Measuring Moral Imagination

By Yurtsever, Gülçimen | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, March 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

Measuring Moral Imagination


Yurtsever, Gülçimen, Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


This study describes the development of a moral imagination (MI) scale. The data were obtained from 491 participants from various organizations. A 29-item Likert-type scale of moral imagination was constructed and shown to be free of socially desirable responses. Analyses of moral imagination suggest that three facets of moral imagination can be distinguished empirically as well as theoretically, namely reproductive, creative, and productive. Construct validity was evaluated by expert judges and, overall, was high. Validation data also included correlation with peer ratings. Furthermore, to explore the relation between moral imagination and actual behavior, a case study was conducted in which participants were asked questions to measure their capacity for moral imagination. The subjects who scored high on MI were judged to have a greater capacity than were the subjects who scored low. Empirically, the MI scale was shown to correlate with an internal locus of control, tolerance of ambiguity and empathy. This scale also correlated negatively with Machiavellianism.

Keywords: moral imagination, scale, ethics, Kant.

Managers are confronted by moral situations of great variety and complexity. This variety and complexity defy the possibility that there is one valid theory that can tell managers how to act in every possible moral situation that might arise. Changed experience, technological development and new information require new values (Yurtsever, 2003). Werhane claims that "moral imagination entails ability to understand that context or set of activities from a number of different perspectives, the actualizing of new possibilities that are not context - dependent, and the instigation of the process of evaluating those possibilities from a moral point of view" (1999, p. 5).

There are many different views on moral imagination (e.g., Johnson, 1993; Rest, 1994). Studies on moral imagination may be useful for theory building. The present study attempts to define moral imagination in terms of its component dimensions in order to construct adequate measures on the basis of the definition. Philosophers offer various definitions for imagination. For example, Hume views imagination as a distinctive type of thinking and holds that the data of imagination are ideas (Wilbanks, 1968). Kant (1781/1965) writes about "productive imagination that brings sensation and understanding together creating a second nature out of the material supplied to it by actual nature" (p. 165). Collingwood (1938) notes that imagination allows for the creation of possible words, at least some of which may be made real through action.

The history of moral philosophy offers various definitions for morality. "A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them" (Darwin, 1872/1981, p. 88). DeGeorge (1990) writes that morality consists of codes of behavior which members of society believe they ought to follow. Maxwell (1984) notes morality has evolved and its significance has been in its contribution to survival. In a broad sense, morality positively values the well-being of humans as an end in itself.

Philosophers also offer various definitions for moral imagination. Johnson (1993) defines moral imagination broadly as an ability to imaginatively discern various possibilities for acting within a given situation and to envision the potential help and harm that are likely to result from a given action (p. 202). Hume (Ferreira, 1994) and Adam Smith (Heath, 1995) describe it as taking sympathetically the point of view of all those affected by a decision. Kekes (1991) notes that moral imagination has both an exploratory and a corrective function. According to Kekes, the exploratory function of moral imagination allows the individual more choices regarding courses of action and character development. It provides people with the ability to compare and contrast their culture with that of others. …

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