Leviathan: Current Tests are Mistaken and, When Stakes are High, Undermine Democracy

We ought to think about high stakes psychometric tests in a wider contexts than we usually do, namely (a) in the context of human functioning and (b) in the context of human rights and democracy. Then it will become apparent that we have to abandon current psychometric tests and look for alternatives.

(a) All tests which are based on classical test theory (CTT) and its off-springs (e.g., item-response-theory, Rasch-scaling) are mistaken. The hidden psychology of its statistics is at odds with our knowledge of psychological functioning underlying human behavior. These tests are built on a very questionable postulate which says: each and every human response (Y) to a test is determined only by one disposition (X), namely the competence or personality under consideration, except for some degree of random measurement error (e) which can be easily minimized by repeating measurements (Gulliksen 1950):
Y = X + e
Modern variations of classical test theory (Rasch scaling, Item Response Theory, etc.) follow the same logic, except that they deal with continuous dispositions (variables) instead of dichotomous variables.

Common sense as well as psychological research agree that a response to a test item is rarely, if ever, determined by a single disposition but mostly by several dispositions. Moreover, the mixture of determining dispositions is different from person to person. Hence a single response to an item is ambiguous and does not allow to make any valid inference on a particular disposition. If data falsify this believe they are mis-classified as “unreliable.”

Moreover, repeated measurement is mostly not possible with human subjects. Repeated questions have to be varied, and the more we vary the items/tasks of a test in order to reduce “error” or “unreliability,” the less valid a test becomes.

Better methodologies for psychological measurement exist. Egon Brunswik’s (1955) “diacritical method” gave an hint how to solve the problem. But he did not develop a workable methodology. In the 1970ties I used Brunswik’s hint to develop a new, multivariate experimentally designed measurement methodology, called Experimental Questionnaire (EQ). With EQs we can single out the disposition(s) determining an individual’s responses. EQs produce pattern of responses to orthogonally arranged pattern of tasks that let us analyze the degree to which the hypothesized internal factors are at work.

The Moral Competence Test (MCT), designed as an EQ, is in use in many countries since over 40 years. It has produced a great wealth of new findings which would not have been found with classical tests (Lind, 2016). Of course, such tests require much expertise and also much money, probably more money than the private test industry is able to provide. This seems to be a task for the public research facilities like our universities.

(b) High-stakes testing violates human rights and undermines democracy. The frequent evaluation – year by year, month by month, day by day, and sometimes even hour by hour – of students violates their basic rights and, indirectly, also of the rights of their teachers and parents. This inhumane practice has nothing to do with well reasoned and well designed assessments required before taking over a responsible position in our society. Neither has this practice anything to do with test-based studies concerning the efficacy of teaching methods and educational policy-making. Such kinds of test usage are too rare. We would get a much better education if we would select teaching methods and school policies on the basis of efficacy studies, instead of focusing exclusively on selecting students and teachers..

Frequent high-stakes testing is also a threat to democracy. It restricts students’ opportunities for practicing thinking and reflection. It leaves too little opportunity for the development of moral competence. It produces “subjects” not citizens of a democracy. As many decades of research into the development of moral competence shows, that the extreme proportion of time absorbed by the preparation for evaluations and other activities required by authorities prevents students from developing the ability to solve problems and conflicts through thinking and discussion instead of through violence, deceit and power.

Later, as adults, they will be unable to solve problems and conflicts through thinking and discussion, but will have to rely on violence and deceit. Citizens with a low moral competence require, as Thomas Hobbes has pointed out, a “strong state” and an dictator to keep violence, deception and power within bounds. In contrast, morally competent citizens do not need a “Leviathan” (Hobbes).


Gulliksen, H. (1950). Theory of mental tests. New York: Wiley.
Lind, G. (2016). How to Teach Morality. Promoting Deliberation and Discussion. Reducing Violence and Deceit. Berlin: Logos publisher.
Wilson, M. (2005). Constructing measures. An item response modeling approach. Mawah, NJ: Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Konstanz, Oct. 25, 2016


Dr. Georg Lind, Prof. em. of Psychology
Schottenstr. 65
78462 Konstanz, Germany
E-mail: Georg.Lind@uni-konstanz.de
Internet: http://www.uni-konstanz.de/ag-moral/

New Book: “How to Teach Morality:

“Promoting Deliberation and Discussion — Reducing Violence and Deceit.”

