Intellectual and Ethical Development

This page will review the following theories:

  • Perry’s Theory of Intellectual and Ethical Development
  • Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, and Tarule’s Women’s Way of Knowing

Perry’s scheme (1968)

  • The Perry scheme is a model for understanding how college students “come to know, the theories and beliefs they hold about knowing, and the manner in which such epistemological premises are a part of and an influence on the cognitive processes of thinking and reasoning.”
  • Fundamental to the Perry scheme is a student’s nine-stage progression from dualist to relativist epistemologies. Learners move from viewing truth in absolute terms of Right and Wrong (obtained from “Good” or “Bad” Authorities) to recognizing multiple, conflicting versions of “truth” representing legitimate alternatives.


    Summary of stage Basic Example
    Basic Duality: The authorities know e.g. “the tutor knows what is right and wrong”
    Full Dualism: The true authorities are right, the others are frauds e.g “my tutor doesn’t know what is right and wrong but others do”
    Early Multiplicity: There are some uncertainties and the authorities are working on them to find the truth e.g “my tutors don’t know, but somebody out there is trying to find out”
    Late Multiplcity: (a)Everyone has right to their own opinion
    (b) The authorities don’t want the right answers. They want us to think in certain way
    e.g “different tutors think different things”
    e.g “there is an answer that the tutors want and we have to find it”
    Contextual Relativism: Everything is relative but not equally valid e.g “there are no right and wrong answers, it depends on the situation, but some answers might be better than others”
    “Pre-Commitment:” You have to make your own decisions e.g “what is important is not what the tutor thinks but what I think”
    Commitment: First commitment e.g “for this particular topic I think that….”
    Challenges to Commitment: Several Commitments e.g “for these topics I think that….”
    “Post-Commitment:”Believe own values, respect others, be ready to learn e.g “I know what I believe in and what I think is valid, others may think differently and I’m prepared to reconsider my views”

    Perry, William G., Jr. (1981), “Cognitive and Ethical Growth: The Making of Meaning”, in Arthur W. Chickering and Associates, The Modern American College (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass): 76-116.
    Drew S and Bingham R. The Student Skills Guide: Second Edition pp 282 -283.

    Belenky et al. Women’s Ways of Knowing(1986)

    • Belenky et al created a theory of the process of cognitive development in women as five knowledge positions (or perspectives) through which women view themselves and their relationship to knowledge.


    • Silence
      • Silence is the name given to the first epistemological position, and describes women who felt disconnected from knowledge, the sources of knowledge and their relationship to knowledge (West 2004, Love and Guthrie 1999, Belenky et al. 1986). Women describing this position were notable for their extreme sense of isolation and fear of authorities, their fragile sense of self, and feelings of being “deaf and dumb.”
    • Received Knowledge: Listening to the voices of others
      • Received knowledge describes the epistemological position in which women in the study perceived knowledge as a set of absolute truths received from infallible authorities. The process of learning, as understood by received knowers, involves receiving and repeating the knowledge and words of authorities. Women characterizing this position lacked confidence in their own ability to speak and generally defined themselves externally, usually in relation to social norms, gender roles and expectations of others, i.e., cultural ideals of women as set forth by external authorities.
    • Subjective Knowledge: The inner voice
      • Subjective knowledge is characterized by the recognition of the self as an authority. Subjective knowers rely on their own subjective thoughts, feelings and experiences for knowledge and truth – the “infallible gut” as Belenky et al refer to it. Women with this perspective at some point experienced the development of a “protesting inner voice” (Love and Guthrie 1999), which allowed them to make their own claims to truth and knowledge. Along with the nascent discovery of the inner voice, subjective knowers showed a general distrust of analysis and logical reasoning (Love and Guthrie 1999) and did not see value in considering the weight of evidence in evaluating knowledge. Instead, they considered knowledge and truth to be inherently personal and subjective, to be experienced rather than intellectualized.
    • Procedural Knowledge: Separate and connected knowing
      • Procedural knowledge reflects the recognition that multiple sources of knowledge exist, and that procedures are necessary for evaluating the relative merit of these sources. Procedural knowers focus on methods and techniques for evaluating the accuracy of external truth and the relative worth of authority. The transition to procedural knowledge was experienced by many women in the study as a regression or crisis of confidence initially, as the inner voice of subjective knowing became critical both of external authorities and internal subjective knowledge (Love and Guthrie, 1999). However, what followed was the recognition that insights and information outside of personal experience could have bearing on knowledge. Procedural knowers sought to understand authorities, focusing on reasoned reflection rather than absolutism (Love and Guthrie, 1999) and the use of context-specific procedures to evaluate information that could be interpreted in multiple ways (West, 2004).
    • Constructed Knowledge: Integrating the voices
      • Constructed knowledge as a position is characterized by a recognition of the interrelatedness of knowledge, knowing and the knower (Love and Guthrie, 1999). Women with this perspective considered all knowledge as constructed, and understood that knowledge is inherently mutable, subject to time, experience, and context. They saw knowledge as “a constant process of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction” (Love and Guthrie 1999). Women in this position generally came to it after intense self-reflection. They were able to engage in what Belenky et al. (1968) refer to as “real talk”: the ability to listen, share and cooperate while maintaining one’s own voice undiminished.

