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Ethical Issues for the Human Relations and Dignity According to the Code

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Running head: Human Relations and Dignity According to the Code

Human Relations and Dignity According to the Code


Turiel's research program is often viewed as an attempt to shrink the ethical domain to its proper dimensions. That is, the ethical domain should not include matters of social convention or matters of personal prerogatives, since these are conceptually distinct domains, and even young children know it. Furthermore, ethical and conventional judgments follow independent lines of development, since they are constructed from qualitatively different kinds of social interactions and social experiences. If different domains of social knowledge are constructed from different kinds of social experiences and therefore follow independent lines of development, one would not expect to find interdependencies among these domains (Turiel, 2005). There would be no theoretical reason, for example, to expect one domain of reasoning to be necessary but not sufficient for reasoning in another domain.

Turiel's work is viewed as a strong challenge to Kohlberg's theory. Kohlberg's theory describes, for example, a conventional level of ethical development, implying that ethicality and social conventions are not clearly distinguishable, at least not until one reaches the principled level of ethical reasoning. In addition, Kohlberg did indeed view the relationship among domains of reasoning as a series of interdependencies: Cognitive development is necessary but not sufficient for social-cognitive development (perspective-taking); social-cognitive development is necessary but not sufficient for ethical development. What, then, is the Kohlbergian response to the challenge posed by the domains approach?

Kohlberg suggests that claims regarding the scope of the ethical domain must be grounded by a philosophical analysis that is corroborated by empirical evidence (Kohlberg et al., 2005). The domains approach is faulted on both counts. A philosophical justification for shrinking the ethical domain is absent, and empirical evidence regarding the hard structural characteristics of the social-conventional stage sequence is not yet available. Are these reasonable criticisms?

Although there is some evidence that speaks favorably to the sequential properties of the social-conventional stage sequence, it is fair to say that the range of evidence that is typically adduced in support of a stage theory in the social-cognitive domain does not seem to be available. But it is not entirely accurate to say that a philosophical specification of the domain distinction is lacking. Turiel (2005a) does indeed appeal to an ethical tradition that draws a distinction between ethicality and convention. In fact, Turiel and Kohlberg share this tradition. It is a distinctive feature of the Kantian deontological tradition that a sharp demarcation be made between what is ethical and what is unethical, with "ethicality" being defined in terms of certain formal criteria. Hence, both Kohlberg and Turiel share the same definition of the ethical, and they share the idea that not all value concerns are distinctly ethical concerns. They would appear to differ on other matters, such as when psychological subjects make the domain distinction and the nature of structural development.

The notion that ethical and conventional concerns are "closely intertwined" is not necessarily a lethal criticism. Indeed, the domains approach readily acknowledges that complex social events may involve both ethical and conventional considerations and that the same event may be construed differently by different individuals. But the "closely intertwined" argument is sometimes thought to point to a more telling criticism, namely that there are perhaps many cases where "conventional" activities have profound ethical implications.

Along this line James Rest (2005) does not think that the conceptual distinction between ethicality and social convention makes much sense. This is because ethicality does not exist in the abstract but is instead embedded in social organizations. Indeed, both social convention and ethicality logically implicate concepts of social organization. Rest (2005) is particularly troubled by Turiel's narrow understanding of what gives an act a distinctly ethical status. For Turiel, an act takes on ethical implications only if it has direct and intrinsic consequences for the welfare of another. This definition of the ethical is too narrow, in Rest's view, because a person's welfare can also be affected by social arrangements or by certain societal practices that may well be conventional in the defining sense that the particular arrangement or practice is arbitrary or relative to a particular society or historical context. Rest (2005) lists the following examples: driving on the right hand of the street, paying taxes on April 15, having presidential elections every four years in November. Although these practices are relative to American society and are arbitrary in the sense that other practices could be substituted in their stead, they nonetheless have ethical implications in the sense that they bear on human welfare. "Therefore, we cannot relegate these social practices to a domain separate and independent of ethicality" (Rest, 2005, p. 609). Furthermore, one can think of examples whereby violations of social convention would have ethical implications (e.g., wearing a bikini to a funeral) and where instances of "intrinsic harm" would not necessarily be judged unethical (female circumcision). Hence social convention and ethicality are related to each other in complex ways that defy their categorization into independent domains (Rest, 2005).

How might Turiel respond to this sort of criticism? In a paper Turiel (1989) reiterates



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