Adolescent Psychological Development, Part IV: Advanced Psychological Development

In my prior responses to Moshman’s Adolescent Psychological Development (2005), I separated rationality from rational agency, pluralist rational constructivism from the pluralist constructivism of rational agents, and identity from personhood. As “rational moral identity” figures prominently in the fourth section of the book, entitled “Advanced Psychological Development,” it would be reasonable to expect that rational moral identity would itself be separated from something it is not. However, this cannot be done, as rational moral identity is not anything.

This is not to say that Moshman does not precisely describe the concept that is so named. He does so effectively. It involves rational agency, identity, and moral reasoning. Indeed, the “Moral Reasoning Identity of Rational Agents” would be a fair term for the concept. As this term would include only aspects that Moshman presents as preferable, I do not believe he would criticize this construction. Ultimately, “rational moral identity” is not a good term for the same way that “spherical light-source” is not a good term for the sun: it is too broad to be helpful in understanding it.


First, that “rational moral identity” is in fact a moral reasoning identity for rational agents is beyond doubt. Moshman describes moral rationality as “not just rational judgments about what actions are right or wrong but also meta-ethical cognition [emphasis his] concerning the basis for and justification of moral judgments” (116). Moshman’s emphasis on the cognitive as opposed to behavioral aspects of morality is not accidental as later in the same paragraph he explicitly describes himself as “[connecting] the moral domain to the domain of epistemology.” Later, the author writes that “to have a moral identity is to have an explicit theory of yourself as systematically acting on the basis of respect and/or concern for the rights and/or welfare of others” (122), which incorporates both identity and moral reasoning. The term “rational moral identity” would certainly cover all these aspects, but such a term would diminish the contrast between a morally reasoning identity for rational agents and rational moral personhood, a traditional concept of development with which Moshman’s ideas conflict.

Rational moral personhood contrasts with rational agency-moral reasoning-identity for the reasons previously described in these essays. Rationality contrasts with rational agency as it rests on metacognition as opposed to fully-self-justified beliefs. Morality contrasts with moral reasoning as its contrasts with behaviors as opposed to explicit cognitive reasoning. Personhood contrasts with identity in its embrace of what is universal among thinking humans as opposed to what is particular of those with the aptitude and inclination toward introspective explicit justification.

Moshman concludes his eleventh chapter by writing “the promotion of rationality should be the primary purpose of education” (134). Interpreting this use of “rationality” to mean mere metacognition is probably besides the point. The twelfth and final chapter of the book, “Rationality and Liberty in Secondary Education,” ponders mainly what a school system designed to promote rational agency-moral reasoning-identity would look like. If rational moral personhood is a different goal, how then might the educational infrastructure function?

In support of the rational agency / moral reasoning / identity trinity, Moshman writes that “We want [students], above all, to be conscious of themselves as thinking, willing, active beings, bearing responsibility for their choices, and able to explain those choices by reference to their own ideals and purposes” (138). A proponent of enculturating rational moral personhood in the young, on the otherhand, might write that we went students, above all, to think rightly, to will rightly, to be rightly, and to continue to makes right choices in the face of criticism.” The focus would then not be on academic freedom but on academic rightness.

This embrace of rightness, arete, as an educational goal (see also Pirsig, 1976) recalls virtue, a concept touched on in “Eudaimonist Conceptions of Morality as Virtue,” from pages 62 to 64. However, eudaimonism applies to neither of our conceptions. Moshman correctly criticizes the eudaimonist agenda as failing the need to “establish rationality” (64). Further, I add that the section address only eudaimonism is a framework for moral reasoning, that is cognition about morality. In contrast, rational moral personhood focus on moral behaviors, whether cognitive or physical.

Thus, a true contrast between rational agency/moral reasoning/identity and rational moral personhood has yet to be written.

It is a discussion for another time.


Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
5. Bibliography

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