Conventional Morality

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Conventional Morality and Ethical Relativism

I - Kohlberg’s Moral Development Theory

The theory holds that moral reasoning, the basis for ethical behavior, has six identifiable developmental stages, each more adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than its predecessor.

Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development|
| | |
| Level One:
Pre-conventional Morality| Stage 1: Punishment-Obedience Orientation| | Stage 2: Instrumental Relativist Orientation|
Level Two:
Conventional Morality| Stage 3: Good Boy-Nice Girl Orientation| | Stage 4: Law and Order Orientation|
Level Three:
Post-Conventional Morality| Stage 5: Social Contract Orientation| | Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principle Orientation|
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| | |
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Level 1 – Pre-conventional Morality

People at this stage do not really understand the conventions / rules of a society.

* Stage 1: Punishment-Obedience Orientation

Lawrence Kohlberg: "Physical consequences of an action determine its goodness or badness regardless of the human meaning or value of these consequences. Avoidance of punishment and unquestioning deference to power are valued in their own right, not in terms of respect for an underlying moral order supported by punishment and authority." (Duska, R. and Whelan, M., 1975) 

Summary: The concern is for self - "Will I get into trouble for doing (or not doing) it?" Good behaviour is associated with avoiding punishment.

Inadequacy of Stage 1 reasoning: Avoidance of punishment regardless of the ethical value of the actions is unhealthy especially under "bad" authorities such as Adolf Hitler.

* Stage 2: Instrumental Relativist Orientation

Lawrence Kohlberg: Right action is "that which instrumentally satisfies one's own needs and occasionally the needs of others." "Human relations are viewed in terms like those of the marketplace; elements of fairness, reciprocity and equal sharing are present, but they are always interpreted in a physical or pragmatic way. Reciprocity is a matter of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours,' not of loyalty, gratitude or justice." (Duska, R. and Whelan, M., 1975)

Summary: The concern is "What's in it for me?" It is still egocentric in outlook but with a growing ability to see things from another person's perspective. Action is judged right if it helps in satisfying one's needs or involves a fair exchange.

Inadequacy of Stage 2 reasoning: Where the needs of different individuals conflict, can there ever be a fair exchange? Doesn't this conflict call for sacrifice from one of the parties?

Level 2 – Conventional Morality

People at this stage conform to the conventions / rules of a society. * Stage 3: Good Boy-Nice Girl Orientation
Lawrence Kohlberg: "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' behaviour. 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) 

Summary: The concern is "What will people think of me?" and the desire is for group approval. Right action is one that would please or impress others. This often involves self-sacrifice but it provides the psychological pleasure of 'approval of others.' Actions are also judged in relation to their intention.

Inadequacy of Stage 3 reasoning:
* Same person, different roles OR Different groups, different expectations * Different people, different roles
* People not living up to their duties or roles

* Stage 4: Law and Order Orientation
Lawrence Kohlberg: "Right behavior consists in doing one's duty, showing respect for authority and maintaining the given social order for its own sake." A person in this stage "orients to society as a system of fixed rule, law and authority with the prospect of any deviation from rules as leading to social...
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