Monday, January 13, 2020

Moral Dilemma

Amy is a sweet six year old girl from our neighborhood and she had always played with my dog when she got home from preschool. I was friends with her mother and she was already familiar with me which meant that I did not have to establish rapport to interview her. I sought permission from the parents if I may use her responses to a moral dilemma in my course assignments and they gave their consent. Amy is a precocious child, she likes to play with the neighborhood kids and she can argue even with those older than her when she wants to prove a point. I was trying to devise a moral dilemma that was fitted for her age and reality and I thought of using my dog in it so she would be more able to relate. One afternoon, right after school, I asked Amy the following: Suppose you were playing in this yard, and you saw that Boo had been wandering in the neighbor’s lawn and you saw him made a mess in the lawn. You know that the neighbors might get angry with it but since you really love Boo and he might get in to trouble if you tell the neighbors that he made a mess in their lawn you do not say anything. Now that the neighbors had found out about it and they suspected that the other neighbor’s dog did it and they were actually going to have the dog arrested. What would you do? After some thought, Amy asked me whether the police would really arrest the dog after making a mess in the neighbor’s backyard and although I was actually trying hard not to laugh, I told her that in this city they do. Amy fell silent and thought for a while, and then she said, I  guess I have to tell because the police will find out and I might get arrested too. I then asked her, what if the police question you; will you tell then or not? Amy replied that she would not lie  because God would be angry with her. I also told her, what if the neighbor’s won’t be angry, will she still tell? Amy replied that she would not because no one had asked her and she would not want Boo to get into trouble. I also asked her whether what Boo did was bad and does she not think not telling I bad? Amy said that what Boo did was not wrong or bad because dogs are really like that and she did not think that not telling was bad either because no one asked her. I must admit that Amy’s responses had me confused and I was reading Kohlberg’s moral stages of development and I tried to determine at what stage Amy was, even if she was just 6 years old, she had some pretty logical responses like when she said that Boo was not bad because dogs really do mess on lawns and that she was not bad because she did not lie at all, it was that no one asked her. She made it clear that if someone asks her, then she would tell the truth because she would not want God to be angry with her. Using Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, I will try to examine Amy’s responses fully. According to Kohlberg, moral development proceeds in a successive pattern and each moral reasoning is distinct from the other, although some people may resort to an earlier moral reasoning stage to examine a moral dilemma (Boyd & Bee, 2006). For example, a child is said to be in the first stage of moral development which Kohlberg calls precoventional morality and wherein the child’s moral reasoning is determined by punishment and authority. An older child  may be oriented towards conventional morality where a certain amount of goodness is ascribed to actions that benefit family members or society would still use the authority and punishment orientation if the situation presents itself. With Amy’s responses it is clear that she was still in the first stage. She was not going to lie because God would be angry with her, this to her meant that God punishes all children who lie and since God is all knowing and sees her actions then God would be able to tell whether she was saying the truth or not. This clearly indicates the orientation to think in terms of authority and punishment. Amy was more likely to have been told numerous times that lying is bad and even if no one would know that one is lying, God is able to tell who is lying or not thus it does not make sense to lie at all. It is also noteworthy that Amy uses the word lie to not saying the truth but to refer to not saying anything as not telling. This implies that Amy is able to distinguish to a certain degree when a wrong is committed, lying is bad but not telling is not bad. An older child might argue that not telling is the same as lying but then it is probably an influence of Amy’s environment and the people she interact with. On the other hand, when Amy said that Boo was not wrong at all because he was a dog and dog naturally make messes in the lawn tells me that she actually has a fairly good idea about how man and animals are different and how dogs are not governed by the moral reasoning of man (Sandstrom, Martin & Fine, 2006). This is actually reflects the second stage in Kohlberg’s reasoning, although the subject is Boo, it still shows that Amy is able to discern that punishment is a risk that one has to avoid. For example, she said that she did not want Boo to get into to  trouble so she would not tell. This meant that she did not want Boo to be punished and she has a role in it, but if she was going to be the one punished or someone else’s dog then that would not be right and therefore she just have to say the truth so she won’t get punished. Amy also was probably in the outset of the third stage of moral development, she was trying to protect Boo and had given Boo a sense of identity and feelings by saying that Boo would be in trouble and arresting Boo would not be right. Amy was maintaining good interpersonal relationships, she thought that by protecting Boo she was being good to Boo and since she liked Boo she was obligated to protect Boo’s welfare. However, since she argued that if someone asked her about Boo’s crime, she would not lie is still in the obedience stage. The whole exercise had made me think that Kohlberg was probably right in saying that moral development proceeds in distinct patterns. But I would argue that it is not as strictly hierarchical as Kohlberg claim it to be. We know that stage theories presuppose that one stage leads to another and that a person cannot be able to proceed to the next stage if he/she does not go through the first one (Crain, 2005). This is actually true, but the stages are more fluid and a person can gravitate from one stage to another. It does not indicate moral maturity or highly ethical principles but it just shows how people progress in their moral thinking. Amy at 6 years old is quite adept at making her point about lying and not lying and about being punished and God being angry with her. But it also revealed that she is capable of higher thinking processes  that are actually rational even for a 6 year old like her. Kohlberg also said that the stages of moral development is influenced by the socialization process (Kohlberg, 1986), and in effect is merely a product of how a child is socialized into thinking about what is wrong and what is right. Amy comes from a very religious family and God is an ever present element in their house that it is no wonder that Amy think of God like that. It could also be that because Amy is still young, and her parents might think that she would be more obedient to God than to other authority figures and therefore has inculcated in her mind that God punishes liars. In the end, moral development is actually more a function of how a child is reared and trained, it is the parent’s role to instill moral values and train them into thinking morally right. References Boyd, D. & Bee, H. (2006). Lifespan Development 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Crain, W. (2005). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Kohlberg, L. (1986). The Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco: Harper and Row. Sandstrom, K., Martin, D. & Fine, G. A.   (2006). Symbols, Selves, and Social Reality 2nd ed. Los Angeles: Roxbury Press   

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