Dr. Anne Colby is a consulting professor at Stanford University’s Center on Adolescence. Prior to her appointment at Stanford, she directed the Henry Murray Research Center at Harvard, and was a Senior Scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. She has authored and co-authored eleven books, including Rethinking Undergraduate Business Education: Liberal Learning for the Profession, which received the 2013 Frederic W. Ness Book Award. Dr. Colby’s research has focused on moral development, purpose, and the ways in which education can foster excellence through disciplinary practices, each of which we discuss in this episode.
APA citation: Cazzell, A. R. (Host). (2019, October 8). Working with Kohlberg and Teaching for Excellence with Anne Colby [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://www.ambercazzell.com/post/msp-ep12-annecolby
NOTE: This transcript was generated automatically. Please excuse typos and errors.
Amber Cazzell: 00:00:01 Alright. Hi everyone. I am with Ann Colby today, which is very exciting because she's been involved in a number of areas of research that I'm excited to learn about. And I as always kind of like to start off by hearing about research or backgrounds. And so I'm curious how you became interested in developments like psychology of human development in the first place, and what led you to your, your studies.
Anne Colby: 00:00:30 Okay. Um, um, well I think the most important influence on me was during college and graduate school because I, because of the time that I lived our country, the U S was very involved in the war in Vietnam. And that was because young men were being drafted at the time. It was very different than being in a war. Now. It really affected a whole group of young people one way or another. And so I got really interested in the war and I was very strongly opposed to it. I thought it was not not only not wise on our part, but very unethical. And so that started to be a really major preoccupation for me. And I had, I had majored in psychology. I didn't formally minor in philosophy, but I was always really interested in spiritual questions and moral questions and so on as well as psychology.
Anne Colby: 00:01:48 And then I got this personal interest in this kind of a societal, moral issue. And so that all kind of started to emerge in college and really crystallized in graduate school. And I realized that I wanted to bring all that together into one focus for my research. And which then I was lucky enough, there was a junior professor at Columbia where I was a graduate student who had worked in the field of moral development. And so I, her name was Deanna Kuhn. And so that's how I ended up getting into the field. And that was just kind of, it, it just, I stayed pretty steady in it. From then on.
Amber Cazzell: 00:02:33 And where did you go after your time at Columbia? You went to Harvard, right?
Anne Colby: 00:02:37 I went to Harvard. Larry Kohlberg was on my dissertation committee as an outside reader and he was somebody who knew my dissertation advisor. Deanna Kuhn quite well. And so I had that connection to him. So I went up to Harvard to work with him on his research and you know, kind of a team, a wonderful team with a lot of camaraderie at the center for moral development at Harvard. So that was about eight years, I think I did that.
Amber Cazzell: 00:03:10 How how long before that had Lawrence Kohlberg kind of published his theory of moral development that had been some years before he was on your committee, right?
Anne Colby: 00:03:25 Yes. He was already a very well known. I mean he, his own research in the field of moral development started when he was a graduate student and he did his dissertation on it. And then continued to follow up. It was unfortunately all boys, but continued to follow up net sample for many years. And so Kohlberg was a huge influence on me. And I was, it was also a big influence on me to be part of this real community that he built there at Harvard for people interested in this, that included people who work there and graduate students and graduate students in other departments. And it was, it was quite remarkable and all pretty much really, a lot of those people are still in touch now and they're in their late sixties or seventies.
Amber Cazzell: 00:04:18 Wow. That's pretty remarkable. Yeah. Well a team like that together. Yeah. Wow. And so Lawrence Kohlberg, I mean, he was clearly a pivotal figure in the scholarship of morality. And when I talked to people about working, when I talk to people about Lawrence Kohlberg's work now, everybody said, Oh, well I have this critique of him and this was clearly wrong because of X, Y, or Z. But at the time, surely he was widely accepted as ha as being onto something. Right. so could you, I guess tell me a bit more accurately what it was like to be involved in collaborations with him and what the thinking at the time was as far as the role of moral reasoning in moral actions or behaviors or character development?
Anne Colby: 00:05:06 Yeah, yeah. I mean, he, he I think the, some of the core contributions of his work are still absolutely as valid as they ever were. And the primary thing that he brought to the study of morality was that he took seriously how people thought about moral issues, that he thought that people trying to make sense of these issues, thinking about them, trying to understand them better starting as children, trying to understand what does it mean for somebody to be fair or why is it important to be kind or what does that mean?
