Exploring naturalistic conceptions of ‘a moral person’ for Koreans




Kim, Sunghun

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Educational Psychology

In the field of moral psychology, cognitive functioning has long been the main focus of studies. Many researchers have been interested in moral reasoning ability, its developmental paths, and the process of moral judgment or decision making. Relatively recently, some moral psychologists started questioning whether people who are not theorists, researchers, or educators in morality also put as much emphasis on the cognitive functions as the core of morality. According to the literature, laypeople found to include cognitive aspects as one component of morality, and they also emphasize moral characters and virtues as other elements. In addition, laypeople frequently consider characteristics of ‘a moral person’ when they are asked to think about morality. These findings have activated research on naturalistic conceptions of morality and moral exemplars. However, few studies have examined how laypeople from different cultures other than the United States and Canada conceptualize morality. The purpose of this study was to explore naturalistic conceptions of ‘a moral person’ and to develop a theoretical model of moral exemplars for Koreans based on the gathered conceptions. Twenty two Koreans participated in in-depth, semi-structured, open-ended interviews. A grounded theory approach was used to conduct interviews, analyze data, and achieve the research goals. Korean laypeople’s conceptions included behaviors, personality traits, and psychological functions of ‘a moral person’ for them. In those behaviors and personality traits, both interpersonal (e.g., helping others or caring) and intrapersonal (e.g., living with integrity or being principled) characteristics were found together. Koreans conceptualize a person as moral when he or she tends to behave morally as an outer revelation of inner morality, personality traits. Using psychological functions (e.g., perspective taking, being compassionate, or keeping social face) appeared to promote the emergence of a moral behavior or make the behavior extraordinary. Finally, Koreans found to think of a person as moral who does moral behaviors even in challenging situations, assuming that his or her moral personality traits are strongly associated with the behaviors. In addition, Koreans tend to more emphasize interpersonal (i.e., other-oriented or community-based) aspects of morality than intrapersonal (i.e., self-centered or individual-based) components. These findings were summarized that ‘a moral person’ for Koreans is a person who has ‘moral heart’ and lives ‘in harmony with others.’



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