Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Include and Transcend (by Patrick Madden)

Guest Post: Patrick Madden

Three important points about levels

In the first post of this series I talked a bit about how morality can be thought of as a line of intelligence that develops over time by gradually increasing the range of entities we see as morally valuable. We start with egocentric morality (only I matter) and grow via ethnocentric morality (we matter) through a still broader morality (all of us matter) and so onwards.

Thinking with levels of development in this way is useful because it’s clear and methodical and can inform policy. It can also be very problematic if we don’t understand it properly. So here are three points about levels that are important to understand.

Higher is not better, just more inclusive

Firstly, levels can be usefully thought of as efficacious adaptations to the environment. An egocentric morality is good for a two-year-old child, whose development relies on looking out for herself above all, while ethnocentric moralities better serve young adults for whose development collaboration is crucial. The upshot here is that the ‘higher’ levels are not better than the lower levels, they’re just more inclusive. This is crucial point for thinking and talking about moral development: it means value judgements are optional rather than given with the data. We don’t have to judge our own or others’ moralities relative to each other: we can simply see it as it is and stop there, short of condemnation. That usually helps!

(We can of course choose to judge moralities relative to one another. And – according to some but not all moralities – we ought to.)

Include and transcend

The second important point is the principle of “include and transcend”. Ethnocentric morality does not deny or exclude egocentric morality. Obviously, a morality that values my clan does not exclude me because I am a member of my clan; it just includes others as well as me. A morality that values all beings does not exclude my clan; it just includes other clans also. The principle of development in every line of intelligence, not just the moral line, is inclusion and transcendence: in growing, we include the view of the former level and we go beyond it.

Many ladders, many rungs

The third important point is that there are many ways of grading levels. The one I’ve used here (with three levels up to and including humanistic morality: egocentric, ethnocentric, humanistic) just happens to serve because it’s simple. Others speak about preconventional, conventional and postconventional (then post-postconventional) morality. The important point here is that the data doesn’t, from its own side, give us objectively discrete or discontinuous stages. Rather, we deliberately choose a particular, convenient framework for categorising the data into stages so we can talk about them. If we choose a framework of three stages, we could equally choose one of six or eight. Many ladders, many rungs.

Why does this matter?

If we don’t understand that higher is not better, just more inclusive, then we have to judge others’ morality. Firstly, that’s terrible for conversation. And secondly, it also keeps us limited to a particular stage of development – our kneejerk move into judgement limits the range of information we can consider objectively.

If we don’t understand the principle of include and transcend, we might fear that moving beyond a particular stage means sacrificing our own interests altogether. It usually does mean sacrificing some of our own interests, but it’s more a case of subsuming them within a schema that includes them and other things, to create something that’s even more valuable.

If we don’t understand that the number and characteristics of developmental levels are contingent on our chosen theory and not given to us by reality from its own side, we might be far too confident that our view is The Correct View. That’s almost always a terrible mistake because it precludes curiosity.

The next post in this series will discuss how different levels look to one another. What is it like for someone at ‘level 3’, for example, to hear about ‘level 4’ – and vice versa?

Related Posts:
  1. Levels of Moral Development (PM) - increasing moral intelligence by increasing my range
  2. Empathy Armoury - We don't only have to be aware of our path
  3. Chipping Away - at our ignorance in a world that is impossible to understand
  4. Pause & Engage - getting past moral log jams
  5. The Bigger Tribe - Patriotism gets ugly when it makes enemies of those outside

About the Guest:
Patrick works with The Potential Project and you can find out more about what he does through his website and blog.


In writing a blog about several topics in which I admit to being a complete beginner, I am going to have to rely heavily on the people I am writing for who cumulatively know most of what I am likely to learn already. I would love it if some of you found the time to write a guest post on the subject of happiness or learning. The framework I use for thinking about these things is what I call the '5 + 2 points' which includes proper (1) exercise, (2) breathing, (3) diet, (4) relaxation, (5) positive thinking & meditation, (+1) relationships, (+2) flow. Naturally if you would like to write about something that you think I have missed, I would love to include that too. If you are up to doing something more practical, it would be awesome if you did a 100 hour project and I am happy to do the writing based on our chats if that is how you roll. Email me at 
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