theories: Does moral development, including moments of moral insight, inspiration, and transformation, reflect a deeper reality?

    Again, this book seeks to answer these questions. My hope is that the book will find its place not only as a supplementary text in graduate and advanced undergraduate courses pertinent to one or more of these questions (facilitating this role are chapter questions listed in the appendix) but also as a contribution to broader dialogues in the academic and intellectual community.

    I will use “we”—as in, “we will explore moral development through the theories of Kohlberg and Hoffman”—frequently throughout this book. At some points, the pronoun may seem odd, but its use is quite intentional. In part, “we” is used for ordinary reasons: to convey in the writing “an impersonal character” {Funk & Wagnalls New International Dictionary of the English Language, 2000, p. 1425) and a presumed partnership with the reader. A special reason, however, is that at many points I do mean we not in some impersonal sense but, instead, quite literally and personally. I did write this book and do accept any credit or blame that may ensue. Fundamentally, however, not “I” but we accomplished this book. It exists only because of the collaboration, critiques, and encouragement of so many: not only mentors such as Larry Kohlberg and Marty Hoffman (and, even before 1971 at Harvard and once again in 2002, Herb Kelman) but so many other good and thoughtful people: coauthors, other colleagues, graduate students, advanced undergraduates, friends, and family.

    Let me express first my appreciation to my coauthors. In addition to my abiding appreciation of Larry Kohlberg, I thank, most notably, Helen Ahlborn, Kevin Arnold, Alvaro Barriga, Karen Basinger, George Bear, Marvin Berkowitz, Dick Fuller, Larry Brendtro, Phil Clark, Anne Colby, Lance Garmon, Barry Glick, Arnie Goldstein (now deceased), Ginny Gregg (Jelinek), Becca Grime, Mary Horn, Julie Krevans, Jennifer Landau (Harrold), Leonard Leeman, Albert Liau, Marion Mason, Bud Potter, SaraJane Rowland, Steve Schnell, Randy Shively, Susan Simonian, Bobby Lee Stinson, Ann Swillinger, and Keith Widaman.

    Among my current colleagues (in addition to my coauthors) here at Ohio State and in the local intellectual community, I am so grateful for the helpful feedback or encouragement of Randy Anderson, Bob Batterman, Sally Boysen, Harold Cheyney, Jane Cottrell, Russ Crabtree, Don Dell, Sy Dinitz, Dorothy Jackson, Norm Knapp, Herb Mirels, Ray Montemayor, Steve Robbins, Bob Rodgers, Linda Schoen, Vladimir Sloutsky, George Thompson, Mike Vasey, Jerry Winer, and Charles Wenar. Among colleagues (again, in addition to my coauthors) at other institutions, I thank Mary Lou Arnold, Diana Baumrind, Roger Bergman, Laura Berk, Daan Brugman, Gustavo Carlo, Bill Damon, Ann-Marie DiBiase, Jim DuBois, Nancy Eisenberg, Ed Giventer (now deceased), Bruce Greyson, Jonathan Haidt, Marty Hoffman, Ray Hummel, Tobias Krettenauer, Dan Lapsley, David Lorimer, Ron Mallett, Dave Moshman, Frank Murray, Elena Mustakova-Possardt, Ulric Neisser, Larry Nucci, Fumi Onishi, Clark Power, Don Reed, Don Richardson, Mike Sabom, Stanton Samenow, Ping Serafica, John Snarey, Elly Vozzola, and Larry Walker. Laura Berk, Ed Giventer (now deceased), Ray Hummel, George Thompson, and Charles Wenar critiqued the entire book draft, making contributions for which I am especially grateful.

    Special thanks also go to Jim Brace-Thompson, my editor at Sage Publications, who from the start believed in my vision and facilitated its actualization in the form of this book; Dan Lapsley, for his insightful and gracious foreword; Marty Jamison, for his unerring literature searches in my behalf; Tom Sawyer, for taking the time to critique Chapter 8 and to update for me his remarkable saga; and the graduate students of Psychology 832 (Sociomoral Development) as well as the reviewers recruited by Jim (Gustavo Carlo, Dan Lapsley, and Dave Moshman among them) for their enthusiastic comments and thoughtful suggestions toward improving the book's draft chapters. Among graduate students, Renee Patrick stands out as one who repeatedly pointed to places in the chapter drafts needing clarification, correction, or elaboration and who even suggested important new points I could make. Her advice was sound every time.

