The Instigator
JustCallMeTarzan
Pro (for)
Winning
27 Points
The Contender
Yraelz
Con (against)
Losing
0 Points

Children exhibit moral behavior, but are not morally praisworthy for it.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/17/2008 Category: Society
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 2,098 times Debate No: 5996
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (23)
Votes (5)

 

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.

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

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.
Yraelz

Con

Thank you for the debate Tarzan, this should be rather interesting indeed. Furthermore thank you all voters and observers, comments are always highly appreciated. But, PLEASE, no arguments in the comment sections by spectators.

Having said this let's do a bit of debate. The main tenants behind the majority of my opponents arguments are very well thought out indeed, however there are a few holes, and those holes will unfortunately be costing the round.

The first hole that needs to be addressed is obviously the age. My opponent decides arbitrarily in the comment section that the age for a child is circa 7. I believe there to be some fundamental problems with this arbitrary magical number of seven. I'm rather uncertain on many levels that many adults ever develop the moral distinction that my opponent speaks of. In fact I'm willing to say that many adults never do and actually in some cases go the opposite direction. It seems apparent that many adults actually base their morality very solely on what appears to be societally acceptable and in many cases my never actually think through the true morality about it.

In fact if we look back through history we can see a multitude of scenarios that support this concept. For instance the church is a great method of control that lays out an entire moral doctrine. A doctrine that in many cases some never even consider. A secondary and possibly even more distinct examples comes from government in general. Government became a necessity at the point where many people never bothered to make their own moral distinctions and had to be told what to do instead.

These however a secondary points. The main problem with the resolution as stands is the line, "but are not morally praiseworthy for it." I think we can look back to both of the above scenarios and see that moral praise probably does very little for the people who do not know why they hold the morals that they do. However it does accomplish one thing, that being perpetuating the moral action in the future. At the end of this round if nothing else we're at the very least going to see this good effect from moral praise.

But more importantly we see severe disadvantages from a lack of moral praise. Looking specifically to my opponents two situations we have two paths that we can tread. On one hand we could stick with my opponent and say that they are not morally praiseworthy and thus never praise them. Sadly this results in the individual never knowing if their actions are moral or not. Furthermore without the information on whether their actions are moral or not they never come to a point where they can decide for themselves.

Finally though, and down the other path. If we praise a child for their moral action then at the very least we reinforce the fact that the action is moral. This allows two things. On one hand we contribute our opinion on what is moral or immoral into a given situation and allow the child multiple perspectives. But more importantly, and especially prevalent when the child doesn't agree with what we say, we see critical evaluation on the child's part. Critical evaluation of what is moral or not moral is the first step in developing the moral distinction my opponent speaks of.

Having realized all of the above I can see no scenario why their actions would not be morally praiseworthy. On the contrary, I see a great deal of worth in praising them for their actions.
Debate Round No. 1
JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

First of all - thanks to Yraelz for accepting this debate and providing an excellent response to my proposition... that said, I'll begin addressing his points.

If our esteemed audience will look at the comment section for the question of age, we are treating all ages before the threshold of complex reasoning. This may or may not include 7 years of age, depending on a child's cognitive capability. I also mentioned that there is literature suggesting that children of 18 months or 3 years are capable of moral reasoning. Yraelz's case of the adult that lacks moral reasoning is simply a case of an individual that COULD morally reason but DOESN'T or in some cases of an individual that CAN'T. The same distinctions apply to individuals regardless of age.

>> "For instance the church is a great method of control that lays out an entire moral doctrine."

I would like to head this line of thought off early by stating that morality is authority IN-dependent. For example, killing people would be morally wrong qua wrong even if a church or powerful figure state that it was ok.

As Yraelz states, moral praise "does very little for those who do not know why they hold the morals that they do." This actually belongs as one of MY points. If an individual has no idea why they believe something, praise for that belief is equally arbitrary. Consider:

"John - why do you believe in god? (or X)"
"I don't know."
"Well good job for believing."

This scenario seems to propagate blind faith in whatever X is. While it does perpetuate what the praise-er believes to be moral, it does nothing for the child in question. It is exactly the same as when you talk to a dog in a light, praising tone, calling it the foulest, most despicable creature to walk the planet, and the blessed creature wags its tail. Likewise, the praise to the children, while judged to be moral by the praise-er, only carries praising quality, but not moral content. The child understands that you are praising it, and that the behavior is good, but lacks comprehension of any underlying moral content in the actions.

>> "But more importantly we see severe disadvantages from a lack of moral praise."