Anne Colby: 00:05:53 It's that kind of thinking and it's increasing. Maturity as people develop was really important in helping to ground and drive and influence their themselves as a moral being in various kinds of ways. And it was very different from, so psychoanalytic theory had been pretty common before that. And in psychoanalytic theory you're kind of driven by things that you're not even aware of yourself. And of course social psychologists agree with that in a very different way, which is that you're driven by things you aren't aware of, but there are things in the contingencies of the situation. So I think both the very, you know, the contemporary versions of morality that had to do with situations driving the whole thing and the whole other side of it in a sense, you could say personality research, which I would put in some ways psychoanalytic theory and that people being driven by unconscious impulses and irrational factors and so on.
Anne Colby: 00:07:12 In some ways, both of those fail to grant agency to the person and to say, you know, you've got to take seriously what people are trying to accomplish in their morality. And they actually do have agency. That doesn't mean they're not subject to feelings that they don't understand or situational contingencies and stuff. But it's not only that and people have the capacity to take more agency. The more they become aware of factors that they don't really believe in, that maybe they do sometimes influence their judgment but shouldn't. And so he, he was much more respectful of people in that sense than any other theory was at the time. He took even children's thinking seriously in its own terms and that had never been done before. And that to me is still his legacy because even now there's plenty of popular theories that don't take individuals and they're understanding their thinking and their moral agency seriously.
Anne Colby: 00:08:27 And so that's why I think that, that his theory is, is, is not in any way, shape or form obsolete. I think the particular stages that he identified and described and that I worked with him on, I think they're still accurate descriptions of, of an aspect of morality. I think a lot of us have come to believe pretty much everybody I think is that that's one dimension. That's one element and it, it, you need to understand it in the context of a much more complicated picture of what's important to people's moral psychology. So I don't think that that dimension has been shown to be false, but I think it's shown to be more partial than he was aware. It was partial, but he thought it was the most important aspect. And so I just think you know, it's become, there's become a greater emphasis on, on put placing it in a larger context.
Amber Cazzell: 00:09:35 Um, and so it sounds like you're thinking that moral reasoning leaves more room for the role of agency than some of these intuitive models or theories either by like psychoanalytics or more of the social Intuitionist model that's more popular.
Anne Colby: 00:09:51 Yeah.
Amber Cazzell: 00:09:52 Okay. And so during that time that you were working with him, was that how you were thinking about it as well? Were you thinking about his theory in terms of being more agentic than psychoanalytic theory or how was it that you became interested in moral reasoning in particular?
Anne Colby: 00:10:13 Well, I think he was also one of the few people who was willing to go out on a limb and say there are better and worse forms of moral functioning. And he, he was very, very interested in moral philosophy. He had everyone who worked at his lab reading moral philosophy. There was a very, very major figure in the history of moral philosophy working at the same time at Harvard, John Rawls. And Larry was quite influenced by Rawl's work as well. Who wrote a theory of justice, his most famous book. And I think Larry was willing to say to make what people call normative claims. So he would say we need to define stages of development in which the later stages are actually better ways of thinking about morality then the lower stages. And what kind of claim is that?
Anne Colby: 00:11:21 You know, basically that's a philosophical claim and he knew that I think most other forms of moral psychology at the time and probably even now tend to be pretty relativistic. So people are, don't really want to go out on a limb and say, this is actually better or more highly functional than this. And I felt like, for my purposes, I was trying to say, the way that people think about moral issues is not adequate. It's not good enough. And that's why the country and individuals and stuff get into so much trouble and some ways of thinking about it are better they're underpinnings for functioning morally. And I still believe that. And I think that was a big part of the appeal of it for me because I wanted to be able to say that's, that's why this country's in the shape it's in, because you know, people aren't thinking clearly about moral issues. I sadly, I wish I could say it's improved a lot since then. I'm not sure it has, but
Amber Cazzell: 00:12:36 That's another whole top. It's interesting cause this, the, the issue of normative versus relativistic ethics has come up a lot in this podcast series way more than I anticipated that it would. And almost everyone that I've spoken with has come out on the side of normativity. Which also surprised me, but except with the exception being folks with the moral foundations theory saying, well, this is a, this is don't commit the naturalistic fallacy. This is descriptive, not normative. And I guess I, I have naively as a, as a young scholar not realized that this normative versus descriptive debate has been going on for a long time. I kind of thought that the relativistic theories were more recent, but it sounds like they have a much further history than I realized. Yeah. So that's just really cool. I didn't realize that. So what are some of the other theories that were more descriptive? It would you consider a psychoanalytic theory to have been descriptive as well?
