Morality and Crime

Morality is a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct in relation of conformity or nonconformity to the moral standard or rule set by a society. Moral thinking and moral development (that is, the way right and wrong for that society are learnt) is a product of socialisation. It is a product of the child's upbringing and the social values of the time. 

Some theorists have looked upon criminal behaviour as a failure of appropriate moral development and reasoning. By internalising social rules through modelling, conditioning and identification in a process known as socialisation, we in turn conform to society's rules. 

Every single person in society has a role to play, as in they are a jigsaw piece in a massive jigsaw. So with this in mind, usually one learns moral reasoning through their parents, who are at first the predominant role models. Apart from parents friends and teachers also play a part in ones moral development.

According to Freud, due to the nature of human beings, we wouldn't want to follow those rules, which in turn would bring forth our wild behaviours. But in order to avoid punishment and reap rewards such as social acceptance and a sense of belonging, we learn to distinguish between right and wrong for our own benefit.

Piaget and Kohlberg (1959) on the other hand argued that moral development was derived from cognitive needs and a wish to understand the reality of the world. Both suggested that children actively absorb moral rules through social interactions, but instead of simply accepting it they bend it in order to suit themselves, thus constructing their own moral beliefs.

Initially adolescents would look upon adult rules as fixed, but then the older they become the more they would realise that those rules are merely guidelines and not actual statements. And so they can substitute their own beliefs into that framework in order to create what seems to them to be acceptable.

In a follow up of Piaget's theory of cognitive development, Kohlberg (1976) stated that the three main levels of moral reasoning he proposed corresponded with Piaget's stages of preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational thought. These three levels, each in turn had two stages. According to him every body went through those stages and in the same order. So the progression from one stage to another is closely linked with the level of cognitive development. 

Kohlberg's theory concentrated on the relationship between ones self and society's rules.This theory was developed through asking people about what they would do in certain situations and why. In addition this theory assumes reason rather than impulse as an explanation for criminal behaviour and so it isn't considered as deterministic.

Kohlherg believed that offenders have had a delay in the development of their moral reasoning, so that when there is temptation offered, they cannot resist it. They do not have the appropriate internal moral reasoning to do so.

Rotter (1975) suggested that our beliefs about causality is usually based upon an External locus of control which reflects a belief that occurrences are a result of external factors such as chance, situation others which are more powerful (aspects which are out of your control). On the other hand an Internal Locus of control reflects a belief that we have control over our choices and actions.

The Attribution theory has become a central component of social cognition. It focuses on the explanations that we offer for our own and others behaviour (Heider, 1958). The attribution Error is our tendency to assign internal or dispositional factors in explaining other people's behaviour whilst using external or situational factors to explain our own (Ross, 1997).

There are many criticisms associated with Kohlberg's theory, with the first being that of the theory being ethnocentric, mostly typical of western societies according to Eckensberger, 1994. Which may not be necessarily held by other cultures and societies. Secondly Carol Gillingham exclaimed that Kohlberg's theory was mostly orientated around male moral development, whilst at the same time devaluing female morality. She developed her own theory of moral development for women, which was different to that of Kohlberg's. As females generally display more compassion towards others than males, and so as a result women may have a low rating on Kohlberg's moral development stages. 

The dominant drawback with Kohlberg's theory is that relating to criminal behaviour. His theory is based upon moral thinking rather than that of criminal thinking or criminal behaviour.

Another criticism of Kohlberg's theory is that, many studies have noticed that the human body is much more complex than many people make it out to be. So Kohlberg's 3 stages may be too simplistic in explaining the moral development of non-offenders and offenders. In determining a child's level of morality, Kohlberg paid closer attention to the reasoning behind the answer, rather than the answer itself. Which has also raised many questions from critics.

Various schemes have been set up in an attempt to raise the level of moral development in young offenders by helping them view the world from other points of views rather than just that of their own. The most successful treatment has been that of 'Reasoning and Rehabilitation', which was developed by Ross, Fabiano and Eweles (1988). This approach attempts to focus on the development of various social cognitive skills, which teaches offenders to consider the consequences of their actions and develop stronger problem solving techniques. An egocentric approach to cognitive development has been linked closely with a lack of empathy or an inability to realise other people's feelings and a deficit in moral reasoning.

Being able to take into consideration the distress of others can act as a brake on the behaviour most likely to cause a failure to respect other people. It is difficult to develop reliable measures of empathy, but many findings have discovered that women are more empathic than men, which might lead to the development of strategies which may enable offenders to develop empathy. These strategies may also explain why women are less involved in crime.

Palmer and Hollin (2000) discovered that self-reported delinquency in young offenders was associated not only with lower levels of reasoning but also with increased tendencies to inaccurate attribution of hostility. For example the blame and responsibility in which we assign to others tend to be harsher in retrospect to ourselves In respect to Rotters suggestion it is said that offenders differ from non-offenders due to their tendencies to use external factors as explanations for their actions in order to divert responsibility from themselves.

In my opinion the attribution theory is quite right, as due to the nature of human beings, no one likes to admit that they are in the wrong or they are the ones at fault. As in to us for example, if someone was to trip up over a chair then it was their clumsy fault (internal locus of control), but if it were us who tripped over the chair then it would be because someone placed it there deliberately for us to trip over it (external locus of control). 

There is no consensus of opinion as to what constitutes a moral act or an immoral act.  Formal education and age also seem to contribute to mature moral reasoning, and the effects of the two are sometimes difficult to separate. Adolescents show higher levels of moral reasoning than most children, and lower levels than many adults.