M. J. Packer, Berkeley. Calif.

The Structure of Moral Action:
A Hermeneutic Study of Moral Conflict

XII + 164 p., 3 fig., hard cover, 1985. ISBN 3-8055-3999-1

Social interaction has come to be viewed as both an important domain for research on moral development and a powerful influence upon moral change. This monograph contains a detailed hermeneutic examination of the social interactions of ten groups of young adults engaged in a modified version of the 'Prisoner's Dilemma' game. Communication was allowed between the teams of friends, in theory rendering trivial their solving of the dilemma. Instead, several teams betrayed or 'burned' their friends, and the author traces the conflicts which resulted through three phases. Working from video-recordings and verbatim transcripts, he examines the involvement of emotions, the type of reflection which begins to appear during the conflict, and the way disagreements over 'the facts' have a valid role in moral conflict.

The use of a hermeneutic or interpretive approach allows the detailed description of the way conflict unfolds over time and a reconstruction of the forms of understanding of the people involved. The study will be of value to psychologists concerned with moral development and to those interested in exploring alternatives to cognitivist and behaviorist research. The use of narratives rather than quantified data will also enable a wide audience to appreciate the author's findings and conclusions.


1. Introduction

2. Understanding Action

3. Details of the Data

4. The Occurrence of Burning

5. Phase One: The Immediate Reaction to the Burning

6. Phase Two: Accusation and Response

7. Phase Three: Articulation or Standoff - the Outcome of Conflict

8. Summary of the Phases of Conflict

9. Conclusions