    Other contributors and supporters include the members of my family. This book is dedicated to my father, John Lowell Gibbs, the first great love of my life, with whom I first discovered the joy and deep connection of true dialogue (as well as the fun of trading puns and other half-witticisms). I also thank Jonathan Lowell Gibbs, Louise B. Gibbs, Stephanie Anne Viereck Gibbs, Sophia Gibbs Kim, Sung Clay Kim, Lea Queener, Llew Queener, Carol Gibbs Stover, JohnAlexis Viereck, and Peter Viereck. Lastly, I thank Valerie V. Gibbs: my life's greatest love, my co-adventurer, my wife and partner in the most personal sense of “we” of all.

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    Appendix: Short-Answer Essay Questions for the Chapters

    Briefly Discuss the Following:

    Chapter 1: Introduction
    • The author's conception of the bases of moral evaluation. In what sense can morality be objective, according to this conception? How does this conception differ from other views of morality?
    • “Growing beyond the superficial” in morality.
    • Antisocial behavior, even among those who may not be delayed in moral judgment development. What are some possible explanations in terms of the camp incident?
    Chapter 2: “The Right” and Moral Development: Fundamental Themes of Kohlberg's Cognitive-Developmental Approach
    • The thesis that early childhood moral (and other) judgment tends to be “superficial.” What (especially in terms of Piaget's theory) accounts for this superficiality?
    • The sense in which the social cognition of young children tends to be egocentrically biased. How can egocentric bias be construed as part of superficial moral judgment?
    • Superficial judgment in the context of nonsocial cognition. How does centration in judgments pertaining to conservation relate to “the curious caprice of the young child”?
    • “Growth beyond the superficial” in terms of decentration (spatial, temporal) and construction in nonsocial cognition. Describe how experiments using the conservation task have helped to distinguish construction from internalization.
    • Conservation knowledge. How is it “crucially” different from non-conservation responses? Illustrate how conservation responses are based on decentration and reciprocity. Can conservation knowledge motivate behavior?
    • Reciprocity as (a) an internalized moral norm and (b) a socially constructed ideal. What conditions enhance the likelihood that peer interaction will lead to the construction of moral reciprocity?
    • Manifestations of logical necessity and cognitive primacy in the context of sociomoral motivation.
    • Moral reciprocity. Is it a uniquely human phenomenon? What stage-related distinction is important in this connection? What role does “reflective abstraction” play?
    • The difference made by moral reciprocity as an ideal in moral motivation. Does Hoffman specifically identify ideal reciprocity? How does ideal reciprocity help us to evaluate norms of blood vengeance?
    • Moral judgment development beyond Stage 3 in the Gibbs et al. view. Under what conditions does Stage 3 moral judgment not fully represent moral-cognitive adequacy? What social perspective-taking opportunities seem to be important for advanced development?
    • Immature and mature moral judgment stages. How are they assessed by the Sociomoral Reflection Measure-Short Form (SRM-SF)? What are stages or schemas? How must “stage sequence” be understood in moral development?
    • Adaptive learning and development in terms of Piagetian theory.
    Chapter 3: Kohlberg's Theory: A Critique and New View
    • Kohlberg's and Piaget's claims vis-à-vis more traditional views of morality.
    • The sense in which Kohlberg's claims regarding age trends in moral judgment were “bolder” than Piaget's.
    • Kohlberg's overhaul of Piaget's moral judgment phases or stages. How did the Deweyan influence “distort” moral judgment development in Kohlberg's overhaul? What was “lost” as a result? What “irony” was evident?
    • Violations of invariant-sequence expectations discovered dealt with in the course of Kohlberg's longitudinal research. In Kohlberg's stage revisions to restore invariant sequence, what two new problems for Kohlberg's stage typology were created? These problems commonly reflect what generic problem, according to Gibbs?
    • Adult moral development in Kohlberg's theory. What is Gibbs's critique?
    • The author's two-phase view of life span moral judgment development.
    Chapter 4: “The Good” and Moral Development: Hoffman's Theory
    • The empathic predisposition and its functional importance for human society. What factor promotes the reliability of empathic responding, according to Hoffman?
    • The question of whether empathy is unique to the human species. Make sure to include the modes of empathic arousal and the complexity of the “full-fledged” empathic predisposition in your discussion.
    • Hoffman's conception of “fully mature” perspective taking.
    • The meaning of “growing beyond the superficial” in Hoffman's (especially vis-à-vis Kohlberg's) theory.
    • Hoffman's immature stages of empathic distress.
    • Hoffman's mature stages of empathic distress. What modes of empathic arousal are involved?
    • The impact of causal attribution and inference on the empathic predisposition.
    • Two limitations of empathy. How can these limitations be attenuated?
