A psychologist’s perspective on why, how and when digital privacy violations irk us

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Based on his field work, the world-renown anthropologist Richard Shweder has discovered that societies are constructed from three ethics: autonomy, community, and divinity. Autonomy largely concerns our personal sphere: how we construct our individuality and manage our private thoughts and feelings. The communal sphere contains the social norms that keep our society running smoothly and uniformly (driving on the right side of the road, avoiding fashion faux-pas, etc.). The final sphere, the divinity sphere involves religious and moral beliefs and rituals.

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Examples of moral reasoning at each of Lawrence Kholberg’s stages of development.

This theory has been adapted to understanding how and when moral development occurs. Psychologists like Lawrence Kholberg generally used to believe that children developed these ethics sequentially. First, a child’s sense of right and wrong depended upon whether an action would or would not benefit themselves (“autonomy”), then they would develop a sense of right and wrong based on social convention (is it legal or illegal?; “community”), until finally, they analyzed right and wrong based on post-conventional concerns (is the law just?, “divinity”). However, Elliot Turiel and Larry Nucci developed Social Domain Theory after pointing out the sequential development of these spheres is fallacious — even young children understand that Shweder’s domains are indeed distinct. They generally understand that there’s nothing morally wrong about eating with hands (but people think it’s strange), the color of underwear they’re wearing is no one’s business, and unsolicited harm is wrong even if rules allow it. …


Amber Cazzell

PhD, Social Psychology, Stanford Visiting Scholar, University of Queensland Honorary Associate Lecturer

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