Defining Political Development
nd [WWW] edition)

Table of Contents



Defining Political Development. Acknowledgements
Defining Political Development. Chapter 1 "Five Fundamental Theoretical Challenges in Defining Political Development"
Defining Political Development. Chapter 2 "The Locus of Development, the Micro-Macro Connection, and Exact Specification"
Defining Political Development. Chapter 3 "Normative Justification"
Defining Political Development. Chapter 4 "The Hierarchy of Forms of Political Culture"
Defining Political Development. Chapter 5 "Developmental Dynamics"
Defining Political Development. Chapter 6 "Theoretical Implications"
Defining Political Development Bibliography

Transfer to Grounding Political Development

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In recent correspondence with a colleague I had occasion to think about this work (and Grounding Political Development, the work that followed it in 1991).  Here's what I said, along with a synopsis of the colleague's comments.

"While I don't think I say anything directly wrong in these two works, I am no longer comfortable with what I see as their  connotation that 'higher is better'.   When I wrote the work I was still struggling to free myself from the illusion that one could separate content and structure.  The strong tendency in U.S. society to rank all things means that it was incumbent upon me to state much more clearly than I did how development had to come in response to a society's internal moral conflicts, not in  response to some abstract, external stage scoring."

My colleague asked whether this meant I had changed my views on Kohlberg's claim that "higher [i.e., higher moral stage reasoning] is better [i.e., morally superior]."  This is what I replied:

"My thoughts on development are complex, but I'll take a stab at it.  You have to understand that my concern with this comes first out of my own difficulties, so I may be overreacting.  On the other hand, I see those difficulties as present in U.S. culture generally, so this probably isn't a merely personal psychodrama. As I experienced my family of origin, morality was used as a tool of manipulation. Somehow, whatever I wanted to do was wrong.  I became convinced that if only I could be moral enough, then I could get what was important for me.  The idea of a hierarchy of moral reasoning was thus very appealing.  I knew that cognitive development was real, having seen it very clearly in my own development as a mathematician.  (I graduated from college in applied math and only then switched to political science.)  I also knew that I was smart and intellectually inclined, so I thought I had a good chance of developing cognitively. If these things happened, then I would be better than other people and (presumably) have a better life.  Moral reasoning became a competition.   Kohlberg warned his circle of students and associates against confusing deontic judgments (about the validity of a moral position) with aretaic judgments (about the value of people holding those positions), and he said not to use the shorthand that crept into the circle of saying that 'So-and-so was a Stage 4' or whatever.   Nevertheless, the language persisted, and there was (I felt) a fair amount of competitiveness within the circle of who was the highest stage.  Naturally, everyone believed they were reasoning at a Stage 6 level, and it was amusing to see how Kohlberg kept downgrading his stages as he developed his scoring system, so that what used to be seen as Stage 6 became Stage 5 and then even Stage 4.  It felt like we were trying to go up the down escalator. But Kohlberg was part of the problem, as I now see in retrospect.  Right up until close to his death (1987), he had taken the position that his stages were stages of adequacy of moral judgment.  (See 'From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Reasoning'.)   In a dialogue with Habermas he eventually came to understand that his argument was flawed, and that the criteria for judging adequacy had themselves to be justified and could be only on a contingent basis.   (What Habermas calls 'reconstructive science'.)   This problem was seen by a number of early critics of Kohlberg and led to the dismissal of his work as sexist, ethnocentric, 'modern' (in the bad sense), etc.   Since then I have found that few people, even supposed development experts, understand the dialectical character of his reformulated argument.   (The same is true for Habermas:  few people, even Habermasians, understand clearly why he turned to reconstructive science.)

"It may seem I'm rambling here, but this is all of a piece.   The important point is that development occurs only when, and to the extent that, people experience conflicts in coordinating their actions.  (This usually comes out as different viewpoints about what is 'right' in a problematic situation.)  Development occurs as the coordination of viewpoints, which involves a differentiation and integration of previous modes of thought, i.e., more complex cognitive structures.  But this is not a teleological process but a deontological one.  And the fact that X reasons at a higher stage than Y doesn't mean that Y has nothing to contribute to the discussion.  Even if Y can't see the complexities of the situation that X does, Y may still be seeing considerations that X has not.  X can't simply trump Y with h/her superior logic.  (Of course this trumping does occur in our society -- a means of repression.)  So that was the endpoint I finally reached -- that everyone is deserving of respectful attention.  No one knows ahead of time whose point of view will prevail.  No one knows the world so well that their viewpoint cannot be altered or at a minimum enriched by someone else's understanding.  It's funny that I was striving for a theory that would allow me not to listen to people, in the same way that I was not listened to, but I arrived at a place where the solution was to give up trying to be better.

"I ought to mention that what I've been saying about Kohlberg translates pretty straightforwardly into societal development."

After I sent this, I sent another email with the following postscript:

"I wanted to add one brief practical example about development's nature.   As Kohlberg was developing his scoring system, it came to light that women tended on average to have a lower score than men -- typically, Stage 3 vs. Stage 4 or 5.   (This was not true in the area of sexual dilemmas, where men tended to be lower than women, but that's a side issue for my purposes.)  This was taken as evidence that Kohlberg's work was culturally biased, or at least male biased, directly contradicting his claim that it was a universally valid scale.   Carol Gilligan wrote In a Different Voice, claiming that Kohlberg was only measuring one kind of morality, but women's morality was different in nature and tended to get heard as Stage 3.  As a result, K changed 'moral reasoning' to 'justice reasoning'.

"O.k. -- so what's my point?  I think it was a mistake for people to see women's lower average stage scores as a problem.  Within the confines of the house and family, Stage 3 reasoning is perfectly adequate to resolve the moral dilemmas that arise.  As I say in DPD (in re. vertical decalage between stages 1-3 and 4-6), stages 4-6 are concerned with societal relations within a large, impersonal society.  Now, it is obviously wrong that women are/were generally restricted to certain kinds of issues and domains.  But that's not a wrongness with the measure of moral reasoning, which is simply measuring what is there.   People don't waste their time puzzling over issues that don't have practical importance, and so development occurs only as conflicts are present.  A teleological model of moral development says that women are bad for not trying hard enough to develop, or for being too dumb to develop;  anyway, lower development = inferiority.  (This system of gradation comes out of Stage 5 reasoning itself, I believe.)  My point is that a deontological perspective sees development as occurring from within, as it were.  Something similar happens with societal development issues now: the objective of development is to get those other society's inferior cultures 'up to' that of the West.  But cultures have to develop on their own [I now note that this position closely resembles that of Seyla Benhabib in The Claims of Culture (2002)];  our development policy is imperialistic in that it expects other societies to deal with us on our terms.  My concern now with DPD is that it does not clearly enough differentiate its perspective from the teleological one.  Not that anything in it is wrong, specifically, but that the context into which it fell required a more vigorous distinction to prevent misreading."

My colleague responded by noting that I had talked in DPD about higher-stage reasoners leading the way into a developmental change, which puts a finger on where I had most gone wrong.  I believe higher-stage reasoners have a particular advantage as midwives to the birth of wider perspectives that resolve the internal conflicts of a society, but the work cannot be done independent of the concrete views of the people in conflict.  To pursue the midwife image, it's still the mother who gestates and gives birth.

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Author:  Stephen Chilton [email]  |  Last Modified:  2005-09-04
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