Kohlberg's stages of moral development

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Kohlberg's stages of moral development are planes of moral adequacy conceived by Lawrence Kohlberg to explain the development of moral reasoning. Created while studying psychology at the University of Chicago, the theory was inspired by the work of Jean Piaget and a fascination with children's reactions to moral dilemmas.<ref name="Crain">Crain, William C. (1985). Theories of Development, 2Rev Ed, Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0139136177.</ref> He wrote his doctoral dissertation at the university in 1958,<ref name="dissertation">Template:Cite journal</ref> outlining what are now known as his stages of moral development.

This theory holds that moral reasoning, which is the basis for ethical behavior, has six identifiable developmental stages. He followed the development of moral judgment beyond the ages originally studied by Piaget,<ref name="piaget">Piaget, Jean (1932). The Moral Judgment of the Child. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co.. ISBN 0029252407.</ref> who claimed that logic and morality develop through constructive stages.<ref name="higheststage">Template:Cite journal</ref> Kohlberg expanded considerably on this groundwork, determining that the process of moral development was principally concerned with justice and that its development continued throughout the lifespan,<ref name="dissertation" /> even spawning dialogue of philosophical implications of his research.<ref name="philmoral">Kohlberg, Lawrence (1981). Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I: The Philosophy of Moral Development. Harper & Row. ISBN 0060647604.</ref><ref name="KohlLevineHewer">Kohlberg, Lawrence, Charles Levine, Alexandra Hewer (1983). Moral stages : a current formulation and a response to critics. Basel, NY: Karger. ISBN 3805537166.</ref>

Kohlberg used stories about moral dilemmas in his studies, and was interested in how people would justify their actions if they were put in a similar moral crux. He would then categorize and classify evoked responses into one of six distinct stages. These six stages where broken into three levels: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional.<ref name="istoought">Kohlberg, Lawrence (1971). From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development. Academic Press.</ref><ref name="moralization">Kohlberg, Lawrence, T. Lickona, ed. (1976). “Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach”, Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Rinehart and Winston.</ref><ref name="measurement">Colby, Anne, Kohlberg, L. (1987). The Measurement of Moral Judgment Vol. 2: Standard Issue Scoring Manual. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521244471.</ref> His theory is based on constructive developmental stages; each stage and level is more adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than the last.<ref name="higheststage" />


[edit] Stages

Kohlberg's six stages were grouped into three levels: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional.<ref name="istoought" /><ref name="moralization" /><ref name="measurement" /> Following Piaget's constructivist requirements for a stage model (see his theory of cognitive development), it is extremely rare to regress backward in stages.<ref name="walker">Template:Cite journal</ref><ref name="colby"> Anne Colby, Gibbs, J. Lieberman, M., and Kohlberg, L. (1983). A Longitudinal Study of Moral Judgment: A Monograph for the Society of Research in Child Development. The University of Chicago Press. ISBN 999327870X.</ref> Even still, no one functions at their highest stage at all times.[citation needed] It is also not possible to 'jump' stages; each stage provides a new yet necessary perspective, and is more comprehensive, differentiated, and integrated than its predecessors.<ref name="walker" /><ref name="colby" />

Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)
1. Obedience and punishment orientation
2. Self-interest orientation
( What's in it for me?)
Level 2 (Conventional)
3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
( The good boy/good girl attitude)
4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
( Law and order morality)
Level 3 (Post-Conventional)
5. Social contract orientation
6. Universal ethical principles
( Principled conscience)

[edit] Pre-Conventional

The pre-conventional level of moral reasoning is especially common in children, although adults can also exhibit this level of reasoning. Reasoners in the pre-conventional level judge the morality of an action by its direct consequences. The pre-conventional level consists of the first and second stages of moral development, and are purely concerned with the self in an egocentric manner.

In stage one, individuals focus on the direct consequences that their actions will have for themselves. For example, an action is perceived as morally wrong if the person who commits it gets punished. The worse the punishment for the act is, the more 'bad' the act is perceived to be.<ref name="socialpersonalitydev">Shaffer, David R. (2004). Social and Personality Development, 5th Ed, Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 0534607004.</ref> In addition, there is no recognition that others' points of view are any different from one's own view. This stage may be viewed as a kind of authoritarianism.

