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Theories of Moral Development
The Theory of Moral Development
Lawrence Kohlberg, a professor of education and social psychology at
Kohlberg’s viewpoint is not static by any means. He has devoted much recent effort to a philosophical articulation of the theory. With continuing empirical research he has also developed refinements in the stages (subdividing them) and in the experimental techniques. Consequently, it is necessary to keep in touch to be aware of revisions and expansions. Nevertheless, there is a core to his “cognitive-development” theory which will be summarized below.
Stages in Moral Development: Pre-conventional Moral Development
Stage Zero: Pre-moral (Before moral)
Pleasure-pain (exciting-fearful) determine behavior
No sense of obligation or morality; no comprehension of effects of actions
Not immoral but amoral: lacking ability to discern right/wrong (infant)
Take what is pleasant; avoid what is unpleasant
Person is guided by what he or she can and wants to do, even hurting others for the pleasure or excitement it may bring him or her
You might say person has self-chosen rules BELOW the social order
Stage One: Simple Authority Orientation
Obedience and punishment orientation where physical consequences determine good or bad; because he feels that might makes right, he bows to stronger person’s rules
Deference to superior power or prestige; authority figure determines standards
Responsive to rules IF he thinks he’ll be caught and punished
Stage Two: “Instrumental relativist”: What’s in it for me?
Naively egoistic orientation (It’s all about me!) [Be careful! Egotistic is slightly different.)
Satisfies needs of self and occasionally others
Equal sharing: exchange, reciprocity, fairness, same for all, treat all the same, eye for eye
You scratch my back & I’ll scratch yours not from concern or loyalty, but because it’s equal, fair
Kohlberg felt that about 4% of the population would remain “stuck” in the Pre-conventional Moral Stages for one reason or another, often because of lack of examples through which to grow.
Stages in Moral Development: Conventional Moral Development
Stage Three: Interpersonal Concordance – Good Boy/Nice Girl orientation
Being nice, approval, and pleasing a limited group are all important
Puts oneself in another’s shoes; conscience begins here; considers feelings of others
"Good behavior is that which pleases or helps others and is approved by them. There is much conformity to stereotypical images of what is majority or 'natural' behavior. Behavior is frequently judged by intention. 'He means well' becomes important for the first time. One earns approval by being 'nice.'" (Duska, R. and Whelan, M., 1975)
Stage Four: Law and Order (Kohlberg felt that 80% of the population won’t go past here)
Orientation toward authority and maintenance of the social order for its own sake
Does duty; respect for authority and majority rule
Rigid: fixed rules are hard to change
Stages in Moral Development: Post-Conventional Moral Development
Kohlberg felt that only about 20% of a population would rise above the Law & Order stage.
Stage Five: Social Contract: an agreement among individuals forming an organized society; agreement
between the community and the ruler that defines and limits the rights and duties of each.
Contractual and legalistic; constitutional and democratic; official morality of
Standards critically examined and socially agreed upon; Legalistic but law can be changed for the benefit of society.
Individual rights respected except when contrary to social contract (agreed rights)
Moral values defined in terms of individual rights and standards agreed upon by society
Consensus (general agreement, unanimity) rather than majority (one over half)
Stage Six: Ethical principles
Orientation to ethical principles higher than the law
Conscience guided by self-chosen principles (Do no harm to others.)
Obedience or disobedience to law based on moral respect for justice for all people.
“At heart, these are universal principles of justice, of the reciprocity and equality of human rights, and of respect for the dignity of human beings as individual persons." (Duska, R. and Whelan, M., 1975)
Summary of the claims of L. Kohlberg about the Process of Moral Development
1. Each person’s moral reasoning develops through the stages outlined.
2. Stages cannot be skipped; progress occurs one step at a time…
3. *Some people go faster and/or farther through the stages.
4. Movement from stage to stage is a long-term process, occurring gradually rather than in sudden leaps.
5. One can comprehend all stages up to and including his present stage.
6. Given the right opportunity, one can understand and function at a moral level immediately above the present level.
7. Moral reasoning more than one stage higher cannot be comprehended.
8. One tend to prefer the next stage as he understands it.
9. One will rank as best the highest level of moral reasoning understood.
10. Moral reasoning at stages lower than that attained will be understood but rejected; they do not affect behavior or persuade the thinking.
11. Moral development is always progressive – regression does not occur; once a higher level is attained, it is never lost, and if movement continues, it will be forward.
12. Moral development is not automatic; it may be arrested at any stage.
13. A person may be in transition between stages.
14. When one is “in stage,” at least 50% of his responses are typical of that stage, with some higher and some lower.
15. These sequences of stages do not vary with culture, social class, or religion; these factors may affect speed of movement or stages typical of a given age.
The process of moral development can be stimulated by 1) an experience of moral conflict (dilemma study), 2) an exchange of different views, and/or 3) an exposure to the next higher level of moral reasoning.
Source: http://www.vtaide.com/blessing/Kohlberg.htm. Descriptions (in quotations) of the six stages that follow are attributed to Lawrence Kohlberg and taken from Ronald Duska & Mariellen Whelen, Moral Development: A Guide to Piaget and Kohlberg (New York: Paulist), 1975.
Basic Information and formatting from a presentation by Taylor, Dr. T. Roger. Practical Strategies and Classroom Techniques for Gifted and Highly Capable Students: A Differentiated Approach.
Age range: not specifically identified, but most likely youth
Principle of stage 1: Individual survival/self-protection
Transition – from selfishness to responsibility to others
Stage 2 - (Conventional) Goodness as Self-Sacrifice
Age range: not listed
Principle of stage 2: Being good means sacrificing yourself for others
Transition – from “goodness” to realization that she is a person too
Stage 3 - (Post-Conventional) Responsibility for Consequences of Choice
Age range: maybe never Principle of stage 3: Nonviolence: Do not hurt others or self Source: Gilligan, Carol. In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA. 1982.
Age range: maybe never
Principle of stage 3: Nonviolence: Do not hurt others or self
Source: Gilligan, Carol. In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA. 1982.