Every man, in his own opinion, forms an exception to the ordinary rules of morality.
- Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
- 1. Obedience and punishment orientation
- (How can I avoid punishment?)
- 2. Self-interest orientation
- (What’s in it for me?)
- (Paying for a benefit)
- 1. Obedience and punishment orientation
- Level 2 (Conventional)
- 3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
- (Social norms)
- (The good boy/good girl attitude)
- 4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
- (Law and order morality)
- 3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
- Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
- 5. Social contract orientation
- 6. Universal ethical principles
- (Principled conscience)
The first level develops in young children through interaction with parents and other authority figures. The first stage being punishment. Children are experimental and will push boundaries. Their own ideas of right and wrong are very much, at this point, based on the justice dealt out by authority. “I got spanked for doing this, so I best not ever do it again!” After a bit of seasoning, the child quickly develops a moral approach that concerns him or herself and how they can benefit. Maybe they expect a favor in return as the basis for even helping at all. Helping someone is on a case by case basis and judged mostly on how it may benefit them most. Sociopathic? Yes. But, again, they’re developing children. Some, sadly, carry a great many traits from these early stages on into adulthood. Well past the point of knowing better. The second stage also translates into children avoiding doing wrong for fear of being disciplined. An action that does not benefit them at all. Again, the standard set forth by those early authority figures will very much effect their moral decision making on into adolescence and their teens.
Level 2 concerns the moral reasoning of adolescents and adults. With the guidelines set forth from the development in stage one, the individual begins to form a sense of societal morality. how their society works, where they fit into it, and how they can be a “good boy” or “good girl”. The individual moves past concern for praise or punishment and simply follows rules to keep the social norm. Authority is still questioned but fear of reprisal or concern for reward is no longer the sole factor when judging right and wrong. The distinctions are more nuanced in adults but adolescents and teens begin to develop social bonds outside their family network and realize that they are part of something far larger. When it all finally sinks in is anyone’s guess. But, in my opinion, most adults seem to” get it” around their late 20’s. The rule of law becomes important as a means to ensure social harmony and respect for people. By stage four, moral actions are no longer ruled by personal consequence but by a need to maintain social stability.Looking out for more than just the individual. Social morals. Societal laws.
Level 3 is where Kohlberg begins to distinguish himself from his predecessors and garner a bit of controversy with his work. At this level, many adults begin to realize the world is made up of different people, different cultures, and different standards. Morality is no longer about social norm or acceptability, but about justice. A realization that many “laws” are unfair and should be disobeyed. That the greater good of all is worth more than the laws any society has created. We are involved in a social contract and when a law or ethical standard cannot meet that, it musty be thrown down. In stage six, the individual operates outside excepted law as he or she believes that a social contract is not broken by a single person’s unilateral action. if you see injustice would you step in regardless of law? “putting your self in their shoes”(empathy). Will you act? In this way, the act becomes the end. not the means. A just act is justice served. Though Kohlberg admitted he can’t imagine many people operating on this level for too long. Then they eventually become the injustice they were trying to counter.
Kohlberg drew heat for this by focusing too much on a highly vague term, “justice”. Almost as if he were promoting a form of consequentialism. His work is highly regarded though as a more than suitable outline of a person’s moral development. It is a framework used by many psychologists all around the world and a good starting point on discussing personal morals.
Speaking of which, let’s look at some famous moral codes from history. Laws and rules that shaped people and nations. We will begin in 12th century Japan with the code of Bushido, the moral code of the samurai. Bushido is believed to have formed from the teachings of several Japanese texts from the time including the Kojiki , the oldest existing book from Japan, dating back to the 7th century. It is a collection of history and myth that shaped the foundation of the honor code that would become Bushido. The Kojiki mentions the honor of the sword and the warrior’s devotion to master and land. All strong tenants of the samurai. The term Bushido, formed from the Chinese word “bushi”(warrior poet), did not appear in the original Kojiki and would not enter everyday Japanese language til around the 13th or 14th century.