New Endorsements and reviews:

“An important book”.    Dr. Dr. Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, Professor at Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, Head of the Department of Mental Health and Addiction.

The significance of Lind’s book can hardly be overstated. It contributes both (a) to advancing psychological research world-wide and (b) to the application of psychology in the much neglected field of educational instruction, where psychological application is often confined to testing and counseling. The book has global significance because, as I already noted, it is based on universal moral ideals and principle. Moreover, Lind’s Moral Competence Test is culturally valid because it uses, as he outlines in his book, participants’ own moral orientations as standards for scoring instead of external, culturally specific standards.”   Dr. Shaogang Yang, Professor of Psychology, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, P. R. China.

“Lind’s mastery of the history and philosophy of morality and moral education is quite apparent, as he quotes voluminously from sources ranging from Socrates, Kant, and Spinoza to Piaget, Kohlberg, and Pinker. Fortunately, unlike many authors in his field who write dense prose seemingly designed to impress or intimidate non-expert readers, he writes of the complex issues bound up in morality in a beautifully clear and persuasive manner.”   Dr. Richard M. Felder, Hoechst Celanese Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at North Carolina State University. Co-author of “Teaching and Learning STEM: A Practical Guide” (Jossey-Bass, 2016)

“Congrats on your book!! You have made a wonderful contribution to the field, and for, importantly, society!!”     Paul R. Carr, Ph.D., Professeur Département des sciences de l’éducation Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO). Co-editor of “Democracy and decency. What does education have to do with it?”

“Dr. Lind’s experimental and educational approach to morality is unique worldwide.”     Dr. Ewa Nowak, Professor of Philosophy, University of Poznan, Poland. Author of “Experimental ethics.”

“Whoever is interested in the training of students, teachers and educators of all kinds will find appropriate information for primary, secondary and post-secondary education and beyond.”     Dr. Wilhelm Peterßen, Professor emeritus of Education, University of Education at Weingarten, Germany.

“Dr. Lind’s threefold combination of theory, practice, and empirical research might become the standard for pedagogical developments which do not only claim, but demonstrate hands-on, and show proof for effects.”     Dr. Sibylle Reinhardt, Professor emeritus of Social Studies, University of Halle, Germany. Author of “Teaching Civics.”

More endorsements and reviews.

The book

What is morality? How can it be measured? What is its nature and origin? And, most importantly, how can it be taught? These age-old yet still unanswered questions cannot be addressed, Lind argues, unless we develop a new science of moral behavior and education. Lind does just that in his book, invoking related contributions by eminent philosophers, psychologists and educators. The first part presents a new way of studying morality, and a great bulk of Lind’s own research and the work of other scholars which back it up.

The second part shows how to teach morality effectively and sustainably with Lind’s Konstanz Method of Dilemma Discussion (KMDD), which is used in all ages and cultures. On the basis of many years of practical international experience with the KMDD in different institutions of education, professional schools, armed forces, and prisons, Lind provides advice how educators can learn, implement and improve the method. Lind also presents the related Just Community method of democratic community building.

The author

Born shortly after World War II, in 1947, Dr. Georg Lind’s interest in morality goes back to his adolescence when he learned about the atrocities of the Nazi dictatorship: How can we prevent this from happening again? How can we develop morality, peace and democracy? This book contains his answer.

Lind was professor of psychology and researcher at the University of Konstanz, Germany. He was guest professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Universidad de Monterrey, and the Humboldt University at Berlin. He lectured in Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Mexico, Poland, Switzerland, and the United States.

Publication: July 2016, Logos Publisher, Berlin.


The Table of Contents and the Introduction to my book  is now available for download: “We must foster moral competence!”