Anne Colby: 00:13:48 I'm not a fan of psychoanalytic theory. I think it was not even very good descriptive, but I don't probably want to irritate people that much, but it, the truth is I don't think, I think that's a theory that has not held up very well under scrutiny. And it's, it's, it has some pernicious impact I think to to use it as a way of understanding people. So yeah, I, I think I was less, you know, when I got, when I first got into moral psychology, I got right into Kohlberg. So I think I was probably less influenced by any of the other mean he critiqued, he critiqued basically social psychology research on things like honesty, behavior and that sort of thing. I think he missed the boat on virtues. Now I think everyone's become much more interested in virtues and the importance of virtues and how do you understand them in moral psychology as well as philosophy. And that's something that I think because he was, he attributed the way he thought about virtues was more either you know, kind of personality psychology where a social psychology way he didn't, it wasn't convinced by either of those.
Anne Colby: 00:15:35 And he kind of threw out, in my view, the baby with the bath by suggesting that virtues aren't at all the right approach to thinking about moral psychology.
Amber Cazzell: 00:15:45 I didn't realize that he had suggested that like in was that part and parcel with his theory or a whole separate endeavor that he,
Anne Colby: 00:15:53 Oh, he had this disparaging term, a bag of virtues. So he would say it's a bag of virtues approach by Richie meant people could list off. And of course, you know, it's a huge undertaking even to say, well what are the virtues are how many virtues and so on. But there was this famous research at the time by these people, Hartshorne and May, which took children in an experimental situations and basically showed that virtues like honesty, they mostly the work, I'm familiar with them, there was, this was about honesty and cheating.
Anne Colby: 00:16:32 So it was easy experimental situations with cheating, which showed that people weren't very consistent in different situations with different kinds of situational contingencies and you know, temptations and so on that people did not have this kind of stable personality quality of being either honest or not honest. That. And so I think so his critique would be, you know, there, if you try to say the virtues are where it's at and it's all we need to know is how much somebody is virtuous on certain virtues that are considered important. You're not going to get anywhere because people aren't consistent in that regard. So the more important thing is how do they think about morality and that'll get you more traction. I think that's what he was thinking, but I think there's been a lot more research on virtues and the question of consistency in virtue is treated in a much more complex and sophisticated way now than it was then. And I think, uh, yeah, I think that was a sort of a blind alley. He went down to dump the whole virtues approach.
Amber Cazzell: 00:17:43 So returning back to your comments about how you were attracted to sort of the normativity of Kohlberg's work is it, is that normativity what led your interest into moral excellence as well?
Anne Colby: 00:18:07 Yes. I, I was the idea that, you know, if you're gonna claim that some some approaches to moral life are better than others, you better at least be able to describe the ones that you think are good. Yeah. and so that's, that's how we got started on the work that led to Some Do Care our studies of moral exemplars. But bill probably mentioned when you talked to him that there was a whole first phase to that and we didn't just pick people that we liked. It because of the normativity issue, it had to be more than our personal opinion. So we really spent pretty much a whole year interviewing philosophers and theologians and experts on, on morality to figure out what does that even mean and how would you even choose people that represent high levels of morality and moral commitment.
Amber Cazzell: 00:19:14 So what was your takeaway from that year long process? Did anything surprise you about how you go about identifying an exemplar?
Anne Colby: 00:19:26 Well we tried to pick people from all different political
perspectives and different religious perspectives, including none. And we were able to find some core commonalities across them, which we tried to then pull out and use. I think, what people often lose sight of in this is that we weren't trying to use these criteria to make judgements in gray areas. And so people often say, well, you know, how would you deal with this person or that person? We weren't trying to do that. We were trying to get some cases that pretty much most people would agree are highly morally committed and so on. I think it's, it's interesting how hard that is in a way and how, I'm not sure, I'm not sure even doing that you can always get it right. People are very complicated and it's, it is hard to reduce them to sort of one dimension. And even the people that we ended up calling moral exemplars weren't perfect by any stretch and could have been subject to quite a bit of criticism. So I think it's all pretty complicated and you can't sum up a person very easily.
Anne Colby: 00:20:57 So, I guess I would, that would be my sort of caveat on the whole thing. Even though in a way we were trying to do that a just so we could select some people to study.
Amber Cazzell: 00:21:06 Yeah. Was there any exemplar that you were particularly surprised by or fascinated with as you did these studies?
Anne Colby: 00:21:18 Um I dunno. I think they were all fascinating. They're all, because Phil and I did the interviews ourselves. There weren't that many for that study where we did interviews, our later book power of ideals was with historical exemplars and we did not interview those people. Of course they weren't living. And I think every single one was just very inspiring. And you know, that can be intimidating I think for a lot of people. And there's been some research on that. Our former student did some research on whether these sort of very high level exemplars are the most compelling to people or not.
