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Chapter Ten: The Systems Stage

Section 3: The Morality of Consequences



What moral systems are made possible by systems thinking? Lawrence Kohlberg has taken a Piaget-derived approach to the study of moral reasoning. He has identified six stages, the last three of which are of concern to us at this stage. Stage four is the "law and order" orientation. Laws are considered paramount and necessary. This can be seen to correspond to the absolutism of early adolescence -- and) in fact, thirteen-to-sixteen-year olds are typically at this stage.



In late adolescence, the, intimate exposure to different individuals and groups conveys the realization that values are relative. Those who consider rules necessary but arbitrary may operate at Kohlberg's stage five -- "social-contract/legalistic orientation." Laws are seen as arbitrary, but once they are agreed upon, they must be followed -- this is essentially cultural relativism.



As discussed in chapter nine, cultural relativism does not provide a principled basis for improving society and planning a future world. Stage six "universal ethical principles orientation" answers this objection. Principles are constructed to be comprehensive, universal and consistent important aspects of these principles would include respect for others, equality, reciprocity and justice. One product of such moral reasoning is Kant's Categorical Imperative -- "Act as to make of thy conduct the universal will." Such a principle would seem to be the essence of operation of a political friendship, since the consensual process of such a system is designed to determine a collective, if not universal, will as a basis for action. Such a principle lacks the rigidity of moral absolutes and yet provides a sense of direction, unlike moral relativism.



However, it is difficult to tell from the mere presence of a universal principle what level of reasoning was used in obtaining the principle. Our selection of systems thinkers in the intellectual realms was not based solely on the theories generated, but also by the recognition of the complex relation between the knower and the known. Einstein, Piaget and Levi-Strauss can all be characterized as realizing that there is no "absolute Truth", and despite this, as devoting their lives to improving the knowledge that we do have. One would expect that a person on the corresponding moral level would presume that there are no moral absolutes, yet be concerned with improving moral systems, and, finally, be concerned with the complex relation between the moral reasoner and the object of one's reasoning.



Interestingly enough, Kohlberg is working in this direction on a stage seven. The work is not published, but the central concern of this stage seems to be the question, "What is morality?" This would seem to parallel Piaget's concern with "What is knowledge?" Erich Fromm tackles the moral question in Man For Himself, which appears to be a solid example of Kohlberg's stage seven and systems thinking. This is why Fromm's ethics and definition of "good" form part of the criteria in chapter one for a pragmatic utopia.



Fromm recognizes that ethics are designed by society as guidelines for individuals so that their actions inure to the long-term benefit of society. Authoritarian ethics are provided for people who have neither the ability (undeveloped cognitive and moral reasoning structures) nor the will (insufficiently expansive identity) to act constructively without clear and rigid guidelines. Democratic ethics would place more faith in the citizenry, but remain bound by the processes of compromise and majority rule in selecting the guiding principles of a society.



Kant's categorical imperative would seem to be the operating principle of a political friendship. Considerable time and energy must, of course, be expended determining what the universal will is. This will occur naturally as education is the primary modus operendi of the most sophisticated of political forms. Morality at this level is no longer concerned with obedience, but with consequences. Correct moral decisions involve knowing human nature well enough to determine the collective human will, and knowing reality well enough to determine how one can effect this will. In other words, restating the principle in chapter one, one should act to create a world that, in turn, optimally facilitates the achievement of human potentials and feelings of well-being.







Book Contents

Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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Adolescence and Education

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