Sunday, August 19, 2007
In my prior responses to Moshman's Adolescent Psychological Development (2005), I separated rationality from rational agency, pluralist rational constructivism from the pluralist constructivism of rational agents, and identity from personhood. As “rational moral identity” figures prominently in the fourth section of the book, entitled “Advanced Psychological Development,” it would be reasonable to expect that rational moral identity would itself be separated from something it is not. However, this cannot be done, as rational moral identity is not anything.
This is not to say that Moshman does not precisely describe the concept that is so named. He does so effectively. It involves rational agency, identity, and moral reasoning. Indeed, the “Moral Reasoning Identity of Rational Agents” would be a fair term for the concept. As this term would include only aspects that Moshman presents as preferable, I do not believe he would criticize this construction. Ultimately, “rational moral identity” is not a good term for the same way that “spherical light-source” is not a good term for the sun: it is too broad to be helpful in understanding it.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Imagine an individual who has agency, that is this individual “engages in actions and thus has (or at least attempts to have) an impact in the world” (Moshman, 2005, 91). This individual shows “a sufficient degree of behavioral consistency across contexts” (92) such that one might say he possesses singularity. This individual believes he existed in the past, exists now, and that in all probability he will continue to exist in the future; this individual possess “continuity.” This individual is rational, possesses metacognition, and as such knows to not distract himself while working on some particular difficult task. Further, imagine this individual regularly engages in fantastically risky, pointless, or destructive behavior, and when questioned about it cannot form any semblance of a coherent motive.
In other words, imagine this individual is four.
Can we say only this individual is a person? Certainly only those who support abortion in the 19th trimester would say no. Can we say this individual is a rational agent? Only those of infinite patience and charity would say yes. Thus, I fervently agree with Moshman (2005, 93) that there are at least four aspects of personhood: “agency, rationality, singularity, and continuity.” And yet I fully disagree with him when, in the very next sentence, he writes “At the very least, persons are rational agents extending across time, acting in diverse contexts on the basis of their own reasons, and responsible for their actions [emphasis mine].”
Friday, August 17, 2007
Near the end of the second section of Adolescent Psychological Development, entitled “Moral Development,” Moshman lays out the metatheory (essentially a paradigm or research program) of “pluralist rational constructivism” as a way of understanding moral development. It is hard to argue with this However, the metatheory as laid out is different than the metatheory as analyzed. While later in this essay I will defend the concept of “pluralist rational constructivism,” as Moshman uses the term he means “pluralistic contructvism by rational agents.”
Starting on page 71 and continuing for two pages, Moshman gives five “metatheoretical assumptions” for pluralist rational cosntructivism. They are that “rationality is fundamentally a matter of metacognition rather than a matter of logic,” that the existence “moral universals” is independent of the truth of the metatheory, that “research on moral development should seek evidence for both diversity and universality,” that a distinction of “symmetric from asymmetric social interactions” is useful for distinguishing “between the properties inherent to social interchange and those specific to a particular culture,” and lastly that “reflection on rules generates principles that explain and justify those rules and that may lead to the reconstruction of such rules.” The first two of these are easy to agree with: that rationality is essentially metacognition was acknowledged in my previous paper, and that empirical truths do not rely on normative truths is a truism in science. The third assumption, likewise, is acceptable. While social science is often view as the explanation of variance by means of correlation and regression, the study of human universals is also permitted when humanity itself is viewed as part of a larger population of primates, mammals, animals, or even objects. The last two assumptions, the symmetric-asymmetric distinction and the reconstruction of rules from introspection, and more problematic. Each are discussed below.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
My reaction to David Moshman's Adolescent Psychological Development (2005) is of a different sort than my nine-part reaction to Cognitive Development by Flavell, Miller, & Miller. There, I found parts of the chapter that interested me and typically criticized it, sometimes throwing in articles I was already familiar with in the process. The reason for this is that I am not all that interested in child cognitive development. Children start out small and cute and whiny and, unless they are horribly mistreated, seem to end up all right in the end.
The same is not true of adults, and adolescents certainly are adults. Indeed, it's not clear if adults actually can be all right at all. Moshman nears his conclusion by writing “Objectivity, in this view, is a guiding ideal, not an achievable goal” (46) and much of the chapter is written in the rhetoric of limitation. I agree with this approach. Man is a flawed species, and educational psychologists must embrace those flaws to device a truly human education.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The works cited in the four reaction papers to Moshman's Adolescent Psychological Development appear below. While the bibliography to my previous series, Cognitive Development, ran five single-spaced pages in my word processor, this document only takes up one. The A's appear above the fold. The rest appear below.
Alford, J., Funk, C., & Hibbing, J. (2005) Are Political Orientations Genetically Transmitted? American Political Science Review, 99(2), 154-168.