Anne Colby: 00:22:14 But yeah, they were, they were, they were all really impressive. And I think one thing I I came away with was the processes that we described by which they developed and the qualities that they had in common. You could quite easily apply that. You know, you could see a movie, for example, Schindler's List. Schindler in the movie is just a textbook example of going through the same process that we call transformation of goals through social influence and the characteristics that he ended up with and his commitment and all that. So to me that's, that's kind of a good validation of it that you can kind of just go out in the world and read about people or see a movie about them or meet them and you can see how it applies. You know, you hear the same things over and over.
Amber Cazzell: 00:23:18 Yeah. So now this research on moral excellence with string to take off around the same time that you were working at the Carnegie foundation, right?
Anne Colby: 00:23:26 No I was at, I stayed at Harvard, but I left Larry Kohlberg's lab after about eight years and became the director of a social science research center there. That was also based in Harvard. Yeah, red cliff college, which was part of Harvard in a complicated way that I won't get into. But so that was a a research center that was interdisciplinary and w w it was subtitled a center for the study of live, so it was specially interested in studying lives over time and human development, different aspects of human development and stuff. So because that was pretty much an administrative, you know, research administration raising money, developing projects supporting the center. I didn't, I wasn't doing as much research at the time, so that's why we developed this research study with a relatively small sample that led to some do care that I, I was able to keep my research going during that job, which I held for quite a long time, maybe like 18 years.
Amber Cazzell: 00:24:38 Okay. Wow. That is a long time. Yeah. And then after that you went to the Carnegie foundation.
Anne Colby: 00:24:44 Yep. We moved to California and I left the Murray Research Center and got a job as a senior scholar at the Carnegie foundation for the advancement of teaching, which was another amazing, incredible experience of an intellectual community working together on things that were important important to them.
Amber Cazzell: 00:25:07 Yeah. So can you tell me a little bit about the foundation in general? What is sort of their vision or aim? What are they about?
Anne Colby: 00:25:13 It's a little bit over a hundred years old a hundred plus started by Andrew Carnegie. It really is about it, it, it's history has focused mostly on higher educational law. It's done some work in K-12 education. But the real mission is about teaching and learning, quality teaching and learning and supporting that wherever it is and supporting teachers was started it, started the TIAA craft.
Anne Colby: 00:25:53 It was which is a famous you know, sort of the pension fund for teachers and faculty and so on. So it's been highly influential foundation. So when I was there, I basically was working on moral and civic development in higher education. Did a couple of projects on that, that each one led to a book and then about professional education. What does it mean to educate people to be a highly ethical, highly effective professionals in various fields? And what are some of the limitations of current professional education? How can those be improved?
Amber Cazzell: 00:26:39 So I'll ask, it seems like it was very much an applied approach to ethics in higher education.
Anne Colby: 00:26:45 Yes. And the books that we did were very intentionally written for an audience of faculty and administrators in higher education in order to have a real impact. And in fact, those books and some of the team members that I worked with there were very, very good at dissemination and implementation such that the books were able to have a really very major impact on the fields that they were intended to address.
Amber Cazzell: 00:27:19 That's wonderful. So what were, like, which one of the, you did I think like five bucks, five bucks. What, what one of those books was sort of the most impactful and what transformation did you see happen before and after the book's publication?
Anne Colby: 00:27:42 Well, they, they, different ones had impact in different fields and ways. But the one probably most relevant is the book that I did with my colleague Tom Erlish, several other colleagues there and that was called educating citizens. It was about moral and civic education at the college level. And we took some different kinds of higher education institution, tried to cover a range and describe the, the ways that we, we chose, even though they were quite different from each other, they were all committed to some version of moral and civic education for their students. And so we tried to describe what they were doing and we tried to do it in a way that would be really helpful for other institutions that wanted to strengthen their approach to those issues. And that book. Fortunately that work got adopted by in, in an organization called the American Association of State Colleges and Universities as a sort of the central text for a national program that they were doing on moral and civic education which was called the American democracy project.
Anne Colby: 00:29:02 And so that project really took off nationally. And of course, many more students go to state colleges and universities in this country then go to private universities, even though some of us lose sight of that and so that was really a high impact and that that program is still actually going on. And that through that program, faculty at lots of different universities came together and developed curriculum and implementation plans. And were supported by the wonderful leadership of of the ASCU America State Colleges and Universities to strengthen their universities approach so that that one really had a lot of impact. Tom was very instrumental. Tom Erlish was very instrumental in seeing that the work was used and used well. And he's still he's still working on fundraising for that kind of work. And helping to implement it.
Amber Cazzell: 00:30:09 And so on. A very committed person. So what were the institutions that were doing a good job of like civic education? What were they doing differently?
