Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Kohlberg Dilemmas, Part I

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 2, 2009

From this page.

Joe is a fourteen-year-old boy who wanted to go to camp very much. His father promised him he could go if he saved up the money for it himself. So Joe worked hard at his paper route and saved up the forty dollars it cost to go to camp, and a little more besides. But just before camp was going to start, his father changed his mind. Some of his friends decided to go on a special fishing trip, and Joe’s father was short of the money it would cost. So he told Joe to give him the money he had saved from the paper route. Joe didn’t want to give up going to camp, so he thinks of refusing to give his father the money.

Interesting.

1. Should Joe refuse to give his father the money?

Joe can do whatever he wants. It’s Joe’s money.

2. Does the father have the right to tell Joe to give him the money?

Yes. And Joe has the right to refuse. Joe’s father can say pretty much whatever he wants, but it’s still Joe’s money.

3. Does giving the money have anything to do with being a good son?

It depends on the meaning of “good”. Joe is not obligated to give his father the money, but it would be a nice thing to do.

4. Is the fact that Joe earned the money himself important in this situation?

YES!!!! Joe worked hard to earn that money. If Joe’s father can just take it, then that is simply slavery. Everyone knows that slavery is immoral, right?

5. The father promised Joe he could go to camp if he earned the money. Is the fact that the father promised the most important thing in the situation?

I can’t say that it is the most important, since “important” depends on perspective. But it is important. The father should keep his word.

6. In general, why should a promise kept?

Good question. If a promise is not kept, it puts the person on the other end at a disadvantage. Also, people have a selfish interest to keep their promises. If I do not keep a promise to you, then you will not trust me as much and I will not be able to get as much out of our relationship.

7. Is it important to keep a promise to someone you don’t know well and probably won’t see again?

Yes. Although it is not how we evolved, I believe that pure altruism is a virtue. That other person’s life will be enriched if the promise is kept, and will be hurt if the promise is broken. Maybe from a selfish perspective I don’t care about that, but the selfish perspective is very limiting. True morality is greater than any one person.

8. What do you think is the most important thing a father should be concerned about in his relationship to his son?

Keeping his son’s quality of life as high as possible. This is about as important as it gets. Notice that if someone is dead, their quality of life is very poor.

9. In general, what should be the authority of a father over his son?

It depends on how much the father contributes to his son. A father has no inherent power over his son: the power comes from the social contract that is implicitly signed by the son when he lives in his father’s house and eats his father’s food. Since it is a contract and not some universal ideal, the terms of the contract are not universal. There are certain things which are very common and could be considered “good”, though: the father gets to prevent the son from tearing down the house, for instance.

10. What do you think is the most important thing a son should be concerned about in his relationship to his father?

Uh . . . connection?

11. In thinking back over the dilemma, what would you say is the most responsible thing for Joe to do in this situation?

Keeping the money and giving it to his father are equally responsible. It might be actually more responsible to keep it, since it doesn’t encourage his father’s immoral behavior.

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11 Responses to “Kohlberg Dilemmas, Part I”

  1. phynnboi said

    8. What do you think is the most important thing a father should be concerned about in his relationship to his son?

    Keeping his son’s quality of life as high as possible.

    He should spoil his son?

    Notice that if someone is dead, their quality of life is very poor.

    Or rather, it ceases to be defined. 😉

    • Spoiling someone reduces their quality of life. Notice the distinction between standard of living and quality of life: standard of living is income/wealth, while quality of life includes income but also includes health, personal welfare, social wellbeing, etc.

  2. Matt said

    I would like to take a stab at this to sate my boredom.

    1. Should Joe refuse to give his father the money?

    What he should do (which is by definition what he will do) depends on who he is. If he decides to give it to his father, then he probably will.

    1a. Why or why not?

    N/A

    2. Does the father have the right to tell Joe to give him the money?

    Yes.

    2a. Why or why not?

    I believe that no one deserves anything. As such, the only thing dictating a “right” is an ability. Should he? I would personally say no because my empathy puts his happiness over that of his father.

    3. Does giving the money have anything to do with being a good son?

    Yes

    3a. Why or why not?

    His father would think it good if Joe gives him the money.

    4. Is the fact that Joe earned the money himself important in this situation?

    No

    4a. Why or why not?

    Because his father would most likely ask anyways. Thus the problem of the thought experiment would still exist.

    5. The father promised Joe he could go to camp if he earned the money. Is the fact that the father promised the most important thing in the situation?

    No.

    5a. Why or why not?

    Nothing is more important than anything else.

    6. In general, why should a promise kept?

    Because people are less likely to believe that subsequent promises will be kept if you do not. Thus you have less power.

    7. Is it important to keep a promise to someone you don’t know well and probably won’t see again?

    If it is.

    7a. Why or why not?

    N/A

    8. What do you think is the most important thing a father should be concerned about in his relationship to his son?

    Happiness.

    8a. Why is that the most important thing?

    It’s the only important thing.

    9. In general, what should be the authority of a father over his son?

    What should is what is. His authority is what he can do. For instance, he probably has the authority to kill his son.

    9a. Why?

    N/A
    I want to point out, just in case you don’t understand, that I would be very sad if he were to kill his son as a result of him learning that I said he has the authority to kill his son.

    10. What do you think is the most important thing a son should be concerned about in his relationship to his father?

    Happiness.

    10a. Why is that the most important thing?

    It’s the only important thing.

    11. In thinking back over the dilemma, what would you say is the most responsible thing for Joe to do in this situation?

    I do not understand the question.

    11a. Why?

    Because the english language isn’t specific enough. There are fewer absolute definitions than most people know.

    • So he can kill his son if he wants to, but it would make you sad?

      Am I allowed to kill you, as long as it makes me sad?

      • Matt said

        You may or may not be able to but I will probably try to stop you.

        Consider what it really means to be allowed to do something. If your mom says that you are not allowed to eat the cookies on the table, and then leaves the room, you are therefore allowed to eat the cookies. The only catch is that when your mom finds out what you did she will probably punish you. On the other hand, she could say that you are allowed to take the cookies, but leave them in an area that you are physically unable to access and not help you to get them. In this case, regardless of what she said, you are not allowed access to the cookies.

        I would also like to explain my answer to 5a; after reading it over I found it to be unsatisfactory: Nothing is more important than anything else because there is no such thing as innate importance. Things can only have an importance relative to something else. For instance, my mother telling me that I am not allowed to have the cookies is important to my decision regarding whether or not I will attempt to eat the cookies.

        I’m sorry if I am being confusing, I have a limited knowledge of English and thus have a hard time communicating thoughts I have if they are uncommon.

        • Interesting. So you’re defining allowance in terms of different bodies: your mom may allow you to take the cookies, but the physical world doesn’t, so you can’t get it. Or your mom doesn’t allow you to eat the cookies, but nothing is physically preventing you so you can.

          That does not mean that nothing is more important than anything else; it only implies that nothing is innately more important than anything else.

        • Matt said

          I don’t see the difference.

        • Things can still have relative importance, just not absolute importance. It’s the difference between subjectivity and objectivity: the subjective is, well, subjective, but it still exists from a relative standpoint.

        • Matt said

          The statement that nothing is more important than anything else does not imply relativity. We are in agreement that A can be more important than B when in relation to C.

        • So you’re saying that things do have relative importance, but nothing has absolute importance?

        • Matt said

          Yeah.

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