Ethical Development Analysis
Lindsey Rasmussen
Barriers to Ethical Thinking and Development
The barrier I struggle with the most is emotions. This is because I will often have a
strong emotional reaction in response to issues involving ethics. This causes me
problems because oftentimes it is difficult for me to set these feelings aside and reason
logically, i.e. without being strongly influenced by my emotions. It usually takes me
some time to sort out my feelings and figure out why I had such an emotional response
before I can rationally deal with the situation. All too often I have dealt with things based
upon my emotions and after having time to reflect, have felt guilty or remorseful for
having responded when my feelings were so intense; this is exactly what happened in a
discussion that occurred in this class.
I read a peer’s post and felt irritated by – what was in my opinion – an over-simplistic
answer to a complex issue (another barrier to ethical thinking and development). I
responded to this peer’s post while irritated and came off sounding somewhat
pretentious. Another peer then read my reaction and called me out – in her opinion – for
judging someone else’s opinion. I felt angry after reading this and, instead of taking
myself away from the situation to let my anger subside, I responded when my emotions
were at their most intense. To make a long story short, my emotions prevented me from
dealing with the situation logically and rationally, and only after I had calmed down and
was able to reflect on the situation was I able to see how wrong I was and how I could
have handled things much differently had I not responded based on how I felt.
A second barrier I struggle with is offhand justification - trying to defend myself or
rationalize my behavior with excuses. I do this to avoid having to think critically about
something, particularly when I am challenged. But, more frequently I use offhand
justification to avoid feeling guilty when there is a discrepancy between my values and
my behavior. Admittedly, it is oftentimes easier to rationalize with poor excuses instead
of taking a good hard look at myself (or the situation) when someone challenges me; I
don’t like to admit when I’m wrong.
I have been pulled over for speeding twice. And I can say with certainty that each time
this happened, I used offhand justification to rationalize my actions, instead of admitting
fault and taking responsibility. For example, one time I was speeding because I was
running late and also had to go to the bathroom. When the officer came to my window
he asked me if I knew why I he had pulled me over. I said “yes, but I have to go to the
bathroom”. Needless to say, he was not impressed with my excuse and I ended up with
a ticket anyways.
A third barrier I have difficulty with is relativism, a way of looking at any moral opinion
as being just as good as the next (Weston, 2008, p.27). This is an easy tactic for me to
fall back on when I want to avoid conflict or confrontation, especially when it comes to
polarizing issues. Oftentimes it is easier (and more comfortable) for me to say “to each
their own” or “mind my own business” when it comes to situations such as these.
An example of how I’ve used relativism has been a discussion involving the issue of gay
marriage. I choose what I considered the most diplomatic way to dealing with the
situation when asked what I thought. I said something along the lines of “everyone is
entitled to their own opinion, which is just as important as the next person’s, however,
it’s not up to me to decide what’s right or wrong”.
Mindful Thinking
The aforementioned barriers, and others not mentioned here, are obstacles that must
be overcome so that one is able to think mindfully. Mindful thinking is a complex,
open-ended way of approaching ethical and/or controversial issues in a way that allows
for the consideration and careful sorting of different possibilities, opinions, and
prejudices on all sides of an issue, before even beginning to come to any sort of
conclusion. In fact, “we may have to live with some questions a long time before we can
decide how we ought to feel about them” (Weston, 2008, p. 21). Because of this, ethics
is challenging, intimidating, and even downright difficult at times. And as a result, some
people resist and even avoid ethical thinking, thus the mindfulness that goes hand-inhand with it.
If I am to think more mindfully, especially as it relates to issues of ethics, I must avoid
barriers that make this kind of thought nearly impossible, such as those I stated earlier –
reacting when my emotions are intense and using tactics such as offhand justification
and relativism. These and other barriers I struggle with, like rationalization and egoism
– making poor excuses or basing my ethical standards on what’s in my best interests –
are behaviors I must stop to practice more mindful thinking.
Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development
I had gone the gas station one evening and was standing in line behind someone who
was obviously intoxicated. When it was her turn to check out she went up to the counter
and pulled out a handful of bills from her pocket to pay the cashier. I watched as one of
the bills fell onto the floor; the intoxicated woman didn’t notice at all. She finished paying
and was on her way out of the store when I picked up the money she had dropped. It
was a $50 bill! I could keep it – the woman was drunk and didn’t even realize she had
lost it, or I could do the right thing and return it to her, which is what I did. $50 is a lot of
money to me and if I had been in the woman’s situation, I would have hoped someone
would have done the same for me. If more people and the world were willing to do what
was right in their day-to-day lives, instead of only in situations they deem significant or
important, the world would be a better place.
According to Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, my behavior in this situation
appears consistent with Stage 5: Social Contract and Individual Rights. In this stage
people begin to look at society in a theoretical way, questioning things such as “what
makes society good?” and “what rights or values should a society uphold?” By thinking
about how society would be better if more people engaged in honest, ethical behavior, I
demonstrated that I was thinking about these very same things in much the same way
Kohlberg had proposed (Crain, 1985).
Another example of an ethical learning experience I’ve had occurred in this class. A few
years ago I was working at a small non-profit agency with only a few other women. We
had a closet full of office supplies, and there were times where I “helped myself” to
things like a highlighter, pen, a pad of sticky notes, and once around Christmas time, a
roll of scotch tape. I never made an attempt to hide what I was doing, and I knew that
others in the office did this too; however, since discussing this very same issue in class,
I know that my behavior was unacceptable. I think I even wrote in one of my posts that
stealing is stealing, no matter how big or small the item.
If I apply this example to Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, I see that my
thinking about this situation now, is consistent with Stage 4: Maintaining Social Order.
The focus of this stage is on obeying law, respecting authority, and performing one’s
duties so as to maintain social order (Crain, 1985). When I was “helping myself” to office
supplies, my behavior contradicted these guidelines; now I think differently and hold
myself and my behavior to a higher ethical standard.
Perry’s Schemes
According to Perry, as students learn, their view of what knowledge is changes, and this
occurs in four phases: dualism, multiplicity, relativism, and commitment in
relativism. In dualism, students consider knowledge to be “The Truth”, something
given to them by authorities such as textbooks, teachers, and professors. As students
continue to learn, they discover that sometimes no one has all the answers. At this point
they have moved into multiplicity where knowledge is considered to be just a matter of
opinion, and each opinion is just as good the next. However, as students begin to learn
how to question, consider different points of view, and express different conclusions,
s/he has entered the third phase. In relativism, students learn to evaluate the quality of
evidence and understand that knowledge is contextual. This is where I find myself in
Perry’s Scheme. I have developed a complex way of thinking and analyzing things;
furthermore, I understand that what we know and how we know it is influenced by our
perspective. I don’t know that I have necessarily entered Perry’s fourth phase,
commitment in relativism. It is here that students begin to form a personal view of the
world through integrating all they’ve learned “with their more-empathic and experiential
approaches to all other aspects of their lives” (Kloss).
Transformative Nature of Moral Development
Transformative learning is something that happens when we change our entire
perspective on something (Grill, n.d.). Applying the concept of transformation to the
process of moral development and we get something similar – a change in the way we
think, believe, and act in response to a moral issue. I’ve gone through a transformative
learning experience involving my stance on abortion; though it was not as significant as
that experienced by Dr. Gisella Perl, it was significant for me nonetheless.
Before I had my first son Jacob, I firmly believed that a woman – no matter what her
circumstances – had the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, myself
included. However, as I went through the pregnancy of my (unplanned) son, I could feel
the life that was growing inside me; and after I had given birth and was handed my son
for the first time, I knew there was little chance I could ever have an abortion. I do not
judge those who do, I just know for myself, my pro-choice stance has transformed into
one that advocates the right to life.
Religion and Ethical Development
Religion can have both positive and negative impacts on ethical development. On one
hand, most religions focus heavily on moral teachings and understand the complexity of
moral issues. On the other, different religions often have divergent views when it comes
to ethics. Thus it becomes necessary to find shareable terms that help people from all
religions find some common ethical values to live by, while leaving room for the
contention of others (Weston, 2008, p.39). Essentially, it is necessary to consider ethical
issues not from a religious perspective, but “as people united by certain basic values we
are aiming to understand and put into practice together, meanwhile valuing our
disagreements as invitations to more learning.
