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.
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.