Moral Psychology

Moral Psychology

Moral Psychology

Moral Psychology


Moral functioning is a defining feature of human personhood and human social life. Moral Psychology provides an integrative and evaluative overview of the theoretical and empirical traditions that have attempted to make sense of moral cognition, prosocial behavior, and the development of virtuous character. This is the first book to integrate a comprehensive review of the psychological literatures with allied traditions in ethics. Moral rationality and decisionmaking; the development of the sense of fairness and justice, and of prosocial dispositions; as well as the notion of moral self and moral identity and their relation to issues of character and virtue are fully discussed in the rich contexts provided by psychological and philosophical paradigms. Lapsley emphasizes parenting and educational strategies for influencing moral behavior, reasoning, and character development, and charts a line of research for the "post-Kohlbergian era" in moral psychology. This book will be an invaluable text for advanced courses in moral psychology, as taught in departments of psychology, education, and philosophy. It will also prove to be a standard reference work for researchers and ethicists alike.


The study of moral functioning has been one of the most enduring and central of all the various research enterprises to be found within the scholarly psychological literature. It is conceptualized by diverse theoretical perspectives that span many domains of psychology. In addition, it is informed in important ways by ethics and other developments in philosophy. Perhaps the study of moral conduct, ethical thinking, and values is so preeminent in the social sciences just because moral qualities appear to be what are so distinctive about the human species.

A literature that sprawls over so many domains and disciplines, however, and attracts so much research interest and controversy is hard to distill for purposes of teaching. As someone who has taught numerous seminars on moral development, I can well attest to the sheer frustration of trying to represent the field in a fair way with isolated readings drawn from very diverse sources. What clearly seemed required was a textbook that brought together the various literatures in a coherent way and in a way that encouraged further reflection, criticism, and, one hopes, new lines of research. I do hope that this text will be found useful in this respect.

I attempted to present each theoretical approach in a complete and balanced way and with a large measure of sympathy and fairness. But I also tried to appraise strengths and weaknesses, to confront each theory with the empirical literature, and to capture some of the back-and-forth of scholarly dialogue. It is a mistake, I believe, for textbook authors to simply catalog the various theories and findings as if every point of view is equally well-considered and equally valid. This "textbook neutrality" does not capture the sense of excitement and dynamism that working scholars encounter in their academic labors, and it conveys a bad impression to students, too, namely that one idea is just as good as any other. I do hope, of course, that any critical comments that I do make are found suitably gentle and useful, but I am comforted by the fact that if some should misfire, even these should serve the useful purpose of generating a good critical class discussion.

The reader will note that although the text is decidedly focused on the psychological literatures, there are, nonetheless, numerous references to allied philosophical issues and literatures. I make no apology for this. As Habermas (1990) has pointed out, the division of labor between philosophy and the social sciences is untenable, and besides, I think some of the best work in moral psychology can be found in some recent philosophical works.

This text was written for students taking upper-division undergraduate courses and for use in graduate seminars on moral psychology. These courses are typically taught in departments of psychology, education, and philosophy. I do assume that students have at least a glancing acquaintance with some of the broad intellectual movements in psychology. A prior course in developmental psychology would be . . .

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