I was brought up Lutheran and attending church, Sunday school, and Catechism was a
significant part of my life. I learned a lot of valuable lessons from these experiences,
perhaps the most important one being “love thy neighbor as thyself”. This has shaped
who I am and my ethical development in many positive ways. However, the downside to
being raised in the Church is that along with learning “positive” ethical values, there
exists a lot of hypocrisy. This, in my opinion, is the negative influence that religion has
had on my ethical development – love thy neighbor as thy thyself, but not if your
neighbor does not believe in the same God as you, and especially not if your neighbor
doesn’t believe in God at all...
Let’s consider for a moment the “neighbor” who does not believe in God. Is s/he going
to be any less ethical or moral than someone who is religious? I think that’s what some
religions would like you to believe, but in my opinion, one’s religion does not determine
the quality of his/her ethical development. I want to go a step further with this line of
thinking and pose this question: how likely is it that religion, with its various constraints
on and judgments of, what constitutes ethical or moral behavior, has the potential to
influence people to be less ethical than they otherwise might be? But overall, religion
can have both positive and negative influences on someone’s ethical development; it’s
up to the individual – with their freedom of choice – to decide this for themselves.
Crain, W. (1985). Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Theories of Development.
Retrieved from
Grill, J. (n.d.). Transformative learning. Retrieved from
Kloss, R. (1994). A nudge is best helping students through Perry’s scheme of
Intellectual development. College Teaching, 42 (4), 151-158. Retrieved from
Weston, A. (2008). A 21st century ethical toolbox (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford
University Press.
LP 2 Ethical Development Analysis Scoring Guide
Rating Scale
10 points – Excellent. Flawless or nearly flawless work.
9 points – Good. Minor errors, flaws, or omissions.
8 points – Acceptable. Work is adequate to meet criteria at a passing level.
7 points – Minimally acceptable.
4 points – Needs improvement.
0 points - Criterion is not addressed.
Click on “Choose a rating” for a drop down menu.
You describe personal barriers to ethical thinking and development. (Barriers to
ethical thinking and development are: prejudice, emotions, oversimplifying
complex situations, off-hand self-justification, defensiveness, rationalizing,
egoism, dogmatism, and relativism). (Discuss at least three barriers; define
each barrier you apply; provide an example of situations in which you
exhibit each barrier you selected).
10 Excellent
You explain mindful thinking, explaining why it is easy to resist ethical thinking.
10 Excellent
You describe one thing you need to work on in order to practice mindful
10 Excellent
You apply Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning to your life. (Two ethical/moral
learning experiences, the actions you took in those situations, explaining
Kohlberg's stages relevant to each example).
10 Excellent
You describe how Perry's scheme of intellectual and ethical development
applies to you.
10 Excellent
You summarize the transformative nature of moral development by explaining
personal insights and examples from your own life.
10 Excellent
You summarize the positive and negative influences of religion in ethical
development (Incorporate information you learned from the interview you
conducted with someone with a religious belief system different from your own,
10 Excellent
from your own life, and from Chapter 3 in your textbook).
10 Excellent
☐ Demonstrate mastery of grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, word
usage and sentence structure.
☐ Writing is organized (paragraphs, headings and subheadings, or other
organizational devices).
☐ Writing is clear (it's easy to read and understand).
☐ Writing is concise (you use action verbs; you do not ramble or include
irrelevant information).
☐ Writing is cohesive (words and ideas flow logically from one idea, sentence
and/or paragraph to another).
☐ Use first person pronouns (I, me, my, our, we, etc.) when applying ideas to
self; third person pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) when applying ideas to society
or others; you avoid using second person pronouns (you, your, etc.) unless you
are speaking about the audience's experience or actions.
10 Excellent
☐ Provide sufficient, specific, valid, relevant support (i.e., facts. reasons,
examples, details, statistics, anecdotes and quotes) to aid in understanding your
ideas and information, and to support your conclusions and/or opinions.
☐ Avoid using absolutes (all, always, everyone, no one, totally, all of the time,
etc.) and loaded language.
☐ Use neutral, descriptive language, avoiding "loaded language."
10 Excellent
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☐ Document sources by providing APA formatted in-text citations.
☐ Provide APA formatted references for sources of information.
☐ Use quotation marks to indicate information that you have taken wordfor-word from a source.
☐ Format the work per the assessment task directions.
10 Excellent
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Barriers to Ethical Thinking and Development