Dr. Luther M. Kindall and Charles Kramer on Kohlberg and Piaget

From: Dr. Luther M. Kindall
Date: Tue, 10 Dec 2002 19:12:29 EST
Subject: Kohlberg
Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr.

A comment is made that Piaget used experimental designs with his research. Nothing could be further from the truth. Piaget used a clinical open-ended approach. In fact his design was much weaker than Kohlberg's in terms of internal validity.
Dr. Luther M. Kindall
Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology
University of Tennessee

Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 01:03:06 -0500
To: Dr. Luther M. Kindall
From: Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr.
Subject: Re: Kohlberg
Cc: Charles Kramer

Are you referring to Charles Kramer's statement, "I would suggest that the statements presented should be documented and that the type and methods of observations should be referred to. At least Jean Piaget, as an experimental psychologist, backed up most of his statements about child intelligence, moral development stages etc. by his experimental specific research work and detailed methodology."? (http://www.xenodochy.org/ex/lists/moraldev.html)

I don't think Charles was using "experimental" to refer to a particular type of methodology; I believe he was using "experimental" in a much more general sense to oppose the presenting of "theory" with little described evidence. In general semantics, the distinction is along the dimension of "extensional" vs "intensional" - where persons operating from a more intensional orientation are inclined to present abstract statements as if they were "truths", while persons operating from a more extensional orientation are inclined to present concrete examples. Since Piaget reports on observations and examples he collected while Kohlberg's writings, that I have seen, exhibit much less of this, Piaget could be seen as much more "empirical" than Kohlberg. But Charles can respond himself if he chooses.

If by "experimental" you mean something like the "hard-science" paradigm of a double-blind, controlled experiment, then I must agree, that, Piaget was not (but then, neither was Kohlberg).

I have nine reprints of published Kohlberg articles that I obtained years ago from the Center for Moral Development at Harvard (while that organization still existed), and none of them cite or present the results of any experimental data. I do have one unpublished manuscript copy which presents a "study" involving 47 12th grade high school subjects who were "pre-tested" by interview (not include). Subjects were then presented with one of two sets of 60 statements, which had been previously rated according to the 6 stage theory, about two situations. Subjects responses were scored "in the usual way" (method not included) for their comprehension and agreement regarding the levels. One telling remark in the study is, "(For this study 20% or more usage of a stage was defined as 'substantial' amount.)" Post test scoring procedure was not mentioned in the paper.

Most of the discussion in the paper seems to be centered on respondents understanding of or behaving in accord with the theory as presented. There seems to be no question about the levels, progression, or relation among the levels. It looks like the sample population is "being measured" by a tool designed to show how they fit into the six stage paradigm. To this I say, if the tool you like best is a hammer, then you'll show how every problem can be solved with a nail.

Since Kohlberg's theory suggests that we evolve through stages as we mature, with some people reaching "higher" stages than other, I would think that a snapshot of a few dozen teenagers, even with a mention of a "similar study" years before, hardly qualifies as any kind of comprehensive test of the theory. Popper's philosophy of science describes a theory as "scientific" if it can propose tests designed to refute itself. (http://www.xenodochy.org/article/popper.html) The presented Kohlberg study makes no such effort.

I happen to like Kohlberg's theory, but I am also aware that I have no "hard science" basis for suggesting that his "theory" is anything more than that. One paper published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, years ago, seemed, by experiment, to call into questions Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but it too goes against what we could call "received tradition". In education, Piaget has pretty much achieved the status in our culture of a "formal system" as Edward T. Hall defined it in "The Silent Language". (http://www.xenodochy.org/ex/abstract/hallsfit.html) Kohlberg presents a nice concise and explicitly well defined abstraction based largely upon Piaget. Is Kohlberg the "essence" of Piaget? Or are there significant differences? What do the little numbers produced by this study after several stages of highly subjective interpretation by individuals well versed in the theory, and possibly biased towards it, of a small, limited, and overly homogenous group of subjects, all at nearly the same age, mean? Can there be any hope of such number even hinting at problems with the theory? I submit not. 20% is deemed significant? Can we actually test the theory?

Lets' have double blind studies on randomly selected participants conducted by individuals who never heard of Kohlberg or Piaget and administered by strictly objective techniques. Maybe we can use something like indscal (http://www.xenodochy.org/ex/abstract/mdsipc.html) to measure the dimensions in the resulting data. Conduct separate similar studies to quantify the resulting individual dimensions, and finally, just maybe, do a systematic demographic correlation with all the previously developed dimensions and levels within dimensions. Repeat this study with thousands of subjects repeatedly measured at varying intervals over several decades. Plot individuals changes along and among the dimensions. Correlate this over time with individual scaling. Maybe we can get Bill Gates to fund it...

Oops... I just woke up. What was I saying?

Based on the context and perspective, I think Charles was right.
Based on what I infer to be your perspective, I think you are right.


Regards, and thanks for your comment. It stimulated me to take another look.

Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr., Ph.D.

From: Charles Kramer
To: Dr. Luther M. Kindall,
Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr.
Subject: Re: Kohlberg
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 12:51:36 +0100
Dear Dr. Kindall,

I happen to concur with Ralph's interpretation about what I wrote concerning Jean Piaget.

Not only was Piaget working as a clinician, but may I add that he qualified as a psychoanalyst, having undergone a didactic psychoanalysis himself which was a rare event for a Swiss "experimental" psychologist ?

Thanks for your interest,

Charles Kramer

From: Dr. Luther M. Kindall
To: Charles Kramer
Sent: Wednesday, December 11, 2002 11:14 PM
Subject: Re: Kohlberg

I am aware of his experience with psychoanalysis. Piaget labeled himself as genetic epistemologist not a psychologist. I met him personally at the Piagetian Society's conference in Philadelphia and know personally how he used stories and games to ask questions of youngsters. He personally reflected upon the wrong answers on the IQ test that Simon had him to administer in Paris (not a an experiment). Of course when he observed his three daughters that constituted natural observation (Not a controlled experiment. You must be one of those behaviorist who want to put him in the quantitative experimental analysis paradigm. I am sorry that you did have the opportunity to meet him and hear what he called his research (not experimental)

By the way, I never said that Kohlberg was a good experimenter.

From: Charles Kramer
To: Dr. Luther M. Kindall
Ralph E. Kenyon, Jr.
Subject: Re: Kohlberg
Date: Sun, 15 Dec 2002 10:18:02 +0100

Dear Sir,

I think I understand the distinction that you make between "experimental" and quantitative experimental analysis. Point taken !

Albeit, I did not mean to infer that Piaget practiced quantitative experimental analysis "stricto sensu". In my language - French that is - "experimental" may be used "largo sensu" to establish a difference between "philosophers" or metaphysicians who do not systematically base their assumptions on observations of "facts" and people - scientifically inclined ? - who prefer to observe events as closely as possible and then build interpretations.

Not that it matters, but I would not see myself as "one of those behaviorists...". I wouldn't qualify !

I was professionally active for a number of years

Although I am not an expert in General Semantics, I have followed writings relating to that approach during the recent forty years...

With thanks for your remarks, and point taken,

Best regards,
[Charles Kramer]

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