The Instigator
JustCallMeTarzan
Pro (for)
Winning
43 Points
The Contender
bthr004
Con (against)
Losing
31 Points

Children Exhibit Moral Behavior, But Are Not Morally Praiseworthy.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/28/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,688 times Debate No: 6075
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (9)
Votes (11)

 

JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

The position on offer is that children, while they exhibit moral behavior, are not morally praisworthy (or blameworthy) for said behavior. I affirm.

A caveat - some issues arose in the comment field of the last debate on this topic (where Yraelz forfeited). I wish to address the age of the children and the topic of moral intent...

1) On the Age of Children.

Simply put, "children" in this case refers to individuals that lack sufficient cognitive skills to make complicated inferences regarding 3rd person perspective-taking. A good age to work with for purpose of common ground might be 7 years old.

2) On Moral Intent

Xera asked if I was of the opinion that moral intent had anything to do with this debate. Rather than concede that moral intent exists in humanity (because of a tricky semantic battle...) I will say that I concede intent exists, and the content of this intent is separate from the fact that intent can exist in an action. This content can be moral, amoral, or immoral when viewed in the framework of the Resolution.

*********************

It is instrumental to first understand what children ARE doing as opposed to what one might SAY they are doing. In order to make a moral judgment about something from a first-person (or 3rd-person) perspective, one must recognize that society conforms to a certain set of rules. These rules are not subject to cross-cultural relativism because the same rules are recognized cross-culturally to have a significant practical clout. The difference between the non-relative and relative rules is the distinction of a harm norm as opposed to some other societal norm or convention. For example when you slurp your soup (in the United States) this violates an etiquette norm. In some cultures, this is normal behavior. However, in all cultures, when you murder someone, this is a violation of a harm norm. There is very little, if any, relativism in harm norms, all of which can be explained away as socialization on the adult individual in that culture. When one recognizes that a rule or behavior transcends convention or societal norms, this is called making the Moral/Conventional distinction.

Once one has made the distinction, one has recognized that there are certain rules that have more clout than others. As adults, and IN adults we consider this to be a moral distinction. However, when the same behaviors are exhibited in animals (for example, a chimp responding to a distress cue of another chimp by bringing it a banana), we consider these behaviors to be the result of their genetic predispositions. When children exhibit the same behavior, some are willing to attribute it to the child making a moral distinction.

I am not.

**************************

I propose two scenarios for consideration:

(i) A child hears the crying of another child and offers the distressed child a blanket or other comfort item
(ii) A child recognizes that pulling another child's hair is bad, regardless of whether or not the teacher (parents, even god) states otherwise.

**************************

In both scenarios, I concede that the child is exhibiting moral behavior, much in the same way one could exhibit altruistic BEHAVIOR without altruistic or moral intentions. However, in the first scenario, while exhibiting moral behavior, the child is simply responding the way an evolutionary mechanism has "programmed" them to do - respond to others in distress because that trait is confers reproductive advantages on members of the community.

In the second scenario, even though the child realizes that the rule has meaning beyond what an authority figure states, the child is still acting from a sense of "3rd-person-mind-reading" if you will. The child recognizes that the action it is performing would have negative effects were the same action performed on it. Basically, the child doesn't hit others because it knows that increases the chance that people will hit it back. The same behavior can be seen in chimps when they track which chimps groom other chimps and which ones neglect their fellows.

*********************

I'd actually like the leave the topic there for now because it can go a number of different ways, and I don't want to steer the conversation too much with my opening argument.

A condensed version of my argument might follow:

(1) Children are able to recognize that some rules have more clout than others.
(2) Evolutionary forces play a part in this.
(3) Self-preservation instinct and a "Do-Unto-Others" sense do as well.
(4) A necessary component to making moral judgment is motivation.
(5) Children are not aware of the motivation's source or type.
(6) Thus, children cannot make moral judgment, but CAN make the M/C distinction.
(7) Therefore, while exhibiting moral behavior, they are not morally praiseworthy for it.
bthr004

Con

Thank you to my opponent for laying out a caveat.

*******

My opponent in his affirmation implies that praiseworthy and blameworthy are inherent. I disagree, as praiseworthy implies good, and blameworthy is of course, not always good.

