Mistakes To Avoid In Attacking The Moral/Conventional Distinction

In an experimental critique of the moral/conventional distinction, Kelly et al. present new experimental data about responses to transgressions involving harm, where the novelty is that transgressors are grown-ups, rather than children. Their data do not support the moral/conventional distinction. The contrast between grown-up and schoolyard transgressions does not seem, however, to explain their results: they also use two schoolyard transgressions with similar negative results for the M/C distinction.I here attempt to explain away their results by calling attention to two mistakes in their experimental design. One refers to the use of questionnaire-items of the type that Turiel and collaborators have called mixed-domain situations, which extend over both a moral and a conventional domain. Participants respond to these cases differently than to prototypical moral situations, because some allow the authority rule to override the moral rule. The second mistake emerges in the grown-up transgressions labeled as Whipping/temporal, Whipping/Authority, Spanking/Authority, Prisoner abuse/Authority. These are not the typical transgressions unambiguously “involving a victim who has been harmed, whose rights have been violated, or who has been subject to an injustice”. The victims are also transgressors and harm is inflicted on them as punishment. Plausibly, rules about corporal punishment depend on authority in a way that rules about harming the innocent do not.
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DOI 10.4148/biyclc.v7i0.1779
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