Questioning Moshman on Moral and Advanced Psychological Development

After (school-required) posts on Dr. David Moshman’s perspective on cognitive development and identity development, below the fold you’ll find my question set for moral and rational moral development.

Want something more interesting? American Future and Catholicgauze have been particularly good, along with the always-golden Coming Anarchy and ZenPundit.

Moral Development

On page 52, Moshman writes that Piaget “argued that genuine morality comes not from parents or other agents of culture but rather is constructed in the context of peer interaction.” Does this mean that peers are not agents of culture and that morality cannot be mentored?

On page 53, Moshman reports Piaget criticizing “an adult simply [telling] the children [how] to divide the candy equal.” How does not address the mentoring issue, is it not a straw-man response?

Also on page 53, “morality, then is not a matter of culturally specific rules learned from parents or other agents of society… [but rather] has a rational basis, and develops through an internally directed process of constructing increasingly sophisticated understandings about the inherent logic of social relationships.” So therefore fundamentalists are amoral or immoral, if their justification is Holy Scripture itself?

On 61, Moshman writes, “The most controversial feature of Gilligan’s (1982) theory is her claim that an orientation toward justice is male whereas care represents the female voice.” Considering different learning styles, does this imply that justice is a more viable concept in low-density networks while care is more viable in high-density nets?

On page 63, Moshman quotes Campbell and Christopher describing eudaimonism as “… pursuit of one’s specific excellence.” Does this mean that positive psychology is eudaimonic?

On page 64, Moshman summarizes the views of morality by presenting them as justice, care, or virute oriented. What about Beauty? Or Truth? Or even Victory?

On page 71, Moshman writes:

“A theory of moral development would provide a specific account of how morality develops and could be tested against data concerning the development of morality. A metatheory, in contrast is a proposal about the basic assumptions that would undergird a plausible theory.”

By “metatheory,” then, Moshman appears to mean paradigm or perspective. Does he? If so, shouldn’t he make more explicit the extra-scientific, philosophical nature of this discussion?

On page 73, Moshman writes “to the extend that moral reflection takes place in the context of peer interaction, however, it may yield constructed moral principles that are not only rationally justifiable but, in some cases, universal across cultures.” So Moshman is equating the equilibrium of a bargaining game with morality?

Advanced Psychological Development

On page 117, Moshman writes “Identity formation, correspondingly, involves consideration of multiple potential solves and the consequences of commitment to a particular conception of oneself. It does seem plausible, then, that formal operations would be a prerequisite for identity formation.” So “trade,” or practiced creation of a work product, would produce no identity whatsoever in concrete-thinking individuals? Ditto family and culture?

On page 120, Moshman writes “Identity commitments may thus undermine rationality, and the strongest identities may pose the most serious problem.” First, does this imply that organizations that have strong identities (such as “diverse,” “tolerant,” “universities,” etc) would be the most irrational? Second, does this passage imply the existence of “mitochondrial” identities that subvert thinking while giving the individual so much strength that a reversion is unthinkable?

On page 123, Moshman writes “From the broader perspective of advanced psychological development, however, it is clear that the construction of identity may undermine rationality and/or morality, and thus does not always constitute progress. Identities can motivate oppression and violence, for example, up to and including genocide (Maalouf, 2001; Moshman, 2004a, 2004b).” While the inclusion of “progress” into development seems to be definitional, how is the second sentence quoted not a normative criticism (and thus unscientific)?

On page 127, Moshman says “moral change is thus constrained by rational considerations that render change developmental in nature.” But considering the powerful draw of irrational beliefs for symbolic thinkers (see 120), might rationality merely be a stage of an objectively measurable progress?

On page 133, Moshman imagines a study that shows “statistically significant gender differences” in terms of moral reasoning, but dismisses such a potential finding, writing “we would need to consider the magnitude of the gender difference relative to the extent of variability among and within individuals.” Why? If the differences are enough to produce significantly different outcomes (by compounding, networking, etc), such a “consideration” would seem to do little good.