An action no matter what the motive, result, or content can assume blame to anyone, or anything. If anyone or anything attributed fault to an action in some way,.. than blame is intrinsic. Blame does not require someone to stand and point,... blame falls to the attributers of fault.

Ergo, it does not matter the morality of the action, a child, like anything or anyone else, that attributes fault, is worthy of blame. The level of blame could be up for debate.

However,.. My opponents original resolution did not say blameworthy,.. it said praiseworthy.

If a child does good, or shows correct moral behavior, they are obviously at least worthy of praise. I really do not think it makes a difference if one feels the child is making the moral distinction, or it is a genetic predisposition. It is the action that is determining the worthiness of praise.

*******

I will address my opponents condensed 7 points in numerical order.

(1) Children are able to recognize that some rules have more clout than others.
---> When a child exhibits good moral behavior, they are worthy of praise.

(2) Evolutionary forces play a part in this.
---> The extent of this part, or the role it plays does not change the value or worthiness of praise.

(3) Self-preservation instinct and a "Do-Unto-Others" sense do as well.
---> Actions based on natural instincts do not alter the worth of good moral behavior. Or worth of praise.

(4) A necessary component to making moral judgment is motivation.
---> It does not matter how they were motivated, it is the fact the moral judgment was made, and worthiness of praise for making a good judgment.

(5) Children are not aware of the motivation's source or type.
---> This makes no difference to the resolve,.. the child, if doing a good deed, is at least worthy of praise.

(6) Thus, children cannot make moral judgment, but CAN make the M/C distinction.
---> Well lets say my opponent is correct in this,... it still does NOTHING to alter the worth of determining praise. If the distinction of good and bad was made, and good was the chosen, I am pretty sure that means the child just made a judgment,... and if the judgment, or the behavior was morally correct,.. than they are worthy of praise.

(7) Therefore, while exhibiting moral behavior, they are not morally praiseworthy for it.
---> My opponent has perhaps shown that children may be morally detached from their actions, but he has not shown why the children's actions, or children themselves are not worthy of praise for good moral behavior.

********

I feel that at the very least, praise when offered for displaying good moral behavior, is a positive in affirming such behavior as good. Much like offering a treat to a dog for sitting on command, the child will understand that the behavior they displayed was either acceptable or not based on praise or criticism. Ergo, I affirm that a child that displays good moral behavior IS morally praise worthy.
Debate Round No. 1
JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

Unfortunately, my opponent seems to be confusing praise and moral praise. I would concur that a child is praiseworthy for exhibiting moral behavior. However, exhibiting moral behavior does not prove moral judgment or reasoning, and thus does not indicate MORAL praise should be bestowed upon them.

It is of the utmost importance that the actor (child) understands that they are making a moral distinction if they are to receive moral praise. The obvious goal of moral praise is to enforce a system of morals, not certain behaviors. Reinforcing certain behaviors does nothing to foster the framework that allows an actor to judge whether or not these behaviors really are appropriate. Also, consider the case where a child exhibits a certain behavior and is praised or blamed for the behavior, but has no idea why... oboviously in this case the praise or blame cannot be said to have any bearing on the child's understanding of the action, other than "This specific action is wrong (or right)."

When my opponent goes through my seven numbered points above, all he asserts is that children are worthy of praise for moral behavior, NOT that they are worthy of MORAL praise for moral behavior.

****************************

Another reason one can see that children don't exhibit moral reasoning is in how morality is conceptualized. Adults can easily recognize the difference between a child who pushes another child off the swing, and a child who does so with a smile. Studies (Nichols, Joyce) have shown that children don't recognize this difference until approximately age 7 (the age of course varies by subject). This clearly shows that children are not able to conceptualize morality in the same way that adults can, and thus, when an adult confers moral praise on a child, this is improper, as the child is not performing the actions and making the reasoning that the adult assumes.

Thus, since children can't conceptualize morality properly until they are past approximately age 7, they are not worthy of moral praise. We may seek to enforce certain behaviors or behavioral patterns, but are not MORALLY praiseworthy for their actions.
bthr004

Con

As this is the last round I can bring fourth new points,.. I am a little disappointed that my opponent has not really explained the difference he thinks there is between "moral" praise and just a good old pat on the back, and a "that was nice of you," in response to a child displaying good moral behavior.