By the 13th century, samurai were a special class in Japan and tasked with waging war for their masters, the shogunate. It is in the war torn era between the 13th and 16th centuries that Japanese Bushido becomes the code we know today. Duty and honor were above all else for a samurai. Duty to one’s land and master, and always honor in every action . Through this, a moral code was shaped for on and off the battlefield. A samurai code had already existed but Bushido expanded it and formalized it for all of Japan. Now you not only honored your enemy on the field of battle but honored the common farmer in his field. Not only loyalty to your master, but loyalty to a greater Japan(for your master). A samurai did not solely dedicate himself to knowledge of war and the blade but also spirituality and the discipline of the mind. Though samurai were instruments sharpened to kill, Bushido was a code that respected life and venerated the fallen. By the 17th century many of the tenants of Bushido were made state law by the Tokugawa shogunate. The Bushido code was easily applicable to the lives of all Japanese people. Respect for your fellow countrymen, honor and duty to the Japan and to your community, and a focus on personal responsibility and spiritual peace. After the fall of the shogunate, the code of Bushido remained a central tenement of Japanese culture. Passing through Imperial Japan and on into modern times, the duty and respect bound in Bushido still dictate the personal moral codes of millions of Japanese citizens. The samurai are highly regarded not just in Japan but also in the west where a similar code or conduct sprung up around the same time as Bushido.
In Medieval Europe the knight class, very similar to the samurai, were developing their own code based on many of the same principles of honor, duty, and respect. The code of Chivalry. Chivalry is the English version of the Old French word “chevalerie”, meaning knighthood. Like Bushido, it was a code formed on the battlefield between knights competing and battling for their lords. Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the term became romanticized by poets and bards and became a form of etiquette and proper moral behavior. Chivalry was very much a code rooted in a particular religion, Christianity. This separates it somewhat from Bushido, which did give praise to a god or gods but was much more spiritual and esoteric. The chivalric stance toward women is attributed to the veneration of the Virgin Mary. though, in practice, women of lowborn class were still looked down upon by many knights and nobles. The code of Chivalry honored duty and commitment to one’s lord and the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. Even if it be your life.
At the dawn of the Renaissance in the early 14th century, chivalry had undergone a change to appeal to a moral standard for most of Western Europe. There is still debate as to whether the exploits of chivalric knights set these standards or if they were merely conducting themselves in a way that had already existed but was little practiced. Either way, like Bushido in Japan, many Europeans honored the values of the knights. Even if many of them never seemed to serve them, the lower class still saw them as a standard to set yourself to. GOD, country, family. This was a creed most Europeans could relate to. Do right not just for you but of country and the glory of GOD.
While on the subject of religion, let’s move onto our final topic, Zoroastrianism. Created by the ancient Persian(Iranian) prophet and philosopher Zoroaster sometime before the 6th century B.C., his teachings would form the base of one of the largest religions of its time. There is debate as to when Zoroaster was born or if he even existed at all. Ancient Greeks do refer to him though and call him “the founder of Iran’s religion”, but they declare the rest as fantasy. Mush as modern scholars would think of Jesus. Zoroaster was born into a family of priests and spent much of his life wrestling with the philosophical questions of the times. Primarily with the conflict between ašaTruth) and druj(Lie). Zoroaster was the first noted moral philosopher to speak on “free will” and man’s “moral choice”. Zoroaster dismissed any kind of monasticism and taught that one must remain active in the Earthly to ever affect change and promote aša. Moral choice was the central principle of Zoroastrianism. Asceticism was also frowned upon as, again, the world was a series of choices and any predetermination was thought of as working against the aša.
These principles set Zoroastrianism apart from Hinduism, the major religion in the surrounding area of South Asia, and the fellow fledgling religion of Buddhism. For many, Zoroaster’s moral teachings can be summed up in one phrase: “Good thoughts, good works, good deeds.” Simply living a “good life” did not make you a moral person. You had to be active in bringing about truth to your community and safeguarding it against evil influence. If not, you were the idle hands of evil(that sounds familiar). Zoroaster promoted a strong connection to people and the earth. That worldly pleasure was not inherently evil. Men made it so. He preached discipline and moderation while teaching a love for the joys of life and the companionship of your fellow man. Much like the samurai of Japan and the knights of medieval Europe, Zoroaster valued honor and respect and felt those ideas translated into proper moral conduct. Many philosophers added bits here and there to Zoroaster’s teachings over the years, much like the teachings of Jesus and Mohammad, and Zoroastrianism has influenced many religions including Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Well folks, that about does it for this chapter. Hope you enjoyed this look at a few of the more well known moral codes that have existed in the world. I chose these three as many of their teachings either borrowed from or added to many of the ethical principles our society still values today. Trust, honor, loyalty, duty, and respect. Principles that have shaped the world many times over. Most men and women who carry a personal moral code fall back to many of these disciplines. A sense of honor that maybe no one but them understands. Hope you’ll join me again for our next installment. Still haven’t decided on the subject matter yet so I guess we’ll both be surprised!