Can Ethics Be Taught?

Most psychologists and researchers agree that ethics can be taught, as did Socrates some 2,500 years ago, which is because ethics requires knowing what a person should do, and that knowledge can be shared. When it comes to moral development in human beings, the Harvard psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg has conducted research showing that a person can still grow from a moral and ethical standpoint later in life.

Kohlberg’s research found that a human’s ability to understand complex moral issues is formed over time and develops much like the stages of growth in physical development. While moral development starts in childhood, it does not cease there. An example of this can be seen when asking young children why stealing is wrong. They often say that “mommy or daddy said it was wrong” or “if you steal, you will get spanked.” It is later on that these same children will begin to see why stealing is wrong by looking at how it affects the people around them instead of just the ways in which it can harm themselves. Researchers have also found that people’s behavior is influenced by their moral judgement and perception of the world as well as their moral education.