Mirza Ali Mohammad Kardan
At the present time, ethical or moral issues are as important as scientific and technological activities and progress. Science and technology provide us with the capacity to possess systematic knowledge of natural and human realities and to improve the conditions of our material life. Ethics helps us to identify moral values whose application improves our internal existence and balances our individual and social lives. Science and ethics are two necessary components man uses to enjoy a good life and well being, to realize his own essence, and to work toward perfection. Ethics involves the study of values in the domain of human conduct.
While science is essentially universal, as scholars believe it to be, and is less influenced by social and cultural patterns, ethical values vary according to the culture or society in which they are derived. The ethical conduct of individuals depends on several elements, the most important being value systems, education systems, and an individual's native constitution. The priority given to these three elements depends on the psychological, sociological, or philosophical approaches used to determine priorities. Value systems are not absolute but relative to time and space. The individual's need to adapt behavior to new value systems is inspired by various factors. And if the individual is not prepared for this perpetual adaptation, he will lose his mental equilibrium and identity. Through this we observe the importance of moral education and seek conditions for its appropriate application.
NECESSITY OF MORAL EDUCATION
In the past, both in the West and the East, religion determined the rules of moral behavior. All followers of a specific religion obey almost identical values. Since the beginning of the modern era, especially in the West, religion has gradually lost its spiritual authority. Today in some advanced western countries people consult clinical psychologists instead of priests to resolve their mental problems. In societies that have not given science absolute power, people face numerous moral and psychic contradictions due to the influence of new value systems. These people are wandering between their ancestral tradition and the new value system, and they feel what sociologists call “anomy.” This bewilderment and disorientation can be observed in all aspects of their life, particularly in the realm of morality.
In the West, people are able to meet their material, and to some extent, their social needs through the use of science and technology. But they realize that these achievements have not been able to relieve their anxieties arising from higher competition, constant changes, and loneliness. Furthermore, they cannot prevent violence or ensure tranquility, friendship, and security—all necessary conditions for self-realization.
The 1789 French Revolution's ideals—equality, fraternity, and freedom—have not been fully realized in the world. Despite the vertiginous development of science and technology, humanity witnessed two ruinous world wars resulting in millions of deaths. International agreements and treaties, including the establishment of the League of Nations, which was later to be transformed into the United Nations, as well as the ratification of the Human Rights Charter have not succeeded in ending wars. Current ideologies like liberalism, socialism, and other “isms” prevalent in the twentieth century neither brought about worldwide peace and security nor provided stable and reliable internal tranquility for individuals.
Humanity is asking itself how it is possible to replace war, violence, and anxiety with peace and security in social and individual environments.
The ratification by the United Nations General Assembly of the principle proposed by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding “Dialogue among Civilizations“ instead of “Conflict among Civilizations” could be proof that we have begun to ask this question. However, one wonders whether this socio-political guideline can be realized without the moral education of citizens of human societies, be it in the West, East, North, or South.
What has been mentioned thus far proves the real demand for moral education. What remains is to generate a moral attitude that will ensure peace and security in the world and the principles and conditions to succeed in moral education.
The author does not pretend to be able to answer such important questions in this brief presentation. However, by raising these questions, he is inviting members of the academies to rethink old principles and set forth new proposals.
THEORIES ON MORAL EDUCATION
Various theories exist concerning the possibility of moral education. Whatever the criterion for good conduct and thoughts, we must find out to what extent human nature is prepared for moral education. The great religions first, followed by the famous intellectuals of the world, have all tried to discover the answer.
The result of these efforts may be summarized in three theories:1.
Man is by nature bad, selfish, and an oppressor.2.
Man is innately good and has empathy and compassion toward others.3.
The nature of man is neither good nor bad. It becomes good or bad by experience and environmental influence.
MAN IS BY NATURE BAD
The source of this theory is the belief in original sin committed by man, and it is held by some renowned Christian intellectuals such as Saint Augustine. Thomas Hobbes, the British thinker, and Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, were both supporters of this theory. According to Freud, the sign of morality is the feeling of guilt, and this is expressed by super ego (conscience), gradually formed in man from birth until the age of five or six. Hence, further education has not much effect on changing the super ego. The only way to change it is the fear of punishment.
MAN WITH A GOOD NATURE
This theory can be found in many of the divine religions. In modern times, the most famous supporter of it is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the beginning of his book “Emile,” Rousseau writes, “Everything is good when it comes out of the hand of the creator of nature, and degrades when manipulated by men.”