Morality must be fostered, otherwise it does not develop enough

Millions of refugees, terror-states, call for violence and hate against foreigners in election campaigns, politicians with secrete accounts for tax evasion in Panama, managers who manipulate exhaust values, government which imprison independent journalists, religious regimes which punish dissenters, people who steal, deceive and hurt others ….

Findings of moral psychology show that violence, deceit and power signal a scarcity of moral-democratic competence. Many people apparently do not possess sufficient competence for solving the problems and conflicts which they face in an adequate, civil way.

The question should not be: What is the real cause of this scarcity — whether media,  parents, capitalism, religion, or whatever could be blamed?  Because the answer to this question doesn’t get us anywhere, besides nourishing ‘blame-games.’

The question should rather be: How can we counter this scarcity? How can we foster moral-democratic competence effectively and sustainably? We know today,

  • that all people have moral ideals, they want to be good,
  • that, in order to put these ideals to practice people have to develop moral-democratic competence,
  • that, indeed, this competence can be fostered effectively and sustainably,
  • and that it must be fostered, because today for most adolescents there are not enough natural learning opportunities anymore in order to stimulate their development of moral-democratic competence.

The only possibility for fostering this competence is in our system of education, because this is the only agency which we can  compel to create proper oppotunities for moral learning. Ultimately we pay it.

More reading:
Lind: “How to Teach Morality” (Berlin, Logos), 2016, in prep.

List of all publications:


Moralischer Schlingerkurs in Sachen Flüchtlingen

Nachdem heute in den Nachrichten gemeldet wird, dass der Merkel-Verbündete Türkei nicht nur den Kampf gegen die Kurden wieder aufgenommen hat, sondern jetzt auch die (noch) freie Presse bekämpft, ist klar: Der moralische Preis für die Politik von Kanzlerin Merkel ist zu hoch. Die Türkei hat noch immer nicht den NATO-Schiffen erlaubt, aufgebrachte Flüchtlinge in die Türkei zurückzubringen. Warum sollte sie sich auch damit beeilen? Sie hält die EU hin, um sie möglichst lange zum Stillhalten in Sachen Menschenrechte und Demokratie zu zwingen.

Unsere Regierung muss daher dringend einen anderen Weg suchen, um den Flüchtlingen zu helfen. Wir verstricken uns sonst immer tiefer in moralische Widersprüche. Was sagen wir den Flüchtlingen, die vor Erdogans Bomben fliehen?

Kurzfristig müssen wir vor allem die Flüchtlinge, die in Griechenland registriert wurden und ein Anrecht haben zu uns zu kommen, von dort abholen. Wir müssen ihnen die schlimme Tortur des Ausharrens in Idomeni und der Überwindung weiterer Schlagbäume auf dem Balkan ersparen. Wir können sie nicht länger in der Kälte dort frieren lassen.

Langfristig müssen wir daran arbeiten, die Kriege zu beenden und den Tyrannen die Basis zu entziehen. Das geht meist nicht mit gewaltsamem Umsturz (wie Lybien, Ägypten, Sudan, Irak etc. zeigen), auch wenn er im äußersten Fall notwendig sein kann, um überhaupt eine Entwicklung in Gang zu setzen (wie unsere eigene Geschichte zeigt). Das geht nur mit guter Bildung für alle Bürger. Bildung ist das einzige “Kapitel”, das wirtschaftlich und menschlich produktiv ist. Wer gelernt hat, sich selbst zu regieren, braucht keine “Führer”.

Flankierend muss diesen Ländern erlaubt werden, temporär Zollschranken zu errichten, um ihre Bauern und Betriebe gegen die Überschwemmung durch billige Massenware zu schützen und um das Absaugen von gut ausgebildeten Menschen zu verhindern. Fast die Hälfte aller Experten im Silikon-Valley sind Ausländer, die ihre Ausbildung in Deutschland, Korea, China, Pakistanz, Iran etc. erworben haben. Das spart Ländern wie den USA viele Bildungsausgaben, kostet aber den Herkunftsländern sehr viel Geld und Menschen, die dort dringend gebraucht würden. Eine völlig verkehrte Entwicklungs-“Hilfe”!

