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Taking development seriously: critique of the 2008 JME Special Issue on moral functioning

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This essay comments on articles comprising a Journal of Moral Education Special Issue (September, 2008, 37[3]). The issue was intended to honour the 50th anniversary of Lawrence Kohlberg's doctoral dissertation and his subsequent impact on the field of moral development and education. The articles were characterised by the Issue editor (Don Collins Reed) as providing a 'look forward' from Kohlberg's work toward a more comprehensive or integrated model of moral functioning. Prominent were culturally pluralist and biologically-based themes, such as cultural learning; expert skill; culturally shaped and neurobiologically-based predispositions or intuitions; and moral self-relevance or centrality. Inadequately represented, however, was Kohlberg's (and Piaget's) key concept of development as the construction of a deeper or more adequate understanding not reducible to particular socialisation practices or cultural contexts. Also neglected were related cognitive-developmental themes, along with supportive evidence. Robert Coles' account of a sudden rescue is used as a heuristic to depict Piaget's/Kohlberg's approach to the development of moral functioning. We conclude that, insofar as the Special Issue does not take development seriously, it moves us not forward but, instead, back to the problems of moral relativism and moral paralysis that Kohlberg sought to redress from the start of his work more than 50 years ago.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: The Ohio State University, USA 2: University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA 3: University of Missouri-St. Louis, USA 4: Urbana University, USA 5: Washington & Jefferson College, USA

Publication date: 2009-09-01

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