Personal and Moral Identity

Volume 11 of the series Library of Ethics and Applied Philosophy pp 123-146

Self-Identity and Moral Maturity

  • Howard Kamler

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The central discussion is about how a person grows into a mature moral being only to the extent that certain aspects of his general sense of self have developed first. Most importantly, I argue that the process of psychological identification that is so central in adult self identity formation is also the linchpin in coming to moral maturity; that is, that moral maturity presupposes that a person is already what I call a ‘full identificatory self’. I begin the discussion in section 1 by drawing a general picture of psychological development, starting from the most rudimentary attachment hunger (but relative agency poverty) of infancy to the more independent agency (yet continuing attachment hunger) of adulthood. I point out the importance that psychological identification has in this lifelong march toward independent agency. We see identification as the process of taking a valuational ownership of one’s developing character states, that being the central process in becoming an agency self. In section 2, I discuss how a person’s sensing of his self identity (i.e., his unfolding capacity for identification) is captured quite nicely by Bernard Williams discussion of `the personal point of view’ that a person brings to his central life projects and concerns. I suggest that Williams mistakenly thinks the personal point of view to be crucial to one’s moral identity. In fact, it is at the heart of one’s broader self identity — at the heart of one’s general capacity to identify. In section 3, I argue for the central thesis that moral maturity presupposes that a person identify with the moral perspective. A person who merely acts by moral dictates but doesn’t bring her full self identificatory capacities to bear on these actions is not a morally autonomous and mature individual. In sections 4 and 5, I compare my notion of moral development with competing theories. I also tackle the question of why persons identify at all with the moral life.

Key Words

moral development moral identification psychological development psychological identification self-identity