Anne Colby: 00:30:19 Well they, they all developed campus cultures that were very much made brought into the everyday consciousness of students the moral and civic issues and values and commitments of the institution and, and so on. And so we described what are the elements of a culture. They could be things like even physical characteristics of the campus that brought attention to, to values and commitments. So one example that I like is one of the schools that we looked at was a native American college in North North Dakota. And may of the buildings on their campus were designed around Indian sort of traditional Indian values and sort of even the physical design of the campus brought to, you know, brought to the focus of students, those values.
Anne Colby: 00:31:35 And then various things were built into that. Similarly, we, we did a community college in Hawaii that built on the native Hawaiian values in lots of different ways around the campus, not just the physical campus but rituals that they had as part of the school life there and various curricular elements and lots of different things that, that they drew on their, the best of their native culture to bring that in. So another thing was kind of stories and ideas that were central to the campus and that everyone knew that was part of the culture. So there was a women Catholic women's college and Saint Paul, Minnesota where the young woman took everyone took the same course when they came in and the same course in their senior year. And that really established the expectations that they develop their values and their purpose and so on in college and make commitments.
Anne Colby: 00:32:41 And they had a story about the founding nuns and sort of in a sense their courage and standing up to the sort of male, a hierarchy of the church and, and the, the challenges in the local community to establishing this women's college and their, you know, their courage and their commitment and so on of these nuns and everybody, everybody knew that founding story. So that's another thing, you know, founding stories, that type of thing.
Amber Cazzell: 00:33:11 Yeah. Yeah. So what about some of your other projects with the Carnegie foundation? The, I think was the business book, the, the last book that you published with them?
Anne Colby: 00:33:26 Yeah.
Amber Cazzell: 00:33:26 And what were, what was the aim of that book?
Anne Colby: 00:33:29 Well, that book was basically about liberal education and it was based on our recognition that the great majority of students have college students in the United States, major in professional fields occupational vocational fields.
Anne Colby: 00:33:51 And that that's a trend and that it's a growing, you know, kind of growing thing. And not as many were majoring in arts and sciences disciplines. And we wanted to ask what is lost by that? What is it that the liberal arts brings to students in a transformative way during their higher education that is at risk when students are focused on a vocational major. And then most importantly, how can vocational education, the college level integrate? What's the, the key features of liberal education so that those students don't miss out? Because we did not feel it was useful to just rail against it and say, you know, you shouldn't major in businesses and undergraduate people are doing it. It's the biggest major in the country. So the question is how, what is it that they need to learn modes of thinking, not just content areas, but modes of thinking and relating to the world that they could miss out on unless the program is explicit in bringing this in.
Anne Colby: 00:35:06 And I won't go into what all those are, but one of them that I think is especially relevant is what we called the reflective exploration of self, which is very close to something you might call purpose. Which we've been working on now. Which is thinking about in a very kind of explicit way in the context of courses, what does this course, what is what I'm learning in this course mean for me in my life and my commitments and my direction in life and the meaning that I'm looking for in my life. And to be more explicit about that because it's rare in a way that of course, even philosophy courses don't, they're analytic usually they don't ask the question of what does this really mean to me or my own commitments? And then of course, we are interested in, you know, professionalism in business and being being a an ethical and realizing the impact of what it means to be a leader in business and the crucial impact that that has on the world.
Anne Colby: 00:36:20 And taking that seriously as something that's your responsibility to, to do well. And so the professionalism of it, but that not just that, the whole larger issue of your life and what your commitments are and what your values are and what meaning you find in life and so on. So how exactly do you do that? And we talked about that and we took examples of places, sentence of courses and that we're doing that well and then tried to describe them and explain how to teach for that in the classroom so that other people using the book would know how to do it. And this is, this book has been the basis. My, one of my coauthors, Bill Sullivan has stayed very involved with that project over the years and has stayed very involved with the consortium of business schools that's been created out of it around the whole world. And so that's still ongoing, that consortium, which tries to do this type of work.
Amber Cazzell: 00:37:21 It seems to me that a lot of students enter college today just as the next step. Like this is just what you do culturally. You go to college after you're in high school. How common was it for classes or students individually to self reflect in that way?
Anne Colby: 00:37:42 Well, it's not very common in in coursework. Um I think it's, there's lots of places that you can be encouraged to that kind of reflection. I think it, it varies a lot. Based on, you know, the students, the, the nature of the institution they go to and so on. That's something I think we will be able to look at in our current study of the development purpose during college. But I guess I would say some, it's really variable but not enough. So that's why you're trying to promote all ways of doing that. More.
Amber Cazzell: 00:38:26 So in your process of working with the Carnegie foundation and doing this applied work, did you notice any big disconnects, the world of theory and ethics and its application in the real world? Not just in terms of it not being directly applied, but also like maybe a reflection on where theories work or don't actually work?
Anne Colby: 00:38:54 Philosophical theories, you mean?
