Conscience at war: On the relationship between moral psychology and moral resistance

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During the last three decades cognitive developmental psychology conceptualized morality as a phenomenon that develops among peers in a context-free world, and is most likely to be tested among first-year psychology students. The nature of real-life irreversible actions like those the individual faces in the context of war, when one’s own and others’ lives are at risk, when decisions have to be made on the spur of the moment, in an authoritative setting and under social pressure, has not been a major focus of inquiry. Lawrence Kohlberg, best known for his extensive analyses of the delicate connection between means and ends in the construction of moral maturity, refrained from addressing the real-life moral issues of war. Although Kohlberg’s career lasted during the ten years of the Vietnam War, he devoted time to the study of only one soldier—Michael Bernhardt—who, so he claimed, refused to shoot in the My Lai massacre. This article analyzes Kohlberg’s study of the relation between moral judgment and moral action of combatants in time of war.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-355
Number of pages19
JournalPeace and Conflict
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001


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