Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


Date of this Version

June 2005


From Moral Motivation through the Life Span: Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, volume 51, pp. ix-xxvi. Copyright © 2005 by the University of Nebraska Press. Used by permission.


Questions of right and wrong, good and bad, lawful and unlawful, have been debated by philosophers, theologians, scholars, and ordinary people since ancient times. The moral domain represents humanity’s answers to three questions: What is the right thing to do? How is the best state of affairs achieved? What qualities make for a good person? However, the scientific investigation of the moral life has a much shorter intellectual history than does philosophical and religious reflection; nevertheless, it is not new. Moral development theory and research emerged as a critical topic over 100 years ago, at the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, given this deep background, it may surprise readers to learn that this is the very first time that the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation has served as a forum to reflect on what we know about moral development and motivation and to integrate theory and research with practical implications for schools, communities, and childrearing. This book presents the products of the 51st Nebraska Symposium on Motivation: “Moral Development through the Life Span: Theory, Research, and Applications.” The symposium was held in Lincoln, Nebraska, in April 2003.

Interest in moral development and motivation has been prominent in the field of psychology since Sigmund Freud’s theory about the Oedipus complex and the formation of the superego. Indeed, during certain earlier decades, especially the 1970s and 1980s, moral development was a hot and contentious topic among social and behavioral scientists. Various proponents of behavioral versus structural theories, such as Lawrence Kohlberg and Jacob Gewirtz, enjoyed squaring off in public and professional debates. Some important books, such as Lickona (1976), Kurtines and Gewirtz (1984), and Eisenberg, Reykowski, and Staub (1989), grew out of those debates, and, even today, these sources are useful for reading clear statements of the alternative theoretical perspectives, which are presented as competing approaches to the study and interpretation of moral development. However, following that lively but contentious period, the 1990s represented a quieter time of solid and steady gains in research study of moral development and prosocial behavior as well as a period of serious attempts at theoretical reconciliation and bridge building.

This volume presents some of the most significant fruits of that labor by distinguished and well-known researchers in the field. It is intended to summarize what we now know about moral motivation theory, research, and application across the life span. Although not all major theoretical or empirical traditions are covered here, the authors represent diverse theoretical orientations and methodologies that address many of the important issues in moral motivation. Various themes run throughout the chapters, and each chapter summarizes work that adds to our existing knowledge regarding moral development