chapter  8
Moral development research in sports and its quest for objectivity
WithRussell Gough
Pages 14

In the opening pages of their recent and comprehensive work, Character Development and Physical Activity (1995, p. 8), Brenda Jo Bredemeier and David Shields raise the foundational question of whether or not moral development researchers must sacrifice scientific objectivity in the process of their investigations: ‘[D]oesn’t the study of morality commit the investigator to a particular moral perspective…?.’ Their response proceeds generally, albeit briefly,2 along the following lines: ‘So we see that scientific research indeed involves values. But adopting values does not necessarily undercut objectivity… Research on morality can be as objective as any other research.’ (1995, p. 8-9) The crux of their argument in defense of the possibility of objectivity seems to lie primarily in a conception of objectivity qua neutrality, whereby a moral development researcher is said to be ‘objective’ insofar as he or she does not allow personal moral opinions to predetermine and thus prejudice their empirical analyses.3 In short, ‘objective’ moral development research is construed

as research that does not pass personal moral judgment on those being investigated. (For the purposes of this essay, ‘objectivity’ and its cognates will henceforth be used in this more restrictive, non-moral-judgment-passing sense.)

Bredemeier and Shields’ line of argument is representative of the way in which certain moral development researchers, to their credit, have attempted in recent years to come to grips with the inescapable value-ladenness of their research and have attempted to defend the possibility of scientific objectivity in spite of that value-ladenness. Since its inception or, at the very least, since the time of Lawrence Kohlberg’s precedent-setting studies (Kohlberg, 1981), the twentieth-century enterprise of moral development research has proceeded almost invariably on the positivistic assumption that empirical investigations into morality and its development can indeed be scientifically objective, but only insofar as the investigations themselves are morally ‘valueneutral.’4 And this is precisely the manner in which the majority of twentiethcentury moral development research has proceeded-on the assumption that it was, or should be, free of any value commitments.5