Group Dynamics and the Public Sphere


How does morality relate to the capacity to reason?

The ability to analyze a situation with reason, or cognition, is a critical part of moral judgments. Earlier theorists of moral development, such as Piaget and Kohlberg, emphasized the importance of cognitive development in moral maturity. Two specific cognitive skills include: the ability to take another person’s perspective (that is to put yourself in another’s shoes), and the ability to recognize abstract rules that can be generalized across many situations. Similar ideas are reflected in many philosophers’ ideas about morality. For example, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), a famous German philosopher, introduced the concept of the categorical imperative, which refers to the importance of recognizing universally valid rules of behavior. Certainly the Golden Rule, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” assumes that we can take another person’s perspective. As developmental psychologists have shown, these cognitive abilities develop slowly across childhood and continue to develop across adulthood. Because children have an immature capacity for either abstraction or perspective taking, they are not held to the same moral standards as adults.

If the only way to save five workmen on a trolley track is to divert the trolley onto another track, thus killing just one man on that track, would you divert the trolley? (iStock)

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