Department of Educational Psychology


Date of this Version



Journal of Moral Education 38:3 (September 2009), pp. 271–282.

doi: 10.1080/03057240903101432


Copyright © 2009 Journal of Moral Education Ltd. Published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. Used by permission.


This essay comments on articles that composed a Journal of Moral Education Special Issue (September, 2008, 37[3]). The issue was intended to honor the 50th anniversary of Lawrence Kohlberg’s doctoral dissertation and his subsequent impact on the field of moral development and education. The articles were characterized by the issue editor (Don Collins Reed) as providing a “look forward” from Kohlberg’s work toward a more comprehensive or integrated model of moral functioning. Prominent were culturally pluralist and biologically based themes, such as cultural learning; expert skill; culturally shaped and neurobiologically based predispositions or intuitions; and moral self-relevance or centrality. Inadequately represented, however, was Kohlberg’s (and Piaget’s) key concept of development as the construction of a deeper or more adequate understanding not reducible to particular socialization practices or cultural contexts. Also neglected were related cognitive-developmental themes, along with supportive evidence. Robert Coles’s account of a sudden rescue is used as a heuristic to depict Piaget’s/Kohlberg’s approach to the development of moral functioning. We conclude that, insofar as the Special Issue does not take development seriously, it moves us not forward but, instead, back to the problems of moral relativism and moral paralysis that Kohlberg sought to redress from the start of his work more than 50 years ago.