Jean Piaget, the Swiss epistemologist and psychologist and his American follower Lawrence Kohlberg, both believe in the theory of growth and cognition and support this view. According to Piaget, mental growth is a precondition for moral and social education, and its factors include group play and cooperation. Morality consists of conscious judgment regarding good and bad deeds, and has close ties with mental growth.1 He believes that there are two stages for the growth of moral judgment:1.
The subordination or “heteronomy” stage goes together with realism, moral objectivity, and a belief in immanent justice.2.
In the autonomy stage the child values the incentives of the acts more than their apparent consequences and expects in compensatory chastisement rather than the penal punishment mentioned in the first stage. At this stage the child understands gradually that rules and norms can be violated. And while playing games, he and the other children can set and implement rules.
Kohlberg believes in moral growth as well. However, unlike his teacher, he raises the end of moral growth from the age of 12 to 25. He considers that this growth consists of six stages starting with pre-moral or pre-conventional stage. After going through the conventional stage, he reaches the sixth or final stage, which is the autonomy stage, or as Kant says, “the stage of discovery of universal principles of morality.”
MAN WITH NEITHER A BAD NOR GOOD NATURE
The third theory is termed “Tabula Rasa” by John Locke, the British philosopher. It states that there are no innate tendencies or moral background in man at the start of life. According to this theory, moral behaviors are approved by society, and morality in man is the consequence of experience, learning, and the influence of the surrounding environment. The precondition for moralization of the individual is the coordination between his family and institutional education and the value system of society. Then, an individual's morality may be altered by changes in social position or educational programs and methods. Therefore, an individual can be considered being moral if he shows resistance to internal temptations in order to follow the social values. In other words, this theory considers that moral behavior implies freedom in human choice and action.2 The supporters of social learning theory, such as the American social psychologist Bandura, share this view.
Further discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of these three theories is not possible in such a brief presentation. It suffices to say that today's scholars of human sciences are more in favor of social learning theory without denying the role of inheritance in moral behaviors. The first problem an educator may face is the nature of the child. Educators can observe that similar to the uniqueness of physical traits, each child has innate emotional characteristics which can weaken the effect of education.
In fact, education is able only to realize the potential disposition of the child and cannot completely alter his nature. As the French educationist and psychologist Maurice Debesse says: “Education—including moral education—does not create the child but helps him to create himself.”3
Finally, in the present world, human societies are confronted constantly with various and contradictory value systems. Thus, it is necessary to ensure that people become familiar with new cultures in order to keep their national identities and avoid moral instability.
One of the tasks of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, particularly the human science branch, is to review and to study the issues caused by interference among several cultures. They have to highlight moral principles that help people bring about cultural agreement between various nations and preserve their individual and social identities. These moral principles could be the following:
Respect human beings regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, and ideology. According to this principle, it is necessary to combat the related prejudices using solutions stemming from social psychological research or at least to reduce their moral impacts.
Respect diversity and differences between various cultures. This requires that cultures of other nations or ethnic groups are first valued and then presented to a younger generation. The youth in different countries should be persuaded that the only way to ensure sustainable prosperity, security, and peace is to gain justice and welfare for the whole world and not just for their own social class or countries.
It is necessary to bring about the following preliminary actions in order to apply the above principles:
Provide a moral atmosphere in the environment where the individual lives. As is proven in social psychology, in an environment where the majority observes ethical values and mutual respect, an individual is obliged to adapt himself to the accepted social norms in order not to be expelled from the social group.
Move from social education toward human education by acquainting the younger generation with absolute values such as goodness, justice, truth, peace, and respect for human dignity.
Familiarize the younger generation with the culture and the social mores and traditions of other nations through teaching them subjects such as general geography and world history, or by facilitating their travel to other countries.
Establish coordination between several educational organizations, especially between the family, school, and the mass media, regarding principles and methods of moral education.
Confront the younger generation with moral antagonisms and different value systems in their own or other societies, and encourage them to compare their observations in order to distinguish between good and bad behaviors. This will lead the young generation to stable and dependable moral criteria.
These actions will result in a sustainable effect, provided the society prepares the necessary conditions to value moral virtues and to respect those who posses these virtues.
Piaget, Jean. Moral Judgment of the Child. Harcourt, New York: 1932.
Reboul, O. Les valeurs de l'éducation. p. 49. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris: 1992.
Debesse, M. The Steps of Education. (Persian Translation), 8th ed. p. 208. Tehran University Press, Tehran: 1989.