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Psychology 5/e Book Cover
Psychology, 5/e
Lester M. Sdorow, Arcadia University
Cheryl A. Rickabaugh, University of Redlands

Human Development

Around The Globe

Moral Reasoning

When Lawrence Kohlberg wanted to test subjects' moral development, he asked them to think about the story of Heinz, a man who stole medicine to save his sick wife. Was Heinz right or wrong? If he'd asked young Buddhist monks, he might have been told, "That does not matter."

Heubner and Garrod (1993) traveled to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Nepal, to ask young monks (thirteen to thirty years) what they thought about Kohlberg's dilemma. The monks' answers generally involved two concepts: the theory that people are reborn in different bodies, depending on their behavior, and the idea that though life is full of suffering, people should be compassionate and prevent as much suffering as possible. One monk said about Heinz, "If his wife dies, then he will be suffering only for this life. But if he steals the drug, he will be suffering for many lifetimes." While most Westerners explain the Heinz story in terms of justice, the monks talked about compassion-even the monks who scored as Kohlberg "premorals" and thought about Heinz in terms of rewards and punishment. These ideas are so different from Western morality that the researchers found it impossible to use Kohlberg's scale to describe Tibetan Buddhists' moral development.