Moral Development in the Professions: Psychology and Applied Ethics

Moral Development in the Professions: Psychology and Applied Ethics

Moral Development in the Professions: Psychology and Applied Ethics

Moral Development in the Professions: Psychology and Applied Ethics


Every year in this country, some 10,000 college and university courses are taught in applied ethics. And many professional organizations now have their own codes of ethics. Yet social science has had little impact upon applied ethics. This book promises to change that trend by illustrating how social science can make a contribution to applied ethics.

The text reports psychological studies relevant to applied ethics for many professionals, including accountants, college students and teachers, counselors, dentists, doctors, journalists, nurses, school teachers, athletes, and veterinarians. Each chapter begins with the research base of the cognitive-developmental approach--especially linked to Kohlberg and Rest's Defining Issues Test. Finally, the book summarizes recent research on the following issues:

• moral judgment scores within and between professions,

• pre- and post-test evaluations of ethics education programs,

• moral judgment and moral behavior,

• models of professional ethics education, and

• models for developing new assessment tools.

Researchers in different professional fields investigate different questions, develop different research strategies, and report different findings. Typically researchers of one professional field are not aware of research in other fields. An important aim of the present book is to bring this diverse research together so that cross-fertilization can occur and ideas from one field can transfer to another.


U.S. colleges were originally founded with some form of moral education as a primary goal. Nucci and Pascarella (1987) reported that the central goal of the curriculum and even the entire college environment was to develop sensitivity to moral responsibilities, to teach ethical thought and action, and to develop students' character. These goals make it clear that higher education in the United States was originally a whole-person education with emphases that sound very similar to Rest's (chap. 1) four components of morality: moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character.

In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, however, the rise of disciplinary specialization led to a fragmentation of knowledge and to much less concern with "broader questions of human values and morality" (Nucci & Pascarella, 1987, pp. 271-272). In the social sciences, "the earlier conviction that ethics and social science were inseparable" gave way to "an emphasis on 'value-free' inquiry" (Sandin, 1989, pp. 219-220). Later, the general education movement sought to recover the earlier view that moral education was the responsibility of the curriculum and the entire college environment, but this effort has had only limited success due to a lack of interest in, or an antipathy toward, the kind of whole-person education that full-bodied moral education necessitates (Sandin, 1989).

More recently, however, it has become increasingly clear that moral issues are integrally bound up in the content of the various disciplines, and that an adequate . . .

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