Dilemma Discussions in Ethics Classes. Methods for Promoting Moral Judgement

Term Paper, 2012

16 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Subject analysis
2.1 Definition of “morality”
2.2 Moral judgment
2.3 Kohlberg's stage model
2.3.1 Stages of moral development
2.3.2 Detailed description
2.3.3 General notes on the stage model
2.3.4 Factors influencing moral judgment

3. Methodical reflection
3.1 Dilemmas as a method
3.2 Criteria of dilemmas
3.3 History of dilemmas
3.3.1 Background information
3.3.2 Specific dilemma from the novel

4. Acquisition of competence
4.1 Attitudes
4.2 Abilities
4.3 Knowledge

5. Methodical Implementation
5.1 General remarks
5.2 Lesson plan
5.2.1 Entry phase
5.2.2 Problem statement
5.2.3 Elaboration phase I
5.2.4 Backup phase I
5.2.5 Elaboration phase II
5.2.6 Securing of results II / Closing
5.3 Structure sketch

6. Summary


1. Introduction

Education should "promote young people in the development and strengthening of their whole person," according to Hartmut von Hentig in the introduction to the 2004 education plan.

This is a difficult task in today's pluralistic society, in which young people are expected to do more than simply obey and adopt traditional values and norms. This often leads to uncertainty and fear of the future, especially when one's own ideals come into conflict with one another or have to be represented against a majority opinion.

In such situations, the question "What should I do now?" often arises. There is no universal answer to this question; however, it is the task of schools and parents to give students some orientation. Ethics classes in particular, which are often referred to as "thinking about morality," should serve as a way of providing this orientation.

This can be ensured primarily through philosophical discussions in which the aim is to assess morally difficult situations and to point out possible courses of action. It is not important to decide between "right" and "wrong", but to be able to reflect on values in a way that is appropriate to the situation.

An important teaching method to support this moral judgment is the "dilemma method", which will be discussed in more detail below.

For this purpose, the term "morality" will be discussed in more detail and it will be defined what is meant by the ability to make moral judgments. Before the Kohlberg stage model is discussed in detail, the stages of moral development are briefly presented in tabular form. After general remarks on Kohlberg's concept, a methodical reflection of the dilemma method follows, in which especially criteria of a good dilemma story are discussed. Subsequently, the use of the method in ethics classes is explained on the basis of a dilemma from the book "On My Sister's Life". For this purpose, the competencies that students can acquire through the use of the dilemma method are first discussed before the course of the lesson is outlined in detail.

2. Subject analysis

The American moral psychologist and educator Lawrance Kohlberg (1927-1987) was concerned throughout his life with how the moral development of human beings proceeds. The basis of his investigations is the assumption that the judgment of justice can be seen as the center of morality.

Fundamental to his work was Piaget's "Theory of Cognitive Development," which gained in vividness through Kohlberg's adaptation. His concern to make psychological findings applicable in practice had a great influence on pedagogy.

2.1 Definition of “morality”

Due to the fact that "one [cannot] examine the development of the moral thought process without some assumption of what it means to be moral" (Kohlberg, cited in Franz, p. 9), the term "morality" will be briefly outlined below.

If one takes a look at the Duden (cf. www.duden.de), the first entry for the term morality is the definition that morality is the "totality of ethical-moral norms, principles, [and] values that regulate the interpersonal behavior of a society, which are accepted by it as binding." This implies that moral action must always be considered in a social context. However, such a clarification of terms raises the question of how a society arrives at such norms, values, and principles in the first place.

Kohlberg dealt exactly with this question in the course of a lecture in 1985, at the Institute of Moralogy in Tokyo, by describing his personal path on the "search for universal morality". Here he emphasizes above all his view that moral questions are often based on difficulties of justice by unfolding the problem of whether it is right or just to use violence against people in order to achieve a supposedly just goal.

With regard to this problem, the moral psychologist and educator, according to his own view, primarily finds orientation in Kant's formula of self-purpose of the categorical imperative, which states: "Act in such a way that you need humanity, both in your person and in the person of everyone else, at all times simultaneously as an end, never merely as a means." (cf. Kuhnmerker et al., 2001, p. 23).

Since Kant's representative is of the opinion that man is an end in himself, this means for practice that man himself, must never be used only as a means to achieve a certain goal. Instead, according to Kohlberg, there must also always be recognized "the same degree of respect for the dignity of every human being" (ibid., p. 24). For him, this principle simultaneously forms the basis for justice.

Consequently, if moral issues, as previously mentioned, are often based on problems concerning justice, moral action can be ensured by applying the self-purpose formula. This formula, as part of the categorical imperative, offers general validity insofar as the underlying maxim is subject to the claim of being universalizable, i.e., detached from all conditions, applicable. Thus, if one could imagine being able to establish one's own action as a general rule, disregarding the persons involved, this could also attain validity as a universal moral principle of a society.

But what if one grows up in a society in which certain moral values have already been established (which corresponds to reality)? Do I then act morally, if I align my actions according to these principles?

2.2 Moral judgment

Kohlberg would vehemently deny this question, arguing "that the process of intellectual questioning [of conventional norms] can have a profound influence on the moral development of the individual" (2001, ua, p. 24). This statement is based on Piaget's and Kohlberg's assumption that morality is not transmitted from generation to generation through the transmission of certain standards of behavior, but is established by the individual himself.

This establishment includes not only having an opinion about certain values, but also being able to prioritize one of them when a conflict of values arises. It follows that moral judgment can only be spoken of when two or more values held by a person cannot be reconciled with each other, and the person is therefore forced to think about it, to argue philosophically and ultimately to decide in favor of one of these values (cf. 1994, Oser/ Althof, p. 35).