Refugees in Greece urgently need our help!

As all of you can hear in the news: Helpless politicians cause great pain for people who already suffer the loss of their homes and their loved ones: the refugees from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan etc. They are now blocked from going to Germany and other countries at the border between Greece and Macedonia.

I heard from a Greek friend that lots of people there fill their cars with food and other things needed to bring it to the border village ‘Idomeni’ — even though they themselves are in deep financial crisis. Meanwhile we hear that the German Bundesbank made huge profits on this crisis. We feel ashamed. Therefore, togther with a couple of German friends we try to help by donating money to our Greek friends.

If you have also friends in Greece who are engaged in helping the refugees, you may consider doing the same! Not only the refugees but also the people in Greece feel less left behind. If you do not have friends in Greece, you can donate through organizations like “Medecins sans frontieres” (Ärzte ohne Grenzen) and other organizations.

Here are some pictures made by one of the helpers, Mrs. Thomai Pavlidou, Serres, Greece:

Simple But True: The Dual-Aspect-Theory of Moral Behavior

One: We humans have only a limited capacity to live up to our ideals of goodness, and to solve problems and conflicts in a peaceful way. Although this capacity varies much among people as already Socrates noticed (Menon) nobody is perfect. Even the wisest people’s and saints’ lives are full of contradictions and regrettable decisions. Is human life too complex to be moral? Is there no other possibility than to choose between either giving up our moral ideals, or following people with simple but unwarranted answers?

Two: Yes, the world is very complex and becomes more complex almost every day because of the dynamics of economy, technology, politics, and migration. But complexity cannot be healed by “complexity.” If we want to keep pace with these developments we do not need more but less complex answers, as simple answers as possible.

Three: The founders of natural science understood this basic condition of the human mind. One of their most important figures, the Franciscan monk William Occam (Wilhelm von Ockham) has questioned the endless growth of complexity of thinking in the medieval monasteries by stating: Do not multiply concepts without necessity! Why? Well, because the simpler the theory the better it can be tested for truth, and the better it can be taught. Without this insight, often called ‘Occam’s Razor,’ no modern technology would exist. Of course, simplicity of theories is only a necessary but not a sufficient condition for scientific progress. Theories must also be true, that is, they must survive rigorous attempts to falsify them. Such attempts have indeed made it necessary sometimes to add some new concepts and differentiate old ones.

Four: In the domain of social, psychological, and moral science, the same need for simple truth exists, with the emphasis on both words: ‘simple’ and ‘truth.’ Unfortunately, in the social and art sciences this need does not seem to be fully recognized yet. Too often, ‘complexity’ instead of simplicity is adored. Too often truth is only claimed but is not tested in rigorous experiments, not even attempts are made to test them. Theories exist and live only because they are forwarded by authors of high social prestige. They die with their authors (Thomas Kuhn).

Five: This neglect of the basic human need for simple truth invites charlatans, self-appointed leaders, and religious soul catchers to close the gap between demand and supply. It is true that these kind of people try out their tricks also in the field of natural science, especially when they are sponsored by rich people and corporations that seek to protect their sales market, like the tobacco industry, the soft drink industry, and the car industry. They question the well-established links between smoking and cancer, between sugar drinks and obesity, and between CO2 pollution and climate change. However, in social sciences (psychology, education, economy etc.) the simple-fake-tellers seems to be more numerous. Instead of putting their efforts into the uncovering the simple fakes, social scientists prefer to do “exploratory studies” hoping to find a “significant difference” which is sensational enough to make it into the large media.

Six: Wittgenstein’s observation of 1953 still applies: “The confusion and barrenness of psychology is not to be explained by calling it a ‘young science’; its state is not compatible with that of physics, for instance, in its beginnings. … For in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion. The existence of experimental methods makes us think we have the means of solving the problems which trouble us; though problem and methods pass one another by.” His observation applies to all social sciences.
(L. Wittgenstein: Philosophical investigations. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. The Macmillan company, New York, 1953, chapter xiv).