Amber Cazzell: 00:38:56 Yeah.
Anne Colby: 00:38:57 Yeah. Well, you know, that came up in the first book on moron civic education generally, and what became clear in that book from the observation, we did observations of classrooms and interviews with faculty and students. And so on. It was that in the field of moral philosophy, as in most philosophy theories are taught as analytic frameworks. And that that's, that's sort of their job is to in a sense explain the data of the data being in a sense the things that people agree that's wrong. This is, this is right or wrong answer. And you know, there are different philosophical theories for in a sense, accounting, foreign predicting those those areas of consensus or, or dissent. And
Anne Colby: 00:40:03 Most teaching of moral philosophy. It basically you teach what are the theories of utilitarianism of various sorts, deontology virtue theory and so on. Yeah. And then critiques of the theories, what's wrong, how do these series collide with each other and critique each other and each claims to be better in certain ways than the others. And they're all problematic in a sense. And they also tend to do what I think some philosophers call quandary ethics. So their favorite thing is to pick impossible moral problems and try to figure them out from the point of view of a theory or not. And I guess the claim then would be that your theory is better able to address these quandaries in ways that are satisfying. This is not the best way to help students develop their moral thinking about life. Because most moral issues, people are that play a role in their lives are not quandaries in that way. And because,
Anne Colby: 00:41:25 You know, if you, your takeaway is I can see, describe these theories and I can tell you what's wrong with all of them. How does that help you make your own decisions? I'm not saying it isn't important to know that I think it is important. I think it teaches analytic thinking beautifully. Which is a crucial thing for people to be able to do, but it doesn't go far enough. And helping students really learn how to make moral decisions in their lives and for that we in, in a later book, well in that book we described some ways of teaching that are probably going to be more effective than that in moral philosophy. Then in the business book, which was the last one we did there we talked about practical reasoning, which is goes back to a Aristotelian concept of PI day and tried to say how can education this case business education but also higher education in general helps students develop sound wise, practical reasoning.
Anne Colby: 00:42:44 And so that's what we mean by that is how can they, they've been, they've been in college for a while, let's say they've learned a lot of stuff, but are they going to be well prepared to draw on what they've learned to really use it and drawn it in a wise way that they're in a complicated situation with a lot of uncertainty and, and so on, in any profession that will come up all the time. How do you use what you've learned and the thinking capacities you can come up with to, to be able to consistently make wise well-grounded decisions since situations like that. So that, that's where we ended up. And then we have a number of examples of efforts to teach for that and what they look like. And you know what faculty can do if they want to try to foster that capacity.
Amber Cazzell: 00:43:45 And that's in the business book?
Anne Colby: 00:43:47 That one we develop the most in the business book. Okay. Okay. We called it practical read practical reasoning or practical wisdom.
Amber Cazzell: 00:43:55 So just as a teaser for people who are listening and too might want to go and read that book in full. Some of the listeners are teachers of moral development courses on some might be teachers of ethics courses, just pure ethics courses. I'm not sure. What would be your short kind of teaser recommendations for the listeners that they can follow up with in your business book?
Anne Colby: 00:44:24 Well, I think two aspects of what we say you, you can get from from the best versions of liberal arts. I mentioned the first one was reflective exploration of self. And the second one is practical reasoning or practical wisdom. And philosophy. We, we've observed a philosophy course at a very elite university called The Good Life. And I think that sounds like it's going to be helpful to you personally as a student developing. Right. But it was actually analytic philosophy, pure and simple drawing on writing about specific substantive issues like animal rights or whatever kind of relevant issues, but taking a strictly analytic philosophy approach to it. And that was a very revealing observation of how you could and of course that you would think would be very amenable to this. You can avoid it if you, if you're not careful. So instead, well, let me just say my general attitude toward how do you help students develop a certain thing is always the same answer, which is what is that thing you're trying to get them to develop?
Anne Colby: 00:45:53 What does it exactly try to describe it as thoroughly, concretely and objectively as you can. Then how do you convey what that is to students in terms of what is this anyway and then how do you give them practice in doing it? Sometimes it's so complicated you have to give them practice in parts of doing it and then putting them together and then how do they get informative feedback on that practice such that they can move closer and closer to becoming an expert in that skill or capacity, whatever it is. And this is basically the expertise model. If you study the development of expertise in any, you know, chess has been a famous example. This is, people write about the development of expertise. This is what you have to do. You have to make it clear what it is you're trying to become an expert in. Exactly. Practice it, get feedback, practice it again, get more feedback and so on. So anything you're thinking about, like the capacity to make wise decisions in complicated, multifaceted contexts. You've got to practice doing that and you got to understand what constitutes expertise in that particular area. So that, that's basically the bottom line for all of it.
