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Moral Disengagement in the Exercise of Civic-ness

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Democracy cannot survive without a populace ready to endorse the obligations that the respect of individuals and the pursuit of public good entail. Yet, a number of scholars warn against the decline of civic virtues in modern societies (Putnam, 1993; 2000), while others document the pervasiveness of violations of civic codes (such as the corruption of public officers and tax evasion) and business transgressions “by people of all statuses in all walks of life“ (Bandura 2003, 102; 1990; Bandura, Caprara, and Zsolnai 2000; Gabor 1994).

Trustworthiness, generalized reciprocity, civic engagement, and related concepts have become popular in the political and sociological discourse as basic ingredients of liberal democracy and progress of nations (Putnam 2000). Yet, the psychological underpinnings of these concepts have been often disregarded, although no one would contest that individual agents are the carriers of thoughts and ultimately of reasons that determine the orientation of people toward society and that may ultimately promote both human and social capital.

Surveys that attest to significant changes in civic participation serve descriptive and comparative purposes but they can't help much in guiding interventions aimed either at promoting or discouraging behaviors that people continue to enact in their daily transactions. To do so, one needs to clarify the psychological mechanisms that embed those behaviors in a coherent network of reasons; namely, beliefs, values, and goals that assign meaning to individuals’ actions and pursuits and make sense of their engagement in given domains of activity.

In this regard, social cognitive theory provides a theory of psychological functioning capable of supplying the conceptual apparatus that is needed to identify and to assess structures and mechanisms that underlie civic involvement, and eventually to guide interventions aimed at promoting desirable behaviors (Bandura 1986; Caprara and Cervone 2000).

Self-reflection and self-reactivity are core properties of human agency that enable people to capitalize upon experience and to be active agents in charting their own lives (Bandura 2001). People reflect on the consequences of their actions and accord their goals to their accomplishments. People do things that give them satisfaction and a sense of self-worth and refrain from actions that bring self-censure.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2006

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