********

On a personal experience,.. My 3 1/2 year old niece is learning how to share her things with others,... When she fusses and takes a toy from her cousin, we say hey, that is not nice, you have to share your toys. When she plays nice and gives her toy to her cousin, we say awww, that was nice, thank you for sharing. She replies with please, thank you, sorry, and your welcome in response to us and other children. Perhaps it is natural instinct to display moral behavior, but to say the child is not moral praiseworthy for displaying such behavior, is a little far stretched.

I will assume that my opponent is saying "moral praise" is praise directed at "moral behavior." I feel that if this is so, it does nothing to change any of my previous arguments.

****

In short, my opponent is trying to "split hairs" in the definitions of praise.

PRAISE:

the act of expressing approval or admiration; commendation; laudation.

--> Obviously, if a child displays good moral behavior, an adult could express approval for displaying said behavior, ergo, making moral behavior praise worthy.

******

My opponent seems to believe that a child is in some sort of developmental cloud until the age of 7, when suddenly they spark into coherence. This simply not the case. Children from very early on understand right and wrong, they DO in fact make decisions based on right and wrong,... When a parent or influential figure displays approval or discipline, the child reacts. I have seen this first hand. When we see a child push another child off a swing, it would be expected of the adult to discipline (blame) the child that pushed, and let them know what they did was wrong. If the child helps the child that got pushed up and says sorry, you say that was a good thing to do. Praise and discipline are values to the child's development, and perhaps when that child is 7, they are no longer needed as much praise or discipline as they understand on their own much better.

*****

Surely my opponent isn't saying we should simply ignore when a child shoves another from a swing, or yanks a toy from another. My opponent must be denying any value in discipline and praise in developing a childs moral character earlier than 7 years. Even if this IS what my opponent is saying, and he believes that a child can not conceptualize morality, my opponent still has not offered reasoning as to why the moral BEHAVIOR displayed is not morally praise worthy.
Debate Round No. 2
JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

I believe that now I see the source of my opponent's and the commentator's confusion. As such - I will make clear the precise distinction between praise and moral praise in this case. Perhaps the resolution was not clear enough... I may fix that if I re-post this argument.

Praise is simply what we offer a child when it has exhibited a behavior that we wish to condone or even promulgate. For example, it is appropriate to offer a child praise when it responds to a distress cue (such as crying) in another child and offers it some form of comfort (hug, blanket, toy, etc..).

Moral praise, on the other hand, is only appropriate for children (actors) that exhibit moral reasoning and judgment. Moral praise is directed at fostering one's ability to make moral judgments and the framework one uses for assigning weights in moral reasoning.

With that distinction in mind, one can see that until an actor is able to morally reason and make moral judgments, then it is inappropriate to confer moral praise upon them because they won't understand it. However, this is not to say that it is inappropriate to confer PRAISE on them to foster a normative sense of what is right and wrong. Most people believe that the retention of a normative sense of right and wrong is enough to confer moral praise. It is not. A normative sense of right and wrong allows one to distinguish between conventional and moral rules, as well as general right and wrong. However, it does NOT allow them to make distinctions inside morality.

For example, a child may respond to a distress cue in another child by bringing it a toy. This employs, first, the evolutionary response to distress cues in others (not even really praiseworthy per se). Second, the child is able to take the perspective of the other child and understand that it would be comforted by a toy. This is the normative sense at work - the child understanding that it would be right to render aid to the other child. This exhibits good use of normative sense and empathetic reasoning, and is praiseworthy, but to confer moral praise for such an action is inappropriate.

Recall my previous example where children cannot make the distinction between a child who pushes another off the swing, and one who does so with a smile. This clearly shows that at some point there is a change in the way children conceptualize morality, and to confer moral praise upon them is not appropriate until they can understand what they're being praised FOR. You wouldn't sit down and discuss morality with a three year old, because studies have shown that they simply do not understand morality beyond the distinction between right and wrong, and the distinction between conventional and moral rules.

I call them moral rules for lack of a better term. What the child is really understanding is that there are certain rules that carry a meaning beyond simple convention. That is to say that the child understands that certain rules are not permissible, highly serious, generally applicable, independent of authority, and based on some concept of welfare or fairness.

Now, to respond to my opponent's argument...

***********************************************
"Perhaps it is natural instinct to display moral behavior, but to say the child is not moral praiseworthy for displaying such behavior, is a little far stretched."

