Nearly two decades ago, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's Panel on Moral Education published a description of the "morally mature" person. According to the panel, the morally mature person habitually:
1. Respects human dignity
2. Cares about the welfare of others
3. Integrates individual interests and social responsibilities
4. Demonstrates integrity
5. Reflects on moral choices
6. Seeks peaceful resolution of conflict.
The panel's statement closed with this: "In general, then, the morally mature person understands moral principles and accepts responsibility for applying them."
As I review this descriptive list twenty years later, I find it difficult to argue with. Who could possibly be opposed to human dignity, caring, integrity, etc.? And yet…
Note that the description is usefully composed in behavioral terms. I know that it's difficult to define some of these terms, but it's actually not as difficult to recognize a trait when it presents itself as it is to define it. I am pretty confident I can name "integrity" when I see it but I am less confident that any verbal definition will stand up unerringly to lived experience. So I find this notion of "moral maturity" helpful as a target. But still…
I do think the items on the list constitute both necessary and sufficient conditions (as philosophers like to say) for moral maturity. That is, I don't believe one can be morally mature without attending to each of the six mandates (necessary). And I don't think there is any significant mandate omitted in this listing (sufficient). And yet…
I'm sure you can tell that I have some reservations about this description of moral maturity, and maybe you also recognize that I'm having trouble expressing my reservations. My concern is not that this doesn't tell me when I (or others) have hit the target. I think it's quite useful for that purpose. But I worry that the list (even in its unabridged version with "indicators") obscures rather than illuminates the path to moral maturity. How is it that I come to understand what integrity is, to form a concept of integrity, and to appropriate it as a life goal? How do I acquire the habit of integrity? I am not convinced that integrity can be taken on in the same way that, say, table manners can be modeled, coached and practiced.
I also worry that the behavioral formulation of moral maturity obscures rather than illuminates both the cognitive and emotional dimensions of moral maturity. In a social and academic milieu where the cognitive is assumed to be critical, the emotional is suspect and to be controlled, and the two are assumed to be distinct domains – all arguable assumptions, I fret especially that we neglect the education of the emotions in any effort toward developing moral maturity.
And take a look at the summary statement with its attention to the application of principles. I don't doubt the value of moral principles but I am no Kantian. I do not view moral principles as rules to be discovered and obeyed but, like John Dewey, as generalizations about past experience to be tested in present living. Thus principles are not "applied" but "proven," that is put to the test in the here and now. So yes, responsibility must be accepted, but responsibility is more than accountability. It represents an ability to respond in a fitting way to moral challenges. More on that in another post.
And then of course there's the question of whether we should frame the goal in terms of "maturity," a term that suggests, if not implies, the possibility of completion and/or superiority. When one is morally mature, is one also somehow better than other human beings? Better how? More human? More sophisticated? Closer to God?