Ashburn-Nardo, L., Knowles, M.L., & Monteith, M.J. (2003). Black Americans' implicit racial associations and their implications for intergroup judgement. Social Cognition, 21(1), 61-87.
Monday, August 13, 2007
I've fully read David Moshman's Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality, and Identity twice and went over it a third time. The first was as a required text in Adolescent Psychology, the second was to study for comps, and a third was for writing this series of reactions.
Moshman's book doubles both as a text on adolescent development and a philosophical exposition on "rational moral identity," the fostering of which the author identifies as the primary purpose of education. Moshman uses the first three sections to define each of these concepts independently, and ties with together with a feeling of inevitable logic.
I disagree with the author's purpose, and in several places try deconstruct some terms that he uses as near-synonyms (for example, rationality and rational agency) in order to throw doubt on "rational moral identity" and hold up an alternative. I have the pleasure of studying under this intellectual, and the free debate he encourages are a testament to himself, the department, and the university.
Adolescent Psychological Development, a tdaxp series
1. Cognitive Development
2. Moral Development
3. Identity Formation
4. Advanced Psychological Development
Sunday, August 12, 2007
I have written this paper before. It was quite good. It was also overwritten, by me, before I could make a back-up. I attempted to recover the file but could not. Instead of trying to create an imitation of my previous work, or starting from scratch, I will use this opportunity to briefly summarize what I said before and look forward to what should be done in the future. This is done as the final chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller's Cognitive Development (2002), “Questions and Problems,” is largely dedicated to the current state of active research programs within childhood cognitive development. This last section is therefore as informative on the cognitive research as it should be as the latest bulletin of the Nebraska Corn Board is to the metaphysical meaning of agriculture.
To summarize what was said before: With few exceptions, currently active research programs are blind the reality of genetic diversity on a group level. When group differences are immediately attributed to present environment/culture factors without consideration for genetic or epigenetic forces, important discoveries are forfeit. The past few years have seen new findings which smashed the prior conceptions of myself and many others. As reductionist scientists, it is our obligation to throw those that remain against the wall of genotypic polymorphism. In this way we can separate diamonds from glass.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
The eighth chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller's Cognitive Development, entitled “Language,” ties into my prior learning more than any other section of the book. One of the two first books I read to understand how biology effects behavior was Pinker (2002), so I was even familiar with some of the specific findings. In fact, in one case I am a step-ahead of the authors!
Having made it this far through my reactions, you are aware that I believe that group ancestry is not given the weight it deserves – or any attention at all – in academic research. Summing up unfortunate the consensus, the authors write that “No one believes that children are prepared by evolution to learn English or Japanese; whatever biological pretuning there may be must work for any language that the child happens to encounter...” (316). Well, maybe. The genes ASPM and Microcephalin occur more often among tonal language speakers than nontonal language speakers (Dediu & Ladd, 2007). Further, one of these genes (ASPM) effects brain size (Mekel-Bobrov et al, 2005) and is not just a product of evolution, but is undergoing evolution right now (Evans, 2005). While we cannot say conclusively that a gene undergoing rapid evolution that effects the brain and is non-randomly distributed so that it is common among tonal language speakers and uncommon among atonal language speakers, it's surely a good bet. With this sort of finding, we may be coming to the day where the emergence of differences between groups (such as babies no longer sounding the same all over the world, see Boysson-Bardies, 1999) to something more than culture.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
The seventh chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller's Cognitive Development, entitled “Memory,” has the broadest implications yet. From broad topics like intelligence and genetics, to foreshadowing an experiment I plan to conduct in the next year, this chapter was fascinating.
I found it fascinating that later intelligence can be predicted from habituation speed (Bornstein & Sigman, 1986). I wonder if this is also true of adults? I also wonder what the heritability of this behavior is, especially as compared to the heritability of general intelligence, where respectable estimates range from .86 (Posthuma, 2002) to half that figure (Devlin, Daniels, & Roader, 1997)?
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
The sixth chapter of Flavell, Miller, & Miller's Cognitive Development, entitled “Social Cognition,” entitled “Social Cognition,” is most fascinating for what it implies about rationality, and about autism, and what it ignores about diversity. Additionally, it does not address at all an information processing model of social cognition that I prefer.
I believe that rationality is not only possible, but preferable, when it occurs in the absence of rational agency. For instance, 3-year-olds were found to implicitly know where to look for hidden objects but, upon thinking about it, gave incorrect answers (Clements & Perner, 1994). The reason that coming up with good reasons degrades performance is clear: conscious thought requires the use of the prefrontal cortex, instead of already automatized behaviors (Camerer, Loewenstein, & Prelec, 2005). Along with this, situations that do not require coming up with good reasons are perceived by children to be thoughtless, such as merely sitting around (Flavell, Green, & Flavell, 1998). This thoughtlessness is a state to be desired, as it is less error prone and less effortful that having to find good reasons to do what is done.