>> My opponent seems to be of the opinion that we should confer moral praise on the operation of instinct. I submit that this is incorrect, because nobody considers offering moral praise to the dog when it catches a squirrel, or the squirrels when they copulate outside your window. One might offer praise for instinct, so show that it is appropriate to follow certain instincts, but to pretend that instinct has some sort of moral clout is highly incorrect.

"I will assume that my opponent is saying "moral praise" is praise directed at "moral behavior." I feel that if this is so, it does nothing to change any of my previous arguments."

>> As I explained above, this is not the case... until an actor can conceptualize morality, it makes little sense to confer moral praise upon them. However, one can foster the BEHAVIOR by praising the actor.

"My opponent seems to believe that a child is in some sort of developmental cloud until the age of 7, when suddenly they spark into coherence. This simply not the case."

>> This is a blatant misuse of what I actually said, which was: "Studies (Nichols, Joyce) have shown that children don't recognize this difference until approximately age 7 (the age of course varies by subject)."

"Praise and discipline are values to the child's development, and perhaps when that child is 7, they are no longer needed as much praise or discipline as they understand on their own much better."

>> My opponent seems to have an inkling of my side of the argument by this point. However, praise and discipline are still integral parts of a child's development. The addition of moral praise and blame makes it so that part of that discipline process is the child understanding the reason for their punishment as well as a sense of guilt or pride, which sometimes does more for the child's development than the actual praise or discipline.

"My opponent must be denying any value in discipline and praise in developing a child's moral character earlier than 7 years. Even if this IS what my opponent is saying, and he believes that a child can not conceptualize morality, my opponent still has not offered reasoning as to why the moral BEHAVIOR displayed is not morally praise worthy."

>> As the reader can see, this is plainly not what I endorse. It is not actually not my opinion that children cannot conceptualize morality in the same way as adults... this is backed up by studies of children's behavior and responses. As for the second half of this quote, I addressed the difference and reasons that some situations entail moral praise, and others entail simple praise.

*******************************

To conclude, I have shown that children cannot conceptualize morality in the same way adults can. Thus, until they can conceptualize morality properly, when an adult offers them moral praise for moral behavior, it is inappropriate. Children may be praiseworthy for their moral behavior, but conferring moral praise upon them for it simply makes no sense.

Thus, I affirm the resolution - while children may exhibit moral behavior, this does not mean they are morally praiseworthy for said behavior.
bthr004

Con

I will extend all my points and provide adequate sources and studies to back them in this, the final round.

Moral reasoning:

Kohlbergs Theory has identified an invariant sequence of six stages of reasoning about morality; i.e., a developmental progression of increasingly more effective ways of thinking about and resolving moral problems and issues. Research suggests that the first stage is an early childhood stage. (Infant, toddler, etc.)

Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and behavior: Theory, research, and social issues (pp.31-53). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

http://parenthood.library.wisc.edu...

http://parenthood.library.wisc.edu...

Most research has focused on three principal parent variables, parental stage of moral reasoning, parental discipline style, and family communication patterns, but only the latter two appear to account for most of the development of moral reasoning in children.

Baumrind (1971) and others (e.g., Hoffman & Saltzstein, 1967) have identified discrete patterns of parental behavior that are referred to as Parenting Styles. Baumrind has described three predominant parenting styles.

1.)Authoritarian parents are highly controlling and demanding but affectively cold and hostile and generally uncommunicative.

2.)Permissive parents tend to be loving and communicative but wield little control and set few demands for mature behavior. More recently (Baumrind, 1980), Permissive parenting has been differentiated into the more classically warm laissez faire style and the more distant neglectful style; however, the research being reviewed here pre-dates this differentiation.

3.)Authoritative parents are loving, controlling, communicative, and set high maturity demands for their children. It is those parents whom researchers have found to produce the most positive child characteristics, including higher moral functioning.

Hence, it appears that a pattern of Authoritative parenting, especially with its focus on open supportive communication, is nurturing of children's moral reasoning development.