Seven: Simple truth in social science is possible. Over forty years ago, I chose Occam’s motto of conceptual parsimony as a maxim for my studies on moral behavior and development. This maxim carried my research a long way: from clarifying and testing basic assumptions about the nature of moral behavior, to formulating and testing hypotheses about the development of moral competence and orientation, and to designing an effective method for fostering moral competence. Although some find it difficult to understand the concept of moral competence, because it seems to contradict their habituated thinking about morality, my dual-aspect theory of moral behavior is both very simple and true, that is, many researchers in the field found it understandable, and have confirmed it in  rigorous tests of empirical validity.

Eight: The dual-aspect theory of moral behavior is simple and has also shown to be true without exception. It states the following:

  • Two aspects, not just one, are needed to adequately describe moral behavior: 1. The moral orientation, and 2.  the moral competence revealed in a person’s pattern of behavior.
  • Basic moral orientations (also called moral ideals or principles) are few, universal and inborn, e.g., justice, freedom, and cooperation.
  • For solving genuine moral problems, all people chose the highest type of moral orientation (as defined by Lawrence Kohlberg) over lower types. [We call this hypothesis: “Preference hierarchy.”]
  • Types of moral orientations form not only a hierarchy but also a simplex-structure of inter-correlations [“Simplex structure.”]
  • Moral competence is the ability to solve problems and conflicts on the basis of one’s moral orientations through thinking and discussion instead of through violence, deceit, and force.
  • Moral competence is an ability and not just an attitude: it cannot be faked up. [Non-fakeability.]
  • The higher people’s moral competence, the more clearly their preference hierarchy is. [Affective-cognitive parallelism.]
  • People with higher moral competence show, e.g., lower risk of criminal behavior, more helping behavior, more engagement for democratic principles, quicker decision-making, and better learning ability.
  • Moral competence can, and must, be taught to develop to a level high enough for relinquishing violence, deceit and force as a means for solving problems and conflicts. [Teachability.]
  • The best method for fostering moral competence is that of ‘immunization,’ that is, of confronting people with moral problems and conflicts that are similar to the problems and conflicts for which this competence ist needed, but which do not hurt so much that no learning can take place.
  • On the basis of this simple truth, we developed the Konstanzer Methode der Dilemma-Diskussion (KMDD) which works with semi-real moral dilemma stories. As expected, the KMDD is highly effective if applied by a sufficiently trained KMDD-Teacher.

Violence, deceit, and power are evitable

Moral competence is the ability to solve problems and conflicts on the basis of one’s moral principles through thinking and discussion, instead of through violence, deceit, and power. Unfortunately, this competence is lacking in many people, not the least in many political and economic leaders.

The results of this shortage of moral competence are twofold: on the one side, a growing number of victims of violence, deceit, and power world-wide, who leave their homes to find a better life, and, on the other side political reflexes which make these victims’ fate even worse: fences, racism, mobbing, deportation and bombing.

Obviously, the costs, in terms of money and life quality, of such morally stupid behavior are extremely high. A couple billion dollars doesn’t seem too high an estimate. Why does nobody get the idea that with a tiny fraction of the money wasted on fences, prisons, and bombs, we could build schools and train teachers and, thereby foster moral competence and reduce violence, deceit and power. Not possible? Well, I have seen many spots in the world where there is nearly no violence, deceit and power. Why should it be impossible to achieve this for the rest of the world?

OECD has calculated that the interest rate of investment in general education is much higher than any other investment. But their figures (about 8%) are based on conventional education. I believe that we could top these interest rates if we would introduce moral and democratic competence education in all schools world-wide. I believe this because I have tried it out in many countries. See my web-site: http://www.uni-konstanz.de/ag-moral/home-e.htm

I have summed up my experience and my research in my book “Moral ist lehrbar.” I am sure that the information I have documented in my book could substantially help to make a better, more peaceful world.

You say that you can’t read my book because it is not in English? Well, you can help to translate it into English by donating to my crowd-funding campaign. But hurry. It will end soon, January 24, 2016: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/make-morality-can-be-taught-available-in-english–2#/

Yours sincerely