    • The cognitive regulation of affect. In what sense is affect such as empathy “primary” in Hoffman's theory?
    • The role of socialization and moral internalization in the eventuation of the empathic predisposition into prosocial behavior. How does the parent give effective inductions?
    • Two empirical studies of Hoffman's moral socialization theory. In what ways were the results supportive? What is the issue regarding parental expression of disappointment?
    • The role of nurturance in moral socialization.
    • Gibbs's critique of Hoffman's theory, with particular attention to the issue of moral motivation.
    Chapter 5: Moral Development, Moral Self-Relevance, and Prosocial Behavior
    • The issue of the motivation of prosocial behavior, especially in terms of the presented case study of a rescue. How do Hoffman's and the author's positions on moral motivation differ?
    • The factors that help to account for individual differences in the likelihood of prosocial behavior. What factors are involved in clear or accurate moral perception?
    • The integration of self and morality in human development.
    • The strengths and weaknesses of information-processing models of social behavior. Can such models account for quick behavioral responses?
    • “Ego strength,” with particular attention to its processes and relations to honesty and to prosocial behavior.
    • Three points regarding prosocial behavior that are highlighted by considering certain counterexamples.
    Chapter 6: Understanding Antisocial Behavior
    • The limitation of moral judgment developmental delay.
    • The limitation of self-serving cognitive distortions. What are the four categories of distortion? What is the relation of the primary distortion to proactive versus reactive aggression? What is the function of the other three categories of distortion?
    • The limitation of social skill deficiencies.
    • Timothy McVeigh as a case study of the limitations of antisocial youth. What challenges to Kohlberg's and Hoffman's theories are represented by this case, and how might those challenges be addressed?
    Chapter 7: Treating Antisocial Behavior
    • The mutual help (in particular, Positive Peer Culture) approach to treating antisocial behavior. What is its aim? How does it provide social perspective-taking opportunities? Why has it had only mixed success, according to Gibbs and colleagues?
    • The psychoeducational or skills training approach to treating antisocial behavior. How does EQUIP integrate the psychoeducational with the mutual help approaches? What does each approach contribute to the other?
    • The psychoeducational curriculum in the EQUIP program. How do its three components remedy, respectively, the three main limitations of antisocial youth?
    • A research evaluation of the EQUIP program.
    • Social perspective taking for the severe offender.
    Chapter 8: Beyond the Theories: A Deeper Reality?
    • Ontological and existential questions pertaining to moral development and Kohlberg's exploration of these questions. How does the author propose to go beyond Kohlberg's and Hoffman's theories?
    • The near-death experience, its types, and whether it is of a deeper reality. What does the author conclude, in terms of what five ontologically relevant questions?
    • Moral insight, inspiration, and transformation from the near-death experience. What feature or features of the experience might be especially important for moral transformation? What moral issue is often raised by one of the experience's typical aftereffects?
    Chapter 9: Conclusion
    • The main sources of moral motivation. How do Hoffman's and Kohlberg's theories differ? Describe the different categories of knowledge to which the theories refer. Why is that important for moral motivation?
    • The integrability of Kohlberg's and Hoffman's theories. What is Gibbs's epistemological argument?
    • Moral perception and the question of a deeper reality. What paradox seems to be involved?

    Author Index

    About the Author

    John C. Gibbs, Ph.D. (Harvard University, 1972) is Professor of Developmental Psychology at The Ohio State University. His work on moral judgment assessment and on interventions with antisocial youth has not only seen widespread use in the United States and Great Britain but has also been translated and adapted for use in Germany, Italy, Taiwan, The Netherlands, and other countries. Dr. Gibbs and coauthors' EQUIP intervention program won the 1998 Reclaiming Children and Youth Spotlight on Excellence Award. He has served as a member of the Ohio Governor's Council on Juvenile Justice, as well as the Social Cognitive Training Study Group of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Division of Violence Prevention). He also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Near-Death Studies. Some of his other books are Moral Maturity: Measuring the Development of Sociomoral Reflection (with coauthors Karen Basinger and Dick Fuller) and The EQUIP Program: Teaching Youth to Think and Act Responsibly Through a Peer-Helping Approach (with coauthors Granville Bud Potter and Arnold Goldstein). In addition to his books, Dr. Gibbs has published (alone or with coauthors) more than 60 book chapters and articles pertaining to the topics involved in Moral Development and Reality.

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