What’s Moral Psychology?

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Moral psychology is studied in both psychology and philosophy, with psychology focusing on the development of moral beliefs and reasoning, and philosophy examining questions of morality and motivation. Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning in stages has been criticized but also credited with introducing a new field of psychology. Classical philosophy was centered on moral psychology, but it plays a minor role in modern ethics. Moral psychology could be useful for evaluating policies and examining ethical theories.

Moral psychology is a field of study that deals with the implications of psychology and ethics. This field is studied in both psychology and philosophy, although each approaches the subject with different methods and from different perspectives. Psychology focuses on the ways in which moral beliefs have developed. In philosophy, moral psychology usually refers to views on moral reasoning.

Psychology studies how moral reasoning is formed and what makes things morally right or wrong. Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist, theorized that the development of a person’s moral reasoning occurs in stages. He has engaged in studies that have attempted to determine how different individuals would respond to moral dilemmas. During the 1970s, psychologists and philosophers alike criticized Kohlberg’s theory. Others, however, credit him with introducing a new field of psychology.

Kohlberg theorized that preconventional moral reasoning, which controls moral decisions, develops in childhood. These decisions are based primarily on escaping punishment and achieving pleasure. Choices made in this stage will be influenced by physical events that cause pleasure or pain.

The next stage of reasoning, conventional moral reasoning, is reached during the teenage years. Decisions at this age focus on the approval of parents or authority figures. In adulthood, the third stage of moral reasoning is reached, post-conventional moral reasoning. At this level, an individual may be able to make decisions based on standards that he has valued independently of society’s views.

In philosophy, moral psychology tends to refer to questions of morality. These may touch on the nature of a “good” life or how a person might achieve it. Discussions of topics related to moral psychology have occurred in the literature since Plato’s Republic. Philosophy can question what inspires or motivates a person to act, arguing whether individuals can truly engage in selfless action, or rather act solely out of self-interest. Philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham, JS Mill and Friedrich Nietzsche have suggested that selfishness is mastered.

Classical philosophy, which includes the works of Plato and Aristotle, was centered on the ideas of moral psychology. It remained at the center of philosophical activity until the Middle Ages. However, these theories play a minor role in the ideas of modern ethics. In the modern world, moral psychology could be used to evaluate a variety of issues, including policies for educational institutions designed to promote good behavior or discourage bad conduct. In philosophy, moral psychology might be useful for examining ethical theories.

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