Stage two espouses the what's in it for me position, right behavior being defined by what is in one's own best interest. Stage two reasoning shows a limited interest in the needs of others, but only to a point where it might further one's own interests, such as you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.<ref name="higheststage" /> In stage two concern for others is not based on loyalty or intrinsic respect. Lacking a perspective of society in the pre-conventional level, this should not be confused with social contract (stage five), as all actions are performed to serve one's own needs or interests. For the stage two theorist, the perspective of the world is often seen as morally relative.

[edit] Conventional

The conventional level of moral reasoning is typical of adolescents and adults. Persons who reason in a conventional way judge the morality of actions by comparing these actions to societal views and expectations. The conventional level consists of the third and fourth stages of moral development.

In Stage three, the self enters society by filling social roles. Individuals are receptive of approval or disapproval from other people as it reflects society's accordance with the perceived role. They try to be a good boy or good girl to live up to these expectations,<ref name="higheststage" /> having learned that there is inherent value in doing so. Stage three reasoning may judge the morality of an action by evaluating its consequences in terms of a person's relationships, which now begin to include things like respect, gratitude and the 'golden rule'. Desire to maintain rules and authority exists only to further support these stereotypical social roles. The intentions of actions play a more significant role in reasoning at this stage; 'they mean well...'.<ref name="higheststage" />

In Stage four, it is important to obey laws, dictums and social conventions because of their importance in maintaining a functioning society. Moral reasoning in stage four is thus beyond the need for individual approval exhibited in stage three; society must learn to transcend individual needs. A central ideal or ideals often prescribe what is right and wrong, such as in the case of fundamentalism. If one person violates a law, perhaps everyone would - thus there is an obligation and a duty to uphold laws and rules. When someone does violate a law, it is morally wrong; culpability is thus a significant factor in this stage as it separates the bad domains from the good ones.

[edit] Post-Conventional

The post-conventional level, also known as the principled level, consists of stages five and six of moral development. Realization that individuals are separate entities from society now becomes salient. One's own perspective should be viewed before the society's. It is due to this 'nature of self before others' that the post-conventional level, especially stage six, is sometimes mistaken for pre-conventional behaviors.

In Stage five, individuals are viewed as holding different opinions and values, and it is paramount that they be respected and honored impartially. Issues that are not regarded as relative like life and choice should never be withheld or inhibited. In fact, no single choice is correct or absolute – 'who are you to judge if they are or not'? Along a similar vein, laws are regarded as social contracts rather than rigid dictums. Those that do not promote general social welfare should be changed when necessary to meet the greatest good for the greatest number of people.<ref name="moralization" /> This is attained through majority decision, and inevitably compromise. In this way democratic government is ostensibly based on stage five reasoning.

In Stage six, moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and that a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. Rights are unnecessary as social contracts are not essential for deontic moral action. Decisions are met categorically in an absolute way rather than hypothetically in a conditional way (see Immanuel Kant's 'categorical imperative'<ref name="kant">Kant, Immanuel (1964). Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Harper and Row Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-06-131159-6.</ref>). This can be done by imagining what one would do being in anyone's shoes, who imagined what anyone would do thinking the same (see John Rawls's 'veil of ignorance'<ref name="rawls">* Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belkap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674017722.</ref>). The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is never a means but always an end in itself; one acts because it is right, and not because it is instrumental, expected, legal or previously agreed upon. While Kohlberg insisted that stage six exists, he had difficulty finding participants who consistently used it. It appears that people rarely if ever reach stage six of Kohlberg's model.<ref name="colby" />

[edit] Further stages

In his empirical studies of persons across their life-span, Kohlberg came to notice that some people evidently had undergone moral stage regression. He was faced with the option of either conceding that moral regression could occur, or revise his theory. Kohlberg chose the latter, postulating the existence of sub-stages wherein the emerging stage has not yet been adequately integrated into the personality.<ref name="moralization" /> In particular Kohlberg noted of a stage 4½ or 4+, which is a transition from stage four to stage five, sharing characteristics of both.<ref name="moralization" /> In this stage the individual has become disaffected with the arbitrary nature of law and order reasoning. Culpability is frequently turned from being defined by society to having society itself be culpable. This stage is often mistaken for the moral relativism of stage two as the individual considers society's conflicting interests with their own choices relatively and morally wrong.<ref name="moralization" /> Kohlberg noted that this was often seen in students entering college.<ref name="moralization" /><ref name="colby" />

