Building on Treacherous Ground: Sense-of-Purpose Research and Demarcating Problematic Purposes


  • David I. Waddington Concordia University



Developmental psychologist Damon’s (Damon, Menon, & Cotton Bronk, 2003) ongoing research program on youth purpose may have important practical implications for education. However, in the course of the development of this research, two fundamental conceptual questions have not yet been resolved satisfactorily: (a) How should “sense of purpose” be defined? and (b) How can one distinguish between noble and ignoble purposes? A careful examination of Damon et al.’s (2003) approach to these two questions is conducted, and some significant shortcomings in the analysis are pointed out. Specifically, Damon et al.’s definition of purpose is shown to be idiosyncratic, and some defects are pointed out in the criteria offered to differentiate between noble and ignoble purposes. In conclusion, an alternative approach to demarcating purpose is offered that relies on Erikson’s (1968) concept of totalized identity.

Author Biography

David I. Waddington, Concordia University

David Waddington is an assistant professor in the Department of Education. His ongoing research interests include John Dewey’s educational thought, the history of progressive education, and philosophical issues about science and technology in education.