V. Definitions: preconventional, conventional,
- What do these terms mean, conventional, postconventional identity,
and what do they imply about remembering genocides, about how and what
we teach about genocides?
- For completeness' sake, let me begin by describing preconventional
[Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action, 123f
Basically, "an eye for an eye." Laws merely exist, no need for agreement
What is right is what meets one's own interests and needs, and letting
others do the same.
Motivation is doing right is to serve one's own needs when one recognizes
that others must do the same.
- At the conventional level, morally right is:
living up to the expectations of others, having good motives, keeping
mutual relationships, maintaining trust, loyalty, respect and gratitude.
This involves being able to see from one's own collectivity's overall
At a more advanced stage conventional morality involves doing one's
duty in society, upholding the social order, and contributing
to the society, group, or institution.
Note that the maintenance of the institution or society is seen as an
end in itself, without regard for other institutions or societies.
[note after talk: Christian Geulen's paper on "Why
do people become killers?" put forward Arendt's notion of "lawfulness"
of society--that is fundamentally conventional. The corresponding pre-conventional
stage would be the "laws of nature."]
- Whereas preconventional morality is centered on individuals subject
to raw force, and conventional morality is based on a closed, relatively
homogeneous group adhering to specific rules,
postconventional morality is universalistic, open, and inclusive
also of the perspectives of other groups.
Right is derived from general principles that can apply to all,
not specific codified rules.
It involves being aware of and respecting a variety of values and opinions.
It requires understanding that most values and rules are relative to
one's group (that is, that they are conventional).
Motivation for doing right is the insight in the necessity of following
rules that are for the benefit of all--"the greatest good for the greatest
- I would like to note
as an aside that I find this
last statement problematic, and that it has been subjected to cogent
critiques notably from a gendered perspective.
In studies involving girls as well as boys, women as well as men,
it becomes obvious that some notion of helping someone, or at least
not harming anyone, is indeed part of a universalist ethic as well.
Also, Habermas argues that the 3 stages are "entwicklungslogisch"--they
require passing through the hierarchical sequence in order. I think
that is false as well, since, for instance, small children exhibit
features of postconventional morality. Also regression is possible,
certainly for collectivities.
[note after talk: this is another reason why other
terms, such as primary, secondary, tertiary, might be better. They
can be defined as merely descriptive, not sequential.]
- My central goal today is to suggest answers to the question: How
can remembering genocide, teaching about aspects of genocide, contribute
progression movement from one moral stage to