Kohlberg further speculated that a seventh stage may exist (Transcendental Morality or Morality of Cosmic Orientation) which would link religion with moral reasoning<ref name="Power">Power, Clark, Lawrence Kohlberg, ed. (1981). “Moral Development, Religious Thinking, and the Question of a Seventh Stage”, Essays on Moral Development Vol. I: Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row. ISBN 0060647604.</ref> (see James W. Fowler's stages of faith development<ref name="Fowler">Fowler, John, T. Hennessey, ed. (1976). “Stages in Faith: The Structural Developmental Approach”, Values and Moral Development. New York: Paulist Press.</ref><ref name="Fowler2">Fowler, John, S. Keen, ed. (1978). “Mapping Faith's Structures: A Developmental View”, Life Maps: Conversations on the Journey of Faith. Waco, TX: Word Books. ISBN 0849928486.</ref>). However, because of Kohlberg's trouble providing empirical evidence for even a sixth stage,<ref name="colby" /> he emphasized that most of his conjecture towards a seventh stage was theoretical.<ref name="philmoral" />

[edit] Theoretical assumptions (philosophy)

Kohlberg's theory is not value-neutral. It begins with a stake in certain perspectives in meta-ethics. This includes for instance a view of human nature, and a certain understanding of the form and content of moral reasoning. It holds conceptions of the right and the scope of moral reasoning across societies. Furthermore it includes the relationship between morality and the world, between morality and logical expression, and the role of reason in morality. Finally, it takes a view of the social and mental processes involved in moral reasoning.

The picture of human nature which Kohlberg begins with is the view that humans are inherently communicative and capable of reason, and they possess a desire to understand others and the world around them. The stages of Kohlberg's model refer to the qualitative moral reasonings that people adopt, and thus do not translate directly into praise or blame of the actions or characters of persons. In order to argue that his theory measures moral reasoning and not particular moral conclusions, Kohlberg insists that the form and structure of moral arguments is independent of the content of the arguments, a position he calls "formalism".<ref name="KohlLevineHewer" /><ref name="istoought" />

Kohlberg's theory revolves around the notion that justice is the essential feature of moral reasoning. By the same token, justice relies heavily upon the notion of sound reasoning upon principles. Despite being a justice-centered theory of morality, Kohlberg considered it to be compatible with plausible formulations of deontology<ref name="kant" /> and eudaimonia.

Kohlberg's theory understands values as a critical component of the right. Whatever the right is, for Kohlberg, it must be universally valid across societies (a position known as "moral universalism"<ref name="istoought" />): there can be no relativism. Moreover, morals are not natural features of the world; they are prescriptive. Nevertheless, moral judgments can be evaluated in logical terms of true and falsity.

According to Kohlberg, a person who progresses to a higher stage of moral reasoning cannot skip stages. For example, one cannot jump from being concerned mostly with peer judgments (stage three) to being a proponent of social contracts (stage five).<ref name="colby" /> However, when one encounters a moral dilemma and finds their current level of moral reasoning unsatisfactory, they will look to the next level. Discovery of the limitations of the current stage of thinking drives moral development as each progressive stage is more adequate than the last.<ref name="colby" /> This process is constructive; it arises through the conscious construction of the actor, and is neither in any meaningful sense a component of the actor's innate dispositions, nor a result of past inductions.