Sources of these studies; Baumrind,1980; Hoffman - Saltztein, 1967; Kohlberg, 1976; Berkowitz, 1997;

Parenting practices and daily discipline have a huge effect on a child's developing sense of morality. Children who receive fair consequences every time they break a rule will learn to connect their choices with consequences. For example, if Daisy gets in trouble only periodically for taking change out of Mommy's coin jar, Daisy may learn that stealing is sometimes okay. However, if Daisy learns that she will get fair consequences every time she takes money from Mom's coin jar, she will understand that stealing is never okay. Furthermore, she will learn a lesson (hopefully) that she will carry forward as she matures into a responsible and moral young woman.

http://www.mentalhelp.net...

*********

The resolution simply states that "Children Exhibit Moral Behavior, But Are Not Morally Praiseworthy."

I affirm,.. Children exhibit good moral behavior, ergo they are morally praiseworthy.

My opponents resolution assumes Children Exhibit Moral BEHAVIOR.

If the child exhibits good moral BEHAVIOR, conceptualized or other, the BEHAVIOR its self would be at the very least, worthy of praise.

*******

As the studies I provided state,.. that even in early childhood development, moral praise, discipline, and guidance, are extremely important in the development of the child's morals.

Thus, I affirm - Children exhibit good moral behavior, ergo they are morally praiseworthy.

*********
Debate Round No. 3
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
I see. Thanks for the history. The resolution is very abstract but your opponents are going to be more concrete in their approach--especially people with kids.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Lol @ KRFournier...

I made this topic only twice, the second time because Yraelz forfeited two rounds in the first debate. Also, a lot of people tend to disagree with the resolution, or at least a lot of the ones I've talked to do. In any event, I also have to write a paper for my 381 Seminar where I defend this position, and this helps me get some possible opposing viewpoints.
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
Conduct - Pro - Con offered new arguments in the final round.

Spelling and Grammar - Tie - Both sides were well written.

Convincing Argument - Con - I honestly don't understand why Pro keeps instigating this resolution. I agree with Con that he must be splitting hairs over the meaning of praiseworthy. In the end, what difference does it make? Child does good = Praise. Whether or not the child is technically making moral distinctions really doesn't matter. Pro failed to convince me that moral praise is--in practice--any different than praise in general.

Reliable Sources - Tie - Both sides had reliable resources.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Well a lot of present philosophers want to say that making the moral/conventional distinction is all that's really required for moral reasoning - recognizing and acting on rules that are authority independent, serious, etc... Any person who can't properly conceptualize morality would not be worthy of moral praise - so, yes, if autistic, DS, and Alzheimer patients can't conceptualize morality properly, then they aren't worthy of moral praise.

Again, this isn't to say they're not praiseworthy or good people... it just makes no sense to confer moral praise upon them. However, a lot of people are willing to confer moral praise on children despite this.
Posted by jjmd280 8 years ago
jjmd280
OK - thanks.
Would you extend this to any person not able to grasp morality? Such as autistics, some Down's syndrome patients , Alzheimer's patients , and other developmentally disabled people? I guess my problem with this whole idea is it's totally an internal thing as I said, for really, if the recipient doesn't understand, why make the distinction?
To boil it down, they are indeed mot worthy of it, if they don't understand it. ( When I read your resolution, I said in my head -NO DUH!) ;-)
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Conferring moral praise upon a child would be something akin to:

The child offers another crying child a toy in comfort. The father sees this and says, "Good job Billy, that exhibited good moral judgment."

This is in contrast to a situation wherein an older child may decide to volunteer at the local soup kitchen. Then it makes sense to say, "Good job Billy, that exhibited good moral judgment."
Posted by jjmd280 8 years ago
jjmd280
Can you give us a real world example of what moral praising a child would be? I agree with you, you explain what it is well enough, but how would it be done?
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Took care of that in R3.... in some ways it is an internal decision, but either way, conferring moral praise on amoral actors is not appropriate.
Posted by jjmd280 8 years ago
jjmd280
JustCallMeTarzan
Please give an example of morally praising someone. I am not sure what you mean by the distinction.
To me it seems an internal decision for the praisegiver - I know why I am praising the child, I see the worth of their actions, but the outward praise is the same, whether it be "Good boy, that's nice of you", or Good boy that's morally nice of you."- To the child of said age it means the same, until THEY can see the difference.
Are you saying WE need to make the distinction to ourselves when praising? And if so, why? What difference would it make to the child?
(If you are going to cover this in your debate, ignore me, but I just wanted to ask. Thanks)
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