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Moral psychology and civil rights protesters: Exemplary, different, and mad

Noon, Daniel W. (2024) Moral psychology and civil rights protesters: Exemplary, different, and mad. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 18 (1). Article Number e12915. ISSN 1751-9004. (doi:10.1111/spc3.12915) (KAR id:104816)


Martin Luther King Jr. appealed for social scientists to reflect on the normative questions of what morality ought to be and what the aims of science ought to be. To avoid rendering social science irrelevant, 1960s moral psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg agreed with King when he argued that morality should be based on a philosophical ideal rather than an adjustment to society. Kohlberg's definition of morality meant that Black protesters could be exemplary. By the 1970s, Kohlberg worked in schools to promote children's knowledge of racial justice and achieve institutional reform, such as integration and affirmative action. Subsequent work challenged Kohlberg's definition of morality and instead claimed morality meant adhering to group‐defined standards. Rather than being seen as more moral and mature, Black civil rights activists came to be seen as possessing a different morality of care that refused to assimilate to White American moral norms. Later, Haidt claimed that a “great synthesis” of empirical work led to a definition of morality as adherence to cultural standards. This definition of morality led Haidt to describe the morality of Black protesters as deficient and mentally ill. The latter approach assumed science aims to achieve racial harmony and spoke against affirmative action. The change in the description of civil rights protesters as exceptional, different, and then mad results in a change in normative assumptions rather than a new synthesis of empirical findings.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/spc3.12915
Uncontrolled keywords: Social Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: JISC Publications Router
Depositing User: JISC Publications Router
Date Deposited: 31 Jan 2024 15:22 UTC
Last Modified: 13 Mar 2024 14:26 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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