    Belenky, M.F., B.M. Clinchy, N.R. Goldberger and J.M. Tarule. 1986. Women’s Ways of Knowing. Basic Books, NY.

    Love, Patrick G. and Victoria L. Guthrie. 1999. Women’s Ways of Knowing. New directions for student services (88): 17-27.

    Baxter Magolda’s Model of of Epistemological Reflection (1992)

    • Longitudinal study produced a stage model of an individual’s knowledge of life, limits, and conviction of knowledge
    • Identified six assumptions of the model:
      • Ways of knowing are socialized
      • Ways of knowing can be questioned without manipulation
      • Patterns of reasoning are flexible
      • Stories are situational
      • Ways of knowing are experience based and not generalized by storyteller
    • Four stages
      • Stage 1: Absolute Knowing
        • Knowledge is unchanging. Authorities, such as professors, are seen to have absolute knowledge
        • Patterns of receiving knowledge and mastering knowledge can be found in this stage
      • Stage 2: Transitional Knowing
        • Coming to terms with the uncertainty of reality and authorities are not all knowing.
        • Patterns of interpersonal knowing and impersonal knowing are present in this stage
      • Stage 3: Independent Knowing
        • An individual assumes all knowledge is uncertain and embraces opportunity to exploration of knowledge
        • Patters of interindividual and individual are present in this stage
      • Stage 4: Contextual Knowing
        • An individual constructs knowledge, but the knowledge is backed up by evidence

    King & Kitchener Reflective Judgment Model (1994)

    • Pre-Reflective Thinking (Stages 1, 2, and 3)
      • Stage 1
        • View of knowledge: Knowledge is assumed to exist absolutely and concretely; it is not understood as an abstraction. It can be obtained with certainty by direct observation.
      • Stage 2
        • View of knowledge: Knowledge is assumed to be absolutely certain or certain but not immediately available. Knowledge can be obtained directly through the senses (as in direct observation) or via authority figures.
      • Stage 3
        • View of knowledge: Knowledge is assumed to be absolutely certain or temporarily uncertain. In areas of temporary uncertainty, only personal beliefs can be known until absolute knowledge is obtained. In areas of absolute certainty, knowledge is obtained from authorities.
    • Quasi-Reflective Thinking (Stages 4 and 5)
      • Stage 4
        • View of knowledge: Knowledge is uncertain and knowledge claims are idiosyncratic to the individual since situational variables (such as incorrect reporting of data, data lost over time, or disparities in access to information) dictate that knowing always involves an element of ambiguity.
      • Stage 5
        • View of knowledge: Knowledge is contextual and subjective since it is filtered through a person’s perceptions and criteria for judgment. Only interpretations of evidence, events, or issues may be known.
    • Reflective Thinking (Stages 6 and 7)
      • Stage 6
        • View of knowledge: Knowledge is constructed into individual conclusions about ill-structured problems on the basis of information from a variety of sources. Interpretations that are based on evaluations of evidence across contexts and on the evaluated opinions of reputable others can be known.
      • Stage 7
        • View of knowledge: Knowledge is the outcome of a process of reasonable inquiry in which solutions to ill-structured problems are constructed. The adequacy of those solutions is evaluated in terms of what is most reasonable or probable according to the current evidence, and it is reevaluated when relevant new evidence, perspectives, or tools of inquiry become available.

    King, P.M. & Kitchener, K.S. (1994). Developing Reflective Judgment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pp. 14-16.

    This page was written and created by Andrew Mason. Please use the comment section below to ask questions, provide reflection, discussion and/or feedback. To contact directly about this page, please see Andrew Mason at

    2 Responses to Intellectual and Ethical Development

    1. Do you posit or consider any relation of these stages to the types of material taught at each level? For instance, do you say Magolda’s stages 1 and 2 or Perry’s 1 through 3 correspond to the movement from fundamental principles to a survey of the principles in each field in late high school or early college?

    2. Christine says:

      I used this page for a paper on young adult development, your basic examples were really helpful!

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