2.3 Kohlberg's stage model

To study the moral development of children and adolescents, Kohlberg developed a stage model of moral development, which was largely based on Jean Piaget's stages of cognitive development.

For practical implementation, subjects were presented at regular intervals with dilemmas specially invented for this purpose, which were then to be judged. The responses were recorded in a six-stage grid, with particular emphasis on the change in response strategy (justification of the decision) (cf. Raters, 2011, p. 11).

The result was "that the criteria of moral decisions of children and adolescents can be mapped on three different levels of judgment, to which six stages of moral development should correspond" (ibid. p. 12).

2.3.1 Stages of moral development

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(cf. Kohlberg, 1997, p. 127)

2.3.2 Detailed description

1st stage: Orientation to immediate consequences

At this first stage, children have already largely overcome the egocentric phase of their development, which means that they are now capable of perceiving that there are perspectives other than their own.

Since adults are seen as responsible for making rules, they are recognized as the ultimate moral authority, the source of morality. This means that only direct (physical) consequences of the adult decide whether an action was "right" or "wrong."

In this stage, the child tries to avoid punishment through absolute obedience, not questioning the adult's rules.

Morality is seen here as something one-sided, based on reward or punishment.

2nd stage: Instrumental-relativistic orientation

This changes in stage 2. At this stage, actions are characterized by being based on mutual fairness, which implies that the child has now understood that morality has something to do with interpersonal relationships and reciprocity. Also characteristic of this stage is purposeful thinking, as decisions to act are usually made dependent on physical or pragmatic factors.

3rd stage: Orientation to personal consent

As in stage 1, children and adolescents in stage 3 want to meet the moral expectations of certain caregivers. In contrast to stage 1, however, this is not the case here because there is a fear of negative consequences, but because one wants to gain social recognition or esteem through positive actions. If these expectations cannot be met, this is often interpreted as one's own moral failure, which can also result in feelings of guilt.

4th stage: Orientation to society

At this level, a social perspective is adopted in which the maintenance of society is a moral duty. Often, in case of conflict, one's own interests are subordinated to those of the community in order to preserve the social order.

5th stage: Orientation to the social contract

This pure orientation to society is overcome at stage 5 by attempting to reconcile individual interests with those of society.

This is done by measuring the moral rightness of an action against individual standards which, after critical examination, have also been established by society.

Moral decisions are thus made at this level by following group-specific rules to ensure justice. At the same time, however, moral action is also seen as a matter of personal opinion and esteem, which requires prior reflection on these rules.

6th stage: Orientation to universally valid ethical principles

In this final stage, the individual orients his or her actions according to ethical principles of his or her own choosing, such as the categorical imperative. In essence, these are universal principles of justice, reciprocity, equality and human dignity.

Insofar as laws or social agreements conform to these principles, they are to be heeded. However, if they violate one's own ethical principles, one acts morally only if one continues to adhere to them and feels personally committed to them (cf. Oser/Althof, 1994, p. 48ff).

2.3.3 General notes on the stage model

To understand Kohlberg's stage model, it should be mentioned that individuals always pass through the stages of moral development one after the other, in the same order. Once a stage has been reached, it is no longer possible to regress to a lower stage.

With each newly reached stage, a higher degree of moral development results and thus also a more mature moral understanding, which is characterized by more extensive and more reflective operations.

At the same time, this leads to a more differentiated perspective of the environment or society, which results in a moral assumption of responsibility for the social environment recognized as important.

2.3.4 Factors influencing moral judgment

Even though Kohlberg emphasizes "that all developing human beings are engaged in [the search for universal justice]" (Kuhnmerker et al., 2001, p.24), there are some influencing factors that can help or hinder the development of moral judgment.

For example, Kohlberg states, "Since moral reasoning is, of course, thinking, advanced moral reasoning depends on advanced logical reasoning." (Colby/Kohlberg, 1986, p. 142) This implies that due to inadequate cognitive abilities, low-level moral development may stall. Although advanced reasoning is not a guarantee of a higher stage of moral development, it seems to be a necessary prerequisite to enable moral judgment.

The same is possible for sufficient opportunities of active engagement with the social environment. After all, "moral judgments express the lessons learned from experience" (Oser/Althof, 1994, p. 37). Thus, the more interaction children and adolescents have experienced with people, the more likely they are to progress in moral development.

From the aforementioned social interaction, there is also another aspect that has a catalyzing influence on moral judgment formation - empathy skills. Colby and Kohlberg emphasize that the ability to empathize with the motives and perspectives of one's fellow human beings is essential when it comes to making moral judgments at higher levels (1986, p. 155). For those who are able to empathize with other people and their intentions can also understand their demands and desires. This makes it possible to compare contradictory claims with each other and, if necessary, to reconcile them.

3. Methodical reflection

3.1 Dilemmas as a method

Based on Kohlberg's idea that children and adolescents "should not be regarded as passive beings but as active subjects, even in moral terms" (Edelstein et al., 2001, p. 177), the dilemma method emerged in the 1960s.

This is a form of teaching that originally goes back to Socratic conversation. This means that an attempt is made to lead students to understanding not by instructing them, but by pointing out contradictions and raising questions. Likewise, moral development is stimulated through productive uncertainty or confrontation with patterns of argumentation at a higher level.


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Dilemma Discussions in Ethics Classes. Methods for Promoting Moral Judgement
University of Education Heidelberg
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dilemma, discussions, ethics, classes, methods, promoting, moral, judgement
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Sabrina Habermann (Author), 2012, Dilemma Discussions in Ethics Classes. Methods for Promoting Moral Judgement, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1181944


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