Amber Cazzell: 00:47:20 Yeah. So what are your thoughts about like service learning models? Is that kind of in conjunction? Like, if you're as an ethics professor wanting to teach your students or, or cost, what's the right word, position them towards wanting to be empathic or giving, then you would assign service learning kind of assignments?
Anne Colby: 00:47:46 You could, that would be one word. That would be one approach. Service learning is this well known for being effective under particular circumstances and only then, so it's a question of quality. And so service learning, it has to actually be integrated into the rest of the learning in the class. It has to be experiences that are really well suited to the kind of learning that you want people to get out of it. They have to, there have to be well-developed strategies for helping them reflect systematically on what they've learned. And to kind of put it into practice beyond that. So there's a lot to service learning. It's not just, okay, have them do this volunteer work connected with the class. But I, I do think that's that's a pedagogy that can be very effective if it's done. If it's done well. Yeah.
Amber Cazzell: 00:48:59 And so the self reflection piece, you had mentioned that was somewhat related to purpose. Is that, is that self reflection finding what drove your interest in purpose or was that kind of coincidental?
Anne Colby: 00:49:15 I think it was coincidental. I mean, I think purpose in a way. Bill and I didn't use the purpose concept when we wrote about these morally committed people. But now that we're, we've, we've been working with that con construct more and of course Bill's been much more of a leader in us than I have. It, it's obvious looking back that those are highly purposeful people and that wasn't the way we talked about them at the time, but it's very clear that they are. And so and I had done research previously on the, the meaning of paid work to people. That was a, just a sort of separate study that I did when I was still at Harvard. And we separated out what kind of personal meaning does work have for people versus we called it social responsibility, meaning and the elements of that and what difference that made.
Anne Colby: 00:50:26 And so on. And now I can see that that was the study of purpose in work where some people, they all found their work meaningful. But for some it was meaningful in a self oriented way and for some it was meaningful in a beyond the self way. And so I guess I would say that my research on purpose had gone back pretty far before Bill wrote Path to Purpose or anything. But I hadn't thought to use that term. And I think he's the one who really got that whole construct made explicit and you know, that was a huge contribution and now people are able to work with it directly. So. Yeah.
Amber Cazzell: 00:51:16 And then your most recent projects with purpose there's the Mellon project, I know that's in development looking at purpose in high liberal arts education, how liberal arts education develops purpose. But you've also recently finished or are finishing up the Encore project. What is the Encore project?
Anne Colby: 00:51:38 Well, that, that we did finish that was a study I should just say as background to this. I'm a lifespan developmental psychology psychologist and I, I, my commitment to that is based on the idea that a phenomenon looked out across different stages of life. Like moral understanding or purpose is for many questions, not all, is a better way of approaching development than by focusing on a time period like adolescence or early childhood or old age. I think there's a very important place for research that focuses on those eras in life per se. But that was never my interest. And so I wanted to look at a particular phenomenon and how it developed over time. So that's background to say on the purpose idea.
Anne Colby: 00:52:52 Nobody had really studied purpose in older people, people between, in a sense beyond mid life. And this organization that Bill and I are both huge fans of, which is called encore.org which was founded by a very wonderful man, no moral exemplar himself, Mark Friedman. We had always wanted to do something together with them. That's an organization that tries to tell older people who are beyond midlife. You're not done yet. You still have a lot to contribute in the world. You can make a huge difference on the things that you care about and that's a great way to spend your time and energy. Not just after retirement, but certainly including during retirement, but also, you know, when you're working and so on. And so because of that in collaboration, a wonderful collaboration with this, this nonprofit encore.org, we did a study, a national us study of purpose in older people and that was very fascinating.
Anne Colby: 00:54:06 We did surveys and we did interviews on a sub-sample of over a hundred people. And we did the interviews. I did a lot of those interviews myself telephone interviews. And it was just remarkable to talk to these people from all different backgrounds, including people who are very, very poor and were living in, you know, rural South and you know, broken down trailer who were highly purposeful and were doing things a whole range of different kinds of things that were meaningful to them that they were really committed to. And so we found that a big minority of older people are highly purposeful, not the majority. But there is a continuum there. And I think the majority are concerned about contributing and what they have to contribute. They just haven't quite gone the whole way to being committed, you know, find something that really committed to and acting on.
Anne Colby: 00:55:17 The people like with purpose at other stages that people who are purposeful benefit tremendously themselves psychologically from it. And of course they are, they're benefit, they benefit the world because of what they're doing.
Amber Cazzell: 00:55:33 So with that project, trying to get an idea of the scope of the degree of purpose that people post midlife have. And then did you look at like types of purposes like patterns and what older people tend to commit themselves to?