[edit] Formal elements

Progress along the stages of development occurs because of the actor's increased competence in both psychologically and socially balancing conflicting value-claims. The name of "justice operation" is given to the process which resolves the dispute between conflicting claims and strikes an equilibrium between them. Kohlberg identifies two of these operations in "equality" and "reciprocity", which respectively involve an impartial regard for persons (i.e., irrespective of who the individual persons are), and a regard for the role of personal merit. For Kohlberg, the most adequate result of both operations is "reversibility", where a moral or dutiful act within a particular situation is evaluated in terms of whether or not the act would be satisfactory even if particular persons were to switch roles within the situation (also known colloquially as "moral musical chairs").<ref name="KohlLevineHewer" />

Knowledge and learning contribute to moral development. Specifically important are the actor's view of persons and their social perspective level, each of which becomes more complex and mature with each advancing stage. The view of persons can be understood as the actor's grasp of the psychology of other persons; it may be pictured as a spectrum, with stage one having no view of other persons at all, and stage six being entirely sociocentric.<ref name="KohlLevineHewer" /> Similarly, the social perspective level involves the understanding of the social universe, differing from the view of persons in that it involves a grasp of norms.

[edit] Examples of applied moral dilemmas

To do this, Kohlberg established the Moral Judgement Interview in his original 1958 dissertation.<ref name="dissertation" /> During the roughly 45 minute tape recorded semi-structured interview, the interviewer uses moral dilemmas to determine which stage of moral reasoning a person uses. The dilemmas are fictional short stories that describe situations in which a person has to make a moral decision. The participant is asked a systemic series of open-ended questions, like what they think the right course of action is, as well as justifications as to why certain actions are right or wrong. The form and structure of these replies are scored and not the content; over a set of multiple moral dilemmas an overall score is derived.<ref name="dissertation" /><ref name="measurement" />

[edit] Heinz dilemma

A dilemma that Kohlberg used in his original research was the druggist's dilemma: Heinz Steals the Drug In Europe.<ref name="philmoral" />


From a theoretical point of view, it is not important what the participant thinks that Heinz should do. Kohlberg's theory holds that the justification the participant offers is what is significant, the form of their response.<ref name="istoought" /> Below are some of many examples of possible arguments that belong to the six stages:<ref name="philmoral" /><ref name="socialpersonalitydev" />

Stage one (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he will consequently be put in prison which means you are really terrible. Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it only worth $200 and not how much the druggist wanted for it; Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else besides.

Stage two (self-interest): Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he will have to serve a prison sentence. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is a awful place, and he would probably languish over a jail cell more than his wife's death.

Stage three (conformity): Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband. Or: Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he tried to do everything he could without breaking the law, you cannot blame him.

Stage four (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing making it illegal. Or: Heinz should steal the drug for his wife but also take the prescribed punishment for the crime as well as paying the druggist what he is owed. Criminals cannot just run around without regard to the law; actions have consequences.

Stage five (human rights): Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick it does not make his actions right.

Stage six (universal human ethics): Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.

[edit] Criticisms

One criticism of Kohlberg's theory is that it emphasizes justice to the exclusion of other values. As a consequence of this, it may not adequately address the arguments of people who value other moral aspects of actions. Carol Gilligan has argued that Kohlberg's theory is overly androcentric.<ref name="gilligan">Template:Cite journal</ref> Kohlberg's theory was initially developed based on empirical research using only male participants; Gilligan argued that it did not adequately describe the concerns of women. Although research has generally found no significant pattern of differences in moral development between sexes,<ref name="walker" /><ref name="colby" /> Gilligan's theory of moral development does not focus on the value of justice. She developed an alternative theory of moral reasoning that is based on the ethics of caring.<ref name="gilligan" />

Other psychologists have questioned the assumption that moral action is primarily reached by formal reasoning. One such group, the social intuitionists, state people often make moral judgments without weighing concerns such as fairness, law, human rights and abstract ethical values. Given this, the arguments that Kohlberg and other rationalist psychologists have analyzed could be considered post hoc rationalizations of intuitive decisions. This would mean that moral reasoning is less relevant to moral action than Kohlberg's theory suggests.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

<references />

[edit] Further reading

  • Kohlberg, Lawrence (1971). From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development. Academic Press.
  • Kohlberg, Lawrence (1981). Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I: The Philosophy of Moral Development. Harper & Row. ISBN 0060647604.

[edit] External links

de:Stufentheorie des moralischen Verhaltens

Kohlberg's stages of moral development

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