Spring 2015 Ethics SA Group Exercise Answers

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How do Turiel, Schweder, and Haidt's research challenge the view of rationalist developmental psychology?


Piaget's rationalist developmental psychology is the unfolding of reason through development. This means that people gain better understandings of the world through experience and exposure that redefines their rational psychology and eventually leads them to happiness. In contrast, Haidt focuses more on moral psychology through his disgust research. Moral psychology focuses on the idea of intuition first and reasoning second. The rider and the elephant is a great example of how appetite controls reason but we can make up reasons why we "chose" to do certain actions. Turiel and Schweder focus more on the constraints of rules and moral development in the scope of culture and ages. In their research they found that things that hurt an individual will always be morally wrong as opposed to conventionally wrong. They also focus on taboos within individualistic cultures vs. sociocentric.

Overall, Piaget's rationalist idea is more of a "learn as you go" approach on the development of morality opposed to Turiel, Schweder, and Haidt's approach of morality being intuitive and molded by culture.


Kohlberg, and Piaget express the view of rationalist developmental psychology through their ideas and opinions on moral development. Piaget and Kohlberg believe that there are multiple stages to development. Their end goal is to determine how people learn morals and virtue in a rational manor. Everybody starts from the same level, but through life experiences and environmental factors influence decisions and reactions towards different situations.

Piaget believes that kids figure things out for themselves through different experiences. While Turiel believes that kids do not treat all moral rules the same; young kids distinguish “harms” from “social conventions”. This challenges rational psychologists because harm and pain are natural intuitions to avoid harm to oneself and others, which leads to reasoning to avoid harm and painful situations. He is saying that there is no universal path for moral development, and that it is different around the world. Schweder believes there is difference between sociocentric vs. individualistic cultures. This brings cultural upbringing into rational thought; which developmental psychologists did not do.

Haidt concludes that moral domain varies by culture. He claims that is it quite narrow in Western, educated, and individualistic cultures. Additionally, he claims that people have gut feelings, especially about disgust and disrespect that can drive their reasoning. He disagrees with Piaget and Kohlberg in that he believes morality can’t be entirely self-constructed by children based on their growing and understanding of harm. He believes that Cultural learning and guidance play a much larger role than rationalists give regards to. Rationalists are incomplete in their thoughts because they don’t take external factors such as culture, learning environments, and interactions into effect.

Purple Narwhals

Instead of universal morals from experience, Schweder’s, Haidt’s, and Turiel’s research challenges rationalists, showing that morals depend on culture as well. There are no concrete developmental steps one takes when creating ones moral thinking. Reason and virtue do not follow the rationalists, Kohlberg and Piaget, ideas on conventional development. Directly challenging this, “Schweder’s study was a major attack on the whole rationalist approach” (Page 18, Haidt). Different cultures distinguish between conventional wrongs and moral wrongs in different ways. Whether from Native American cultures, European cultures or simply to different households, morals are not universal. In some cultures the same behaviors are perceived as a harmful (moral) violation while in other cultures it can be seen as merely conventional. For example, in some cultures divorce is considered completely wrong and offensive, while in other cultures it is more commonplace. Rationalists are set on right and wrong, even in children. Haidt argues that there is an innate moral intuitions about disgust and disrespect that rationalists missed.

Let Us Be Cereal

The classical rationalist development psychologist view describes morality as being something that develops based on our reason, reason being something that develops based upon how we are raised and the experiences we go through. Haidt critiques the soul importance of harm in a humans moral development. This is complimented in Schweder's research on the difference between sociocentric and individualist perspectives on harm. Turel goes further to say that culture further effects perceptions of harm by magnifying the concept into "moral vs. conventional" wrongs. This research was substantiated by the experiments done in India, South America, and the United States which collectively challenged the perspectives of the rational moral developmentalists.

The Fantastic Four

Turiel, Haidt, and Schweder all argue that morality doesn't develop the same as developing language because emotions and social conventions are constantly changing the way one sees what is moral and what is immoral. They are trying to integrate emotions into rational development because we as humans listen to our emotions and we develop our morality through what we feel is right and not what we are told is right. Haidt argues that we cannot use reason to control our emotions the way the rider cannot control the elephant and Schweder says that different cultures have different moral conventions, so essentially it isn't about the rider but rather it is truly about the elephant.


Haidt uses the research of Turiel and Schweder to disprove the theories and views of rationalist development. They challenge Kolhberg and the idea that development happens in the defined steps of pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. Turiel challenged the idea that all kids treat rules in the same manner, rather he argues that kids distinguish between morally and conventionally wrong. Children's moral understanding is then based off of the idea that "harm is wrong." Schweder makes the distinction between sociocentric and individualistic societies. His research supported the idea that culture influences how people perceive rules as moral or social conventions. Haidt considers both the research of Turiel and Schweder, initially supporting Schweder's idea that culture has a large impact on the categorization of rules. Haidt concludes that intuitions come first and reasoning second. There are other sources of morality that arise, including cultural learning or innate moral intuitions. These conclusions were supported with people's responses in his "disgust" research. Specifically, when people could not rationalize their reactions to short stories, although no one was harmed.

We <3 Philosophy

Haidt theorizes that we respond to intuition first and reason later. His harmless taboo violation research suggests that we come to an automatic moral conclusion, and then defend/justify our conclusion with reason afterwards. Reason is not as simple as skill or knowledge that’s learned through a process of ordered stages of development. There is something more intuitive to reason that does not necessarily stem solely from the brain, or learning from other individuals as rationality developmental psychology. Schweder used culture to challenge and expand this idea. He compared American and Indian answers to questions of social/moral conventions, and by doing this he was able to show the ways in which individualistic and sociocentric cultures interpret conventions differently. Turiel quizzed children on different moral questions and found that, even at a young age, humans displayed knowledge of the differences between what is conventionally wrong and morally wrong. Over time these will change.

However, the fact that these children knew about harm and that it is morally wrong almost immediately shows that they do not need to develop to a certain developmental stage to realize this, and it is somewhat instinctual. Turiel argued that kids learn this through their own experiences and not just from observing others or from naturally knowing. All of these theorists accept that reason is a transcultural phenomenon that plays a large role in our moral development, but they postulate that reason is not the sole factor or influence in that development. They also demonstrate that the development of reason is not a specific ordered process, nor is it the same for each individual.