A study examining patterns of moral orientation with a group of adolescents at two high schools in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.
Beginning with Piaget, literature has accumulated indicating that children's moral judgments pass through a series of stages culminating in the application of high order general principles to practical judgments. Principled moral reasoning, therefore, has come to be seen as similar in principle to other abstract sciences where less formal, narrative forms of thinking are seen to be less abstract and more immature. Kohlberg's research as inspired by the work of Piaget who had tried to connect the development of a child's moral judgment to its overall cognitive development. Kohlberg believed that as the whole human personality matures, our thinking about right and wrong starts at a preconventional level, then progresses to a conventional level, then finally arrives at postconventional thinking. Each of these three levels has two specific stages. Kohlberg's research included subjects from many cultures, and therefore, he believed that he was uncovering a universal innate developmental structure of the human personality. Carol Gilligan has posed a serious threat to this general scheme by suggesting that a more narrative contextual approach to moral reasoning, what she calls an "ethic of care", which far from applying abstract moral rules to particular cases, treats each case in terms of a host of considerations any or all of which may have some role in arriving at a judgment or an action. She argues that such moral reasoning is as valid an orientation of moral thinking as that based on the application of general, abstract rules, and furthermore, that the bias towards this orientation is, at base, a gender based. A rich body of data has now been collected congruent with these claims. In order to explore the relationship between this alternate proposal and Gilligan's "justice" and "care" orientations, this study was designed to examine the moral orientation with a group of adolescents, fifteen boys and fifteen girls, at two high schools in Durban. The participants live in a working class, housing estate that has high levels of crime and violence. The adolescences were requested to reflect upon two scenarios depicting real life dilemmas, and then engage in moral judgments and decision-making in response to probing questions put to them in an interview situation. Results have shown that, contrary to Gilligan's view; across age and gender the adolescences responses reflected a higher moral orientation to justice than care. 66% of boys' responses show greater use of a justice orientation in their reasoning than care orientation 34%. A similar pattern was evident with girls across the age ranges: 53% of girls' responses were justice oriented as against to 47 % that were care oriented. An interesting finding was that girls' use of a justice orientation increased with age, and the use of moral reasoning that reflected a care orientation decreased with age. However, in line with Gilligan's theory, boys' responses across age ranges reflected a higher orientation to justice than to care. Based on previous research findings (Gilligan & Attanucci, 1988; Johnston, 1988), it was hypothesized that female learners would demonstrate higher ethic of care scores than men. The results from this study fell in line with this hypothesis.