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Conceptualizations of Knowledge in Structuring Approaches to Moral Development: A Process-Relational Approach

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Like other aspects of child development, views of the nature and development of morality depend on philosophical assumptions or worldviews presupposed by researchers. We analyze assumptions regarding knowledge linked to two contrasting worldviews: Cartesian-split-mechanistic and process-relational. We examine the implications of these worldviews for approaches to moral development, including relations between morality and social outcomes, and the concepts of information, meaning, interaction and computation. It is crucial to understand how researchers view these interrelated concepts in order to understand approaches to moral development. Within the Cartesian-split-mechanistic worldview, knowledge is viewed as representation and meaning is mechanistic and fixed. Both nativism and empiricism are based in this worldview, differing in whether the source of representations is assumed to be primarily internal or external. Morality is assumed to pre-exist, either in the genome or the culture. We discuss problems with these conceptions and endorse the process-relational paradigm, according to which knowledge is constructed through interaction, and morality begins in activity as a process of coordinating perspectives, rather than the application of fixed rules. The contrast is between beginning with the mind or beginning with social activity in explaining the mind.
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