Who am I?… To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space
in which questions arise about what is good and bad, what is worth doing
and what not, what has meaning and importance to you…. [Moral] orien-
tation has two aspects; there are two ways that we can fail to have it. I can
be ignorant of the lie of the land around me—not knowing the important
locations which make it up or how they relate to each other. This ignorance
can be cured with a good map. But then I can be lost in another way, if I
don’t know how to place myself on this map.
We begin our exploration of some of the more unsettling aspects of contemporary emerging adult life by focusing on the question of morality, moral beliefs, and moral reasoning. How do emerging adults think about morality? How do they know what is moral? How do they make moral decisions? Where do they think moral rights and wrongs, goods and bads, even come from? What is the source or basis of morality? And how important is it to emerging adults to choose what is morally good? This chapter examines their answers to these and other questions and then ponders what it all may tell us not only about contemporary emerging adults’ own moral imaginations but also about the larger culture and society that has formed them morally.
In our personal, in-depth interviews that we conducted with different kinds of emerging adults around the country, we spent a lot of time talking about morality. The questions we asked approached moral matters in many different ways.1 We worked hard not to be leading in our questions. Most of our questions were very open-ended. But we also probed a lot and pressed their answers hard, to try to get to the bottom of their moral outlooks and actions. By the time we were done interviewing so many emerging adults, we felt confident that we had solidly grasped what they assume and perceive about moral goods and bads, how they think and feel about right and wrong. We also have some ideas about