Anne Colby: 00:55:52 Well it was an effort to look at the prevalence. Yeah. It, we had a national sample, a survey sample of about 1200 people. And you know, prevalence is always a hard thing to be precise about. But yeah, we, we found that about 30, 31% of the older adults in our study were purposeful. We also just want to describe it like, what does this really look like? What are the themes that we're seeing in the interviews and how do people get into it and what, what are they, what's the range of topics and so on. And basically the range of topics is everything you can think of.
Amber Cazzell: 00:56:36 Okay. And how does that compare with purpose and other stages of the life? Like as you were saying, it's important to look at a broad brush kind of panoramic. Is purpose that that 31% that seems higher than other life stages.
Anne Colby: 00:56:58 Yeah. And it's, it's a little bit tricky to compare, you know, if the methods weren't, if the, if, if the different cohorts weren't part of the same study selected in the same way and so on. So I, I'd be a little bit careful about that. But I do think it's higher than, I mean, it's certainly higher than youth samples. I think the younger adults samples I've seen have been in the 20s. So I do think probably because it can take a while to develop these kinds of life commitments. I, I do think it's, it's, it's a bit higher, which is really nice. It's good news because I think, you know, there's a lot of ageism, age discrimination these days and I think there is an image of older people as kind of dropping out and just enjoying their leisure time, traveling, you know, various things they may be interested in doing, you know, spending time with their grandchildren, which is all good and wonderful things to do.
Anne Colby: 00:58:00 But the idea that there's still a lot of them are still wanting to contribute something important to the world. I think that's gotten lost in the stereotypes. And so it's really important for us to see that. But you know, we're doing this study currently of college students. I, I can't say I personally sure that you should have your life purpose sorted out in college. I think some of the building blocks, and I have written one paper on this already for that study though it doesn't report the findings and sort of more the intellectual background to the study. I think people in college need to start putting the building blocks and capacities in place and if they are committed to contributing, that's great. And if they, they find something that serves as a purposeful commitment for them, that's, that's wonderful. And probably as they move on from college in the first several years from that, it's important that they really, I mean, it's a very beneficial to them if they can organize their lives around purpose in some ways. But I'm cautious about saying people have to have that sorted out or it's sorted out in a way that won't change later at a young age. I, I think it does change over time, especially with the focus of it, the content of it.
Amber Cazzell: 00:59:42 Yeah. I think that people can have anxiety about wanting purpose when they don't have clear cut purpose, especially for a younger adolescent, you know, for, for college students. I think that that's hard. And even just the pressure, I remember being an undergrad and having friends and we're approaching the deadline where you have to declare your major and it becomes this big existential crisis of not knowing what to do.
Anne Colby: 01:00:13 Yeah, yeah. Well I think people can relax a little bit. I mean, it's not set in stone. People can change and change their focus and draw on many majors to do many different things in life. And yeah. So,
Amber Cazzell: 01:00:31 So just I want to ask you one last question that's, I guess maybe a little bit personal, but looking back on your career, you've done so many amazing things. You've been involved in a lot. What have you personally found to be the most meaningful work that you've immersed yourself in?
Anne Colby: 01:00:52 Well I would say basically the whole field and having, having gotten into this that age, well I'd say 20, my early twenties, and this is 50 years later. Now I'm staying in the same field. Not because I thought it's a good idea to stay in the same field, but just because the field was forever changing and new and wonderful things to be involved with in it. I feel very lucky with that because it's ended up that I am now after all this time, part of a quite large international community of people who know each other who read each other's work, who get together fairly often. And I feel like we really do constitute a community. And these people are all, are all literally all over the world. And so, so that to me has been the most satisfying thing is to be in a field where you can, you can see the evolution of the field. You can see the evolution of different ideas and topics within the field that you build relationships with people and you maintain those relationships over time. And that, that I extremely lucky that I, I blundered into that in early age and it's been, it's been really great. Yeah.
Amber Cazzell: 01:02:26 That is so cool. Yeah. And it sounds like you were able to get into those two research labs that had such a constructive working relationship in them in the first place. Was that, do you think by luck or were you, was there an indicator that you are going to be entering the lab that had those good relationships? Like would you give anybody advice based on your experience?
Anne Colby: 01:02:49 No, no. My advice is don't try this at home. I think it was luck. Yeah. I just, I just was very, very lucky. I never had a tenure track teaching job. I never had in a sense, longterm plan or a longterm job security. But I just ended up, it went really, really well. So it's, it's hard to advise others to do it.
Amber Cazzell: 01:03:20 Well, thank you so much Anne.
Anne Colby: 01:03:22 Yeah, thank you. I'm glad you're doing this. It's great.