Study Notes:Kohlberg theory of Moral Development

The Theory of Moral Development is a very interesting subject that stemmed from Jean Piaget’s theory of moral reasoning. Developed by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, this theory made us understands that morality starts from the early childhood years and can be affected by several factors.
Morality can be developed either negatively or positively, depending on how an individual accomplishes the tasks before him during each stage of moral development across his lifespan.
He found out that children are faced with different moral issues, and their judgments on whether they are to act positively or negatively over each dilemma are heavily influenced by several factors. In each scenario that Kohlberg related to the children, he was not really asking whether or not the person in the situation is morally right or wrong, but he wanted to find out the reasons why these children think that the character is morally right or not.
According to Kohlberg, an individual progresses from the capacity for pre-conventional morality ( before age 9) to the capacity for conventional morality (early adolescence), and toward attaining post-conventional morality (once Piaget’s idea of formal operational thought is attained), which only a few fully achieve. Each level of morality contains two stages, which provide the basis for moral development in various contexts.

Levels and Stages of Moral Development

Level 1: Pre-conventional Morality

The first level of morality, pre-conventional morality. At the pre-conventional level (most nine-year-olds and younger, some over nine), we don’t have a personal code of morality. Instead, our moral code is shaped by the standards of adults and the consequences of following or breaking their rules.
Authority is outside the individual and reasoning is based on the physical consequences of actions.
It can be further divided into two stages: obedience and punishment, and individualism and exchange.

Stage 1: Punishment- Obedience Orientation
This stage includes the use of punishment so that the person refrains from doing the action and continues to obey the rules. 
For example, we follow the law because we do not want to go to jail.

Stage 2: Instrumental Relativist Orientation
In this stage, the person is said to judge the morality of an action based on how it satisfies the individual needs of the doer. 
For instance, a person steals money from another person because he needs that money to buy food for his hungry children. In Kohlberg’s theory, the children tend to say that this action is morally right because of the serious need of the doer.

Level 2: Conventional Morality

The second level of morality involves the stages 3 and 4 of moral development. At the conventional level (most adolescents and adults), we begin to internalize the moral standards of valued adult role models.
Authority is internalized but not questioned and reasoning is based on the norms of the group to which the person belongs.
Conventional morality includes the society and societal roles in judging the morality of an action.

Stage 3: Good Boy-Nice Girl Orientation
In this stage, a person judges an action based on the societal roles and social expectations before him. This is also known as the “interpersonal relationships” phase. 
For example, a child gives away her lunch to a street peasant because she thinks doing so means being nice.

Stage 4: Law and Order Orientation
This stage includes respecting the authorities and following the rules, as well as doing a person’s duty. The society is the main consideration of a person at this stage.
For instance, a policeman refuses the money offered to him under the table and arrests the offender because he believes this is his duty as an officer of peace and order.

Level 3: Post-conventional Morality

The post-conventional morality includes stage 5 and stage 6. This is mainly concerned with the universal principles that relation to the action done. Individual judgment is based on self-chosen principles, and moral reasoning is based on individual rights and justice. 
According to Kohlberg, this level of moral reasoning is as far as most people get.
Most people take their moral views from those around them and only a minority thinks through ethical principles for themselves.

Stage 5: Social Contract Orientation
In this stage, the person is look at various opinions and values of different people before coming up with the decision on the morality of the action.
For Example, it cannot be right that huge corporation sometimes pay no taxes; that law needs to be changed, so that the burden of taxes falls more equally on everyone’s shoulders.

Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principles Orientation
The final stage of moral reasoning, this orientation is when a person considers universally accepted ethical principles. The judgment may become innate and may even violate the laws and rules as the person becomes attached to his own principles of justice.
For Example, I refuse to obey a law which treats a large portion of the population as second class citizen.

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