Front Page Titles (by Subject) Freedom of Speech and Moral Development - Literature of Liberty, July/September 1979, vol. 2, No. 3
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Freedom of Speech and Moral Development - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, July/September 1979, vol. 2, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Freedom of Speech and Moral Development
“Moral Development and Political Thinking: The Case of Freedom of Speech.” Western Political Quarterly 32 (March 1979): 7–20.
Almost all Americans would affirm that they support free speech. However, social science data indicates that the concensus breaks down when the question is asked concretely in terms of deviant groups' right to speak (Nazis, Communists, etc.) Reservations are expressed concerning “those with wrong ideas,” “those who talk against churches and religion,” etc.
The upper echelons of society qualify their tolerance of divergent views less so than lower socio-economic classes. Since the educational resources of the elite foster wider opportunities for moral development and since tolerance is a moral activity, researcher Lawrence Kohlberg has theorized that a definite correlation would exist between the level of subjects' moral developmeng and the consistency and quality of their tolerance of free speech.
Kohlberg and his colleagues have carried out a number of experiments with adults to corroborate this thesis. Prof. Patterson, however, has theorized that the process of moral maturation might appear more clearly in children and that correlating their moral development with their level of tolerance would provide a significant and revealing test of the Kohlberg theory.
To evaluate the moral maturity of elementary school pupils, Patterson employed the six-stage scale developed by Kohlberg, who himself followed the research of Jean Piaget. The scale ranges from the “Punishment and Obedience Orientation” in Stage 1 to the “Universal Ethical Principle Orientation” of Stage 6. Individuals pass through the six steps in age-related sequence, and, while rate of development may vary and some individuals may fixate at a certain point, the stage order is never violated. Stage transition is promoted by the individual's discovery of seeming contradictions and inconsistencies in his environment, which he endeavors to resolve.
Patterson further postulated two hypotheses to be tested in his experiments: (1) Since each successive level of moral development constitutes a more adequate mode of resolving moral dilemmas, the higher the stage, the more consistent the application of the principle of free speech; and (2) Those who support free speech in terms of right or principle (a higher level of moral reasoning) will be most tolerant of deviant ideas, and, when asked to provide a possible justification for suppressing deviant expression, those morally advanced subjects would support their justification by lower-level reasoning.
Level of tolerance was tested in two ways. First of all, children were read a series of questions conerning the advisability of free speech. A moral and political dilemma related to free speech was presented along with questions to elicit the child's choice of alternatives and his justification for them. The two tests were found to correlate with each other and, in turn, with the six-stage framework of moral development.
Briefly, moral maturity was found to have a significant relationship to political reasoning. Structures of reasoning about conflict situations were judged by both logical and empirical criteria to correspond to the structures of moral judgement. The research also suggested that the concepts of “tolerance” and “consistency” are far too simple as usually conceptualized, since from stage to stage of moral development, the nature of justification for free speech varies widely. Finally, the experiment throws light on the origins and nature of the quality of tolerance. Prof. Patterson, thus, suggests that Kohlberg's theory may elucidate other aspects of the political process not yet analyzed in the light of moral development.