Moral behavior remains an unpredictable puzzle for psychological researchers; however, some success has been achieved recently by taking individuals' personal moral philosophies into consideration. Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1980, Forsyth argued that individual variations in approaches to moral judgment and behavior may be conceptualized in terms of two basic dimensions: relativism and idealism. First, while some personal moral codes emphasize the importance of universal ethical rules like "Thou shalt not lie," others maintain a posture of relativism that skeptically rejects universal principles. Second, while a fundamental concern for the welfare of others lies at the heart of some individuals' moral codes, others' codes do not emphasize such humanitarian ideals. Individuals following the former code assume that we should avoid harming others, while the latter assume harm will sometimes be necessary to produce good.

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Copyright © 1984 Virginia Commonwealth University. This article first appeared in Research in Action 8:3 (1984), 3-6.