I take extreme issue with this statement. Any disadvantages are a result of a lack of PRAISE, not MORAL PRAISE. Simply because an action is not morally praiseworthy in the sense that the individual performing the action had moral intentions or was acting from non-self-interest does not indicate that the action is not praiseworthy. By all means, we should praise the child for responding to distress cues in others. What I argue is that we should not treat this action as though it carries with it some higher moral content. Consider:

A child responds to its mother's distress by crawling into her lap and letting her hold him...
A chimp responds to another chimp's distress by bringing it a banana and a piece of honeycomb...
A dog responds to its owner's distress by going to her and letting her pet him...
A cat responds to it's owner's distress...
A guinea pig....

So do we have a moral child and a moral chimp, but that's it? A moral child and a moral guinea pig? I would consider the actions of ALL the actors in the above example to be amoral (NOT immoral) and arising from instinct. Actions of this and similar categories simply carry no moral import. They are praiseworthy, but simply lack moral import.

Lastly, I'd like to address something in Yraelz's final paragraph. The moral praise of children DOES serve to inform their normative opinion of what is right and wrong. However, this is different from what I speak of in two ways. First, normative opinions of morality are culturally relative and therefore somewhat useless in a discussion of "objective" morality - those actions that are broadly recognized as wrong qua wrong. While a good normative theory can lead to a "better moral sense" if you will, it is of little use when regarding fundamental moral concepts like harm norms. Second, moral praise does not reward the child's sense of morality. One cannot reward what is not there. Consider:

A baby finds a lost diamond ring under the couch while looking for its toy.
"Oh what good finding skills you have!" says the mother.

A baby toddles to its crying brother and offers him a security blanket for comfort.
"Oh what good moral skills you have!" says the mother.

In cases where the actor has no conception of what morality actually is, even though they may engage in moral BEHAVIOR, bestowing them with moral praise or attributing moral praiseworthiness to their actions does not foster their sense of morality. Most people think that the violation of harm norms is authority independent and objective - i.e. that killing people for no reason is wrong qua wrong. However, moral praise informs a normative sense that renders judgments like "polygamy is morally wrong."

Once again, I affirm - Children may engage in moral behavior, but are not morally praiseworthy for said behavior, even if such behavior is praiseworthy or advances social utility in some fashion.

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

A brief thought occurred to me as I was about to post this. If we state that morality is simply that which advances the interests of the most people (utilitarian morality) then very little would be needed to understand moral behavior. Once a child understands social utility as "I don't hit Bobby because that HURTS Bobby and other children won't play with me" then they can understand utilitarian morality.

However, I'd like to stay away from this, both because it seems to be rejected by some modern philosophers (Joyce & Nichols) as well as more classic philosophers (Hume & Kant), but because it also would make this debate somewhat moot.

Looking forward to Yraelz's reply.
Yraelz

Con

Yraelz forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 2
JustCallMeTarzan

Pro

Sigh.... my arguments stand. Hopefully Yraelz will come out and debate in the next round...
Yraelz

Con

Yraelz forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
23 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Xera 8 years ago
Xera
Who had better conduct? Pro, Con forfeited 2 rounds
Who had better spelling and grammar? Pro, Con did not misspell anything by virtue of not writing anything, not willing to give points for that one.
Who made more convincing arguments? Pro showed up for all rounds
Who used the most reliable sources? Tie
Posted by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
Conduct - Pro - Con forfeited twice.

Spelling and Grammar - Tie - Both sides write very well; much appreciated

Convincing Arguments - Pro - Pro's round 2 arguments stand un-rebutted due to forfeit on Con's part.

Reliable Sources - Tie - No sources were used.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
What the deuce Yraelz.... come on now...
Posted by Yraelz 8 years ago
Yraelz
Haha, my bad. Seems to be a bad habit that I'm forming.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
We shall see... we shall see... I feel good about the 2nd round.
Posted by Yraelz 8 years ago
Yraelz
Oh wow, I think you over estimate me in that case. =) As contradictory as that might seem to my last comment.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
lol - I was indeed talking about myself... my last serious debate here was in May...
Posted by Yraelz 8 years ago
Yraelz
On second though maybe you're talking about yourself. In which case I retract my comments.
Posted by Yraelz 8 years ago
Yraelz
On the contrary my dear Tarzan. I've spent the last 4 months doing some real world debate on a freaking sweet team. My muscles have become super charged if anything. But hey, we'll see. =)
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
great.... no debates in like 8 months and Yraelz of all people takes it... this is like not swimming... letting your muscles atrophy, and then jumping into molasses...
5 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 5 records.
Vote Placed by Xera 8 years ago
Xera
JustCallMeTarzanYraelzTied
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Vote Placed by jess_ily 8 years ago
jess_ily
JustCallMeTarzanYraelzTied
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Vote Placed by mastajake 8 years ago
mastajake
JustCallMeTarzanYraelzTied
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Vote Placed by JustCallMeTarzan 8 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
JustCallMeTarzanYraelzTied
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Vote Placed by KRFournier 8 years ago
KRFournier
JustCallMeTarzanYraelzTied
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