Theorizing and researching moral development in a global world

Document Type



In recent decades, an argument for multiplicity has gained traction in the study of human psychology. Instead of a focus on one kind of self, one kind of intelligence, and one kind of creativity, for example, researchers have described multiple selves (Ka˘gitc¸ibas¸i, 1996; Markus & Kitayama, 1991), intelligences (Gardner, 1993; Sternberg, 1985), and creativities (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988; Lubart, 1999). Moral psychology, too, has seen calls for the inclusion of more than one kind of moral reasoning (Colby & Damon, 1992; Damon & Colby, in press; Dien, 1982; Gilligan, 1982; Miller, 1989; Shweder, 1990) in lieu of conceptualizations of morality as a unitary structure (Kohlberg, 1984) or domain (Turiel, 1983).More often than not, the arguments for multiplicity have been inspired by consideration of culturally diverse individuals and groups. What has so far received less attention is the development, from childhood into adulthood, of some of these multiplicitous psychological phenomena. This is because it takes time to build knowledge about new constructs, such as “interdependent self” (Triandis, 1995), “naturalistic intelligence” (Gardner, 2004), “spiritually-oriented creativity” (Lubart & Sternberg, 1998), and “Ethic of Community” (Jensen, 1995; Shweder, 1990). It also takes novel theoretical thinking to capture the development of amultiplicitous phenomenon (Greenfield, Keller, Fuligni, et al., 2003). Additionally, when it comes to policy, it may seem more straightforward to work toward one goal than to figure out how to balance or select among two or more. Nonetheless, a new focus in moral psychology is how the development of diverse kinds of reasoning occurs across the life course and the extent to which developmental trajectories vary across cultures. This is the focus of the theory known as the “cultural-developmental approach” (Jensen, 2008, 2011, 2012). This approach introduces the theoretical concept of a template. The template for moral development charts trajectories across the life course for three kinds of moral reasoning, the Ethics of Autonomy, Community, and Divinity. The cultural-developmental approach is not a one-size-fits-all model, however. The developmental trajectories are proposed as a template in the sense that they accommodate the different hierarchies of the ethics held by culturally diverse peoples.

Publication Title

Moral Development in a Global World: Research from a Cultural-Developmental Perspective

Publication Date


First Page


Last Page







moral psychology, moral development, human development, social psychology