Questioning Moshman and van Glasersfeld on Education, Liberty, and Constructivism

Besides finishing up my four-part questioning tour of Moshman (previous posts: I, I, and I), this week’s reading also looks at A Constructivist Approach to Teaching by Ernst von Glasersfeld. It is the first chapter of Constructivism in Education, edited by Leslie Steffe and Jerry Gale of The University of Georgia.


The von Glasersfeld article has a boat load of citations on Google Scholar, and was quite enjoyable. Besides being constructivist like blog-friend Dan Nexon, and hinting at times at ideological evolution, Dr. Ernst von Glasersfeld has looked at a particularly fun topic: poetry.

Unrelatedly, last night baked cherry bars. Delicious, and completely devoured by fellow residents far too fast.


On page 137, Moshman quotes Israel Scheffler, who in 1997 wrote “The funciton of education in a democracy is rather to liberate the mind…” Aren’t Moshman and Scheffler conflating John Stuart Mill-style “liberalism” (which is a method of thinking) with democracy (a method of selecting laws)?

On 137-138, Moshman writes that we do not want to have our educational systems producing “slaves, incapable of playing a human role, that is, of conceiving goals and politics of their own and realizing them.” Besides being an offensive slight of those held in slavery, does Moshman’s formulation not denigrate the “meek”? Is this hypocritical, in the context of a book on morality?

On page 143, Moshman reiterates “rational constructivism suggests that education should be aimed at the promotion of rationality, and that rationality is promoted by intellectual freedom.” Wouldn’t the view that “education should be aimed at the well-being of the student, the community, and the nation” be more responsible?

von Glasersfeld

On page 3, von Glasersfeld complains that contemporary students are “unable to read or write, unable to operate with numbers sufficiently well for their jobs,” and so on. If this is true, would we not see unemployment trending higher, not lower, in recent years and decades?

On page 7, von Glasersfled writes “From the constructivist perspective, as Piaget stressed, knowing is an adaptive activity… This notion is analogous to the notion of adaption in evolutionary biology, expanded in include, beyond the goal of survival, the goal of a coherent conceptual organization of the world as we experience it.” Can this be easily expanded to accommodate Dawkins’ “memes” – is it not the evolutionary perspective, but from the perspective of ideas to whom coherency is an approximation of fitness?

On page 10, von Glasersfeld discusses Plato’s idea of “perfect forms” that are “embedded.” However, he concludes “from our point of view, to assume that something is God given or innate should be the last resort — to be accepted only when all attempts at analysis have broken down.” Why? There is considerable research on genetic factors in belief, so why should one line of scientific inquiry be so deprecated?

On page 12, von Glaserfled says Kant writes “that we can only conceive of another subject by imputing our own subjectness to another entity.” Does this imply that all “conceptual” thinking is analogical?

On page 13, von Glaserfeld asks “How does it come about that normal children, sometimes between the ages of 12 and 24 months, learn to use plural words of their language?” If this is true, this is fascinating.

Bush Is Wrong on the Iraq War (If We Leave, al Qaeda in Iraq Loses)

Republican Wedge Issues, 2006 Edition,” by Harold Meyerson, American Prospect Online, 08 February 2006, (from Real Clear Politics).

Harold’s right. Sometimes, President Bush just grinds my gears.

Old lies die hard. We grow inured to the administration’s howlers in defense of its Iraq policy, so much so that the preposterous case the president made in his State of the Union address for our continued presence in Iraq went almost unnoticed. But he actually said this:

“A sudden withdrawal of our forces from Iraq would abandon our Iraqi allies to death and prison, [and] would put men like bin Laden and Zarqawi in charge of a strategic country. . . .”

Is there one person anywhere inside the administration who really believes that Abu Musab Zarqawi’s murderous band of outsiders would emerge as rulers over the vastly larger and very well-armed Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish legions if we pulled out? The same band of outsiders that tried to stop the Sunnis from voting in December’s parliamentary election and held their turnout down, in some provinces, to a mere 90 percent?


There’s more. This is important.


Some links: