Initiation – Moral development and its worth

Initially, to provide answers to the research question, an ethical framework that is universal, useful for moral development and adaptable while allowing utilization of SDP tools and methods needs to be defined.  Ethical philosophies are evaluated in the following, mainly Kant’s work on how to establish perpetual peace and thinkers reflecting on his ideas.  The research provides arguments of the worth such an ideology offers to a variety of situations, independent from cultural and social circumstances.  Additionally, current practices of moral education and development are evaluated, limitations of teaching the theory of ethics addressed, while recommending a more suitable approach.  Precisely, it is argued that the development of moral values facilitates ethical, just behavior and is in contrast to the theory of ethics not ambiguous or interpretive.  Reasoning should always be based upon principles that benefit the greater good of society, no matter the specifics of the situation, even if certain acts from an external perspective could be perceived as ethically biased.

The theory of ethics

Aiming for perpetual peace according to Kant.

A discussion about morals could begin with Babylonian philosophies, though this thesis begins with more modern theories from the 17th and 18th centuries.  In particular, Immanuel Kant is considered, a German philosopher who, among other works, wrote a philosophical sketch about perpetual peace in 1795.  The researcher argues that this particular piece can be understood as a predecessor of contemporary peace and conflict studies.  As such, it is closely linked with the development activities which are addressed throughout this document.  It should be noted that the author of this thesis is not a philosopher and thus interpretations are rather conclusive to support the main arguments of this thesis.

When we read Kant’s (1795) philosophical sketch ‘toward perpetual peace’ the introductory statement might surprise, given that he begins by claiming that his words are not harmful to any politician – not in his time and not in the future.  It could be argued that Kant was well aware that his philosophy, no matter how reasonable, would not be considered, labeled as utopia, far away from any practicality.  At least this appears to be a logical conclusion considering that society, more than 200 years later, has not found answers to war or social ills.  Likely even that Kant was well aware that in order for his words to be followed by action humans would need to become inherently rational beings.  Irrationality, however, is rather frequent and thus neither practitioners nor scholars may be able to find universal answers to questions of establishing world peace, promoting human right equity, or fulfilling basic human needs.  No matter how idealistic Kant’s words may appear, his philosophy can still support our understanding of how conflict develops and provide ideas on how sustainable peace might come in reach.

Kant’s first paragraph discusses the structural nature of disagreement and the observation that even if a peace agreement is signed, perpetual peace can’t reasonably be assumed.  Rather we may speak of ceasefire, a form of stalemate that can lead to de-escalation, but may as well change nothing at all.  Even reaching a stage of negotiation may not bring an end to oppression or contentious tactics.  For example, despite the agreement of Syria’s government to let in unarmed military observers to monitor the ceasefire that was agreed upon in April 2012, it has been violated every day since.  Thus, we still cannot speak of a peacemaking mission, because dialogue and negotiations requires a mutual willingness to talk. 

The question remains, where we are left in a conflict like Syria?  One party could exploit the assumption of the other that hostilities will end to regain strength and weaken the other.  Therefore, trust remains fragile until it becomes a mutual cooperative effort formed out of an understanding that the best outcome is a joint effort.  In particular, in conflicts where power relations are asymmetric (i.e. there is the oppressor and the oppressed), if one party violates an agreement, in the short-term he might gain the most, even though research showed that in competitive environments – which in a sense includes conflict situations – there has at first to be a small number of cooperative initiatives from both sides that help to create a win-win situation in the long-run.  From a social perspective, the deeper and longer a relationship between parties is or has to be, the more important cooperation becomes to achieve mutual acceptable and beneficial ends.  The necessity to establish a bond between two entities to overcome conflict may not be obvious at first, because we cannot assume the ones in power see a need for collaboration, which may also hold true for the oppressed.  It is not surprising, therefore, that in times of issues that arise out of the need for continued existence (so called survival conflict), an agreement may be easier to find.

A moral identity that reaches beyond.

Kant’s philosophy, addressing the nature of conflict, follows a list of laws for perpetual peace.  Most of his arguments reach beyond domestic activities and are targeted towards international cohesion.  This does not imply, however, that those rules are universal.  Though answers to the world’s most pressing issues will remain situation-specific, developing moral values, the ability to consider various options based on the information on hand, carries some commonality that can provide a general platform.  Methodologies, on the other hand, may have to be adjusted, selection processes for participants adapted and lessons altered towards social and cultural accepted means while the philosophy remains the same: to provide a foundation in which moral values can prosper and develop, instating a group of ambassadors of change that advocate for mutual understanding in their regions and beyond.  As such, we may be able to fulfill in the long-run and as Moravcsik (1996) put it, ‘Kant’s proposal for a foedus pacificum, an international federation’ (p. 123) whose identity is carried by compatible moral values.

Kant’s argument to form an international federation is according to Czempiel (1996) a prerequisite for sustainable peace; an alliance that is founded on a shared identity based on a mutual understanding of moral values.  Even though acts – i.e. the expression of those principles – will vary by situation and individual, those irrevocable differences form the historical, cultural, and societal diversity that understanding, respecting, living, and celebrating establishes an appreciation and realization of the benefits of different belief and value systems.   Consequently eliminating or at least reducing the potential for conflict. 

In general, interpretations of Kant’s views vary; some scholars argue that he never believed in world governments, or international federations for that matter.  His words could be understood as a warning that centralized entities would most likely oppress the distinctiveness of national traditions; even though diversity is one of human kind’s most significant strengths.  Regardless of what Kant’s real intent might have been, it appears inevitable that he believed the uniqueness of cultures needs to be obtained as one of humanity most precious goods.  Thus, we may not talk about a specific organizational form, but rather a set of diverse people that share moral values as the foundation on which ethical behavior may flourish.  Neither should other cultures be overemphasized, nor should other ideals, beliefs and values be oppressed; differences between cultures should be celebrated to create a healthy relationship based on a mutual understanding of moral values that togetherness is the only answer to conflict and overcoming social ills.

Creating a safe haven for moral development.

Kant continues his sketch that in order to achieve perpetuity of peace all agreements would have to be united, to form a coalition of peace that eliminates all conflicts.  This would, however, require absence of oppression and segregation; situations in which all human beings are either equal or perceive their conditions as even-handed.  That one may in one’s lifetime not achieve the former appears undisputable, but establishing an appreciation of self and creating or at least adjusting circumstances to allow personal satisfaction might be a somewhat realistic scenario.  The social environment of a school is believed to create a safe haven where personalities can prosper, equality can be accomplished, and oppression might be limited.  Certainly, one may argue that no matter how small this social world might be, it will mirror its hosting society.  Even though this might be true, it is the belief of the author that the particulars of the development world create a somewhat unique case. 

First, we could consider the possibility to unplug people from their natural habitat, to create a culture where core moral values of equity and unity are agreed, accepted, and lived.  Even though each participant’s culture will initially determine who they are, how they behave, and what they think about certain situations, groups, and circumstances, this document argues culture is not necessarily permanent and can change over time or depending on place.  Second, the author would like to contend that a pre-assessment needs to happen, to at the least, establish an understanding of each individual’s learned social and cultural norms.  The process would need to reveal mutual beliefs and values which can be used to create a powerful bond between the participants.  For example, history has shown that even the commonality of oppression can form a coalition that allows the formation of a culture.  Finally, it needs to be understood that implementing the suggested methodology would establish a subculture emerging from a dominant one, in which its exclusivity would both protect it from external forces, yet limit it to the program’s boundaries.  Nonetheless, it is the assumption of this thesis that experienced-based education within a culture can create moral agents of change, which may well spread the values and beliefs they have acquired.  If we can inspire a few, we may establish a subculture, even if fragmented, that in the long-term may positively impact a dominant one that rests on hate and conflict. 

Moral education may be understood as a sole theoretical endeavor, though this thesis wants to provide arguments that there are means to convey ethics to real-life situations.  It is, however, also understood that moral principles are interpretative, individual, and time as well as situation specific.  Thus, exposure to different conditions, experiencing moral behavior in a variety of circumstances and in different roles, analyzing the results of certain events together and becoming more reflective of one’s own and other’s actions, may transcend beyond the limited scale of a program.

Moral development as a form of conflict transformation

Creativity a core principle for conflict resolution.

The conflicting nature of oppression and marginalization within the borders of one country are hard to grasp, no matter if one is an internal or external observer.  Nowadays, in addition, we live in a globalized world where issues spread, because belief and value systems are not condemned to geographical nominations anymore.  For instance, on September 12th, 2012, flags of the United States were burning after demonstrations in Libya and Egypt.  It was argued that the recent attacks were related to a provoking movie that had been uploaded to YouTube which portrayed the prophet Mohammed as an adulterer, child-abuser, and bloodthirsty gangster.  Even though the film had been available since July 2012, it gained publicity after Terry Jones, pastor of a small fundamentalist Christian church in Gainsville, Florida, used the video for his propaganda against the Islamic world.  Pastor Jones, who is not directly involved in any conflict in the Arabic World could be classified as tertiary party; utilizing a new weapon, social media, which while benefiting the formation of an identity by facilitating communication among oppressed groups (cf. social media use during the Egyptian revolution), also gives birth to new conflict potential that might be too unregulated to be controlled or contained.

Conflicts do not develop in a vacuum; several contextual factors influence nature and form, as outlined in Abdalla’s (2002) model C.R. SIPABIO.  In order to build peace and transform a conflict, all elements have to be taken into account.  Each feature carries assumptions or even stereotypes, which may either de- or escalate a conflict.  No matter if gender, religion, class, ethnicity, disability, or alike are considered, they are historically, culturally, and socially constructed, carrying beliefs that may or may not harm a relationship between two parties.  Further amplified by the ubiquitous accessibility to media (e.g., internet, TV, radio), and their own representation of those elements, may support but can also hamper mutual understanding.  It is not surprising, therefore, that international development and aid have to reach and think beyond established concepts.  We may even argue that given all the complexity of international relations tools for conflict resolution and peace building will always have to be adapted to account for changing or new contextual factors.

Moral education a means to transform conflicts.

Even though we would like to argue that being evil is not a born attitude, we could similarly contend that being peaceful isn’t either.  Mapping or predicting human behavior is as equally challenging as plotting a conflict.  Therefore, we may suggest that in order to find peace, we need to establish a deep understanding of all stakeholders (parties), no matter if primarily, secondarily, or tertiary.  Each and every individual will engage in a certain behavior, an obvious one and one that will be driven by his/her personal interest(s).   It might be suggested that the latter stems from learned values and attitudes, but it could as well be an emotional reaction towards an unknown situation.  It may, consequently, be argued that learning a set of moral ground rules and experiencing what those mean for a better together, so that one can act upon all information available, could limit impulsive behavior, making conflict situations more predictable and finding a peaceful solution more likely. 

If we could understand the deeper values attached to a certain behavior, we may well be able to predict an outcome or at least consider means to intervene.  A discussion about moral behavior may from this perspective lack substance, but if we agree with Delaney and Sockell (1992) that ethical programs are beneficial, one step would be the development of them.  This paper would like to argue that it appears unreasonable to teach ethics in theory, because the risk that it is interpreted in a way that there is no right or wrong answer might tacitly encourage immoral behavior.  If we want to establish a broader perspective on general welfare, of the belief that conflict is not a zero-sum game, then the author of this document would like to claim that we need to teach moral judgment as Kohlberg (1964) described it as ‘the capacity to make decisions and judgments that are moral (i.e., based on internal principles) and to act in accordance with such judgments’ (p. 425).  Education, in general, appears to be an applicable approach that helps to reflect upon all available information, decide what to do, when and what is right or wrong.  In a world where conflict appears to have become ubiquitous, where human rights are regularly violated, and violence is a more common response than we may rationally want to admit, morally just behavior will remain difficult.  Relations of power are too asymmetric and too incomplete is the understanding of conflicting parties’ wants and needs to one-size-fits-all solution.  However, if moral behavior is understood as serving the greater good of society, if we can inspire a few who come to understand the benefits of social togetherness even in times of conflict, we may form a coalition that has the power to transform conflict.  Impartial and eternal principles will remain a far cry in a globalized world where the assumption of the rational nature of decision making has been proven wrong, but aren’t we all doomed if we stop trying?

Moral development in business

Moral development and education can be found in various contexts, yet at the time of this research there was no evidence that ideas, similar to those presented above, have been linked to SDP.  However, as Fletcher discussed in his article Applying Sport Psychology in Business: A Narrative Commentary and Bibliography (2010) there is a, ‘close link between sport and another prominent performance domain, business’ (p. 140).  Fletcher found many parallels between the two worlds:  beyond the sense of team spirit, the author realized that mental patterns and domains such as organizational issues, stress, leadership, or consulting are as familiar to business managers as they are to athletes.  Thus, the following discussion assesses two studies from the business world hypothesizing that managers and business majors around the world lack ethical training to prevent negative consequences of immoral behavior for the general public; as such it would also apply to the world of sport according to Fletcher.

In times of economic and financial crisis, the negative impact on society is often projected on business leader’s unethical decision making (Vogel, 1992).  The first study is an empirical one conducted by Delaney and Sockell (1992) addressing the question if ethics training programs can make a difference.  Though the article is rather old, the main argument has not lost any of its validity that, ‘media and public attention on the issue of ethical behavior in business dealings… have raised questions about whether American firms and business schools are properly preparing individuals to deal with work-place ethical dilemmas’ (p. 719).  Recent scandals and their immoral fundamentals have not changed compared to the time when the study was conducted.  The case for ethical training should have been heard, but apparently has not found a positive response as of today.  Delaney and Sockell found that businesses between 1953 and 1987 would have benefited from ethics training programs.  Their paper argued that such trainings would have increased employee satisfaction and reduced opportunistic behavior.  At the time there was limited applicable guidance and criteria available to evaluate the effectiveness of such programs, which in turn made it unlikely that resources would have been made available to finance such initiatives. Though nowadays those metrics have become available, either investments or the approach to training has not yet have positively influenced ethical decision making.

Delaney and Sockell introduced a new set of data for ethical behavior.  Though they admitted the sample used might not be representative for a general population, they argued that the indicators are reasonable to assess the benefits of an ethical teaching program for a business setting.  The researchers surveyed graduates from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business by disseminating a questionnaire which was used to collect data on ethical dilemmas from their respective workplaces.  Measurements included number of times faced with an ethical decision and frequency with which immoral acts were applied in order to beat a competitor.  Furthermore, the authors asked the participants to indicate any ethical training they had received, and if they have received none if they thought it would have been reasonable to implement such training to help in a situation of ethical bias.  A total of 5,864 graduates from classes between 1953 and 1987 with an average age of 41 were questioned, whereof 18.3% returned the survey.  Over 80% of those in the poll were managing an average of 80 people; 36% of all participants claimed their company had a formal ethics program and a total of 62% from the remaining interviewees argued in favor of such an initiative. The results revealed that ethics training were a) not very common and b) ‘the existence of an ethics training program lowers the extent to which respondents perceived that they had to do unethical things to get ahead in their firm’ (p. 723).  In conclusion, it seems reasonable to argue that no matter which kind of ethical program is conducted, it is beneficial.  Although this statement is more than 20 years old, Delaney and Sockell’s arguments appear no less legitimate in a more and more globalized and intertwined world where unethical behavior might be even more prevalent and ubiquitous, impacting more people, probably even more severely.

The second study by Priem, Worrel, Walters, and Coalter (1992) compared moral reasoning of U.S. business students and their peers from a less-developed country; in this case Belize.  The geographic selection was partly to minimize language barriers for the research – English being the first language – plus the fact that Belize’s value-based education system somewhat contrasts educational schemes from the West.  The research revealed higher levels of moral judgment among Belizean students, compared to their US counterparts.  Thus, their study could be interpreted in a way that Western ideologies and its educational system is by no means better than any other, including those from less-developed countries.  However, such an assumption is very common which may be the reason why many development initiatives (including SDP) are reflecting or better reproducing a Western ideology.  Priem et al. found that Belizean students attached higher importance to world peace and national security, which the researchers related to the fact that the West generally promotes an individualistic worldview whereas indigenous groups are more interconnected.  Hence, if morals should develop on a belief that togetherness is beneficial, than we need to understand diversity as an anchor for ethical just behavior that gains its strength through the multitude of values, beliefs, and different ideologies.

Final remarks

Kohlberg (1971) argued that Cognitive Moral Development (CMD) is universal and even though findings are somewhat ambiguous, this thesis claims that moral values can be agreed upon that are culturally and socially independent.  For instance, though Rest’s (1979) Defining Issue Test (DIT) to measure CMD has revealed biased findings (Snarey, 1985; Rest, Thoma, Moon, & Getz, 1986),  Kracher, Chatterjee, and Lundquist (2002), could find no statistical significant evidence that DIT is culturally biased between the West and the East.  Further, while comparing US and Indian business school graduates and managers, education was found as being positively correlated to ethical decision making.  It is assumed that similar results could be found in other settings, such as the in the following proposed SDP initiative that teaches moral values to a variety of participants, regardless of any socially assigned characteristics.  Though the tools might have to be adjusted to cultural and environmental particulars, it is argued that Kracher et. al’s findings could be replicated in the Global North (e.g., US and Europe) as well as the Global South.  If we find evidence that our development efforts impact moral reasoning to move away from egocentric values, according to Kohlberg (1964) the first level of three in moral development, and towards a belief system that searches for the greater good for society (level 2), we may have provided arguments for the sustainability an applicability of such initiatives to transform conflicts and establish perpetual peace. 

Figure 3: The worth of moral development