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Wednesday, June 22 • 16:45 - 18:00
POSTER.29 - How Moral Psychology Can Inform Writing Assignment Design

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The argumentative paper is a standard measure of assessment for many courses in higher education. Since the purpose of these papers is to persuade the reader, emphasis tends to be placed on sound reasoning, proportioning beliefs to the available evidence, and providing good reasons. In the process, critical introspection is often neglected. Indeed, students often fail to get beyond providing a moral rationalization for a viewpoint to which they are affectively predisposed. Argumentative papers tend not to encourage students to examine why they feel and believe a certain thing nor do they interrogate how their moral feelings and beliefs have been culturally shaped.

Over the last two decades, neuroscientists, psychologists, and philosophers have significantly enhanced our understanding of the nature of our moral judgments. Calling into question the traditional view that moral judgments are primarily a matter of deliberate reasoning (Kohlberg, 1984), scholars now agree that they are primarily based on an affective response. That is, moral judgments are more a matter of feeling than reason (Greene, 2013; Haidt, 2001). As Joshua Greene (2013) writes, “The moral rationalizer feels a certain way about a moral issue and then makes up a rational-sounding justification for that feeling” (p. 300).

These findings in moral psychology have important implications for teaching and learning, particularly in academic disciplines that engage in moral questions. This poster will focus on the implications these findings have for writing assignment design. While a well-executed argumentative paper is certainly a marker for some key critical thinking skills, it does not necessarily measure a student’s ability to inquire into the affective core of his or her beliefs. But this is a fundamental skill that all good critical thinkers require.

How can we encourage students in their writing to move beyond rationalizing their moral beliefs – persuasive though their accounts may be – to think about and question their affective core? This poster will present a scaffolding writing model grounded in moral psychology that faculty can use to fully develop the critical thinking skills of students. Emphasis will be placed on reflective writing.

avatar for James Southworth

James Southworth

Writing Consultant, Wilfrid Laurier University
James Southworth is a Writing Consultant at Wilfrid Laurier University. He completed his PhD in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in 2014 with an expertise in moral psychology and ethics.

Wednesday June 22, 2016 16:45 - 18:00 EDT
Atrium, Physics & Astronomy Building Western University

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