Stages of Development

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Kohlberg - Moral Development

Kohlberg agreed with Piaget's theory of moral development in principle but wanted to develop his ideas further. He used Piaget’s story-telling technique to tell people stories involving moral dilemmas. In each case he presented a choice to be considered for example between the rights of some authority and the needs of some deserving individual who is being unfairly treated.

One of the best known of Kohlberg’s stories concerns a man called Heinz who lived somewhere in Europe.

Heinz’s wife was dying from a particular type of cancer. Doctors said a new drug might save her. The drug had been discovered by a local chemist and the Heinz tried desperately to buy some, but the chemist was charging ten times the money it cost to make the drug and this was much more than the Heinz could afford. Heinz could only raise half the money, even after help from family and friends. He explained to the chemist that his wife was dying and asked if he could have the drug cheaper or pay the rest of the money later. The chemist refused saying that he had discovered the drug and was going to make money from it. The husband was desperate to save his wife, so later that night he broke into the chemist’s and stole the drug.

Kohlberg asked a series of questions such as:

1. Should Heinz have stolen the drug?
2. Would it change anything if Heinz did not love his wife?
3. What if the person dying was a stranger, would it make any difference? 4. Should the police arrest the chemist for murder if the woman died?

By studying the answers from people of different ages to these questions Kohlberg hoped to discover the ways in which moral reasoning changed as people grew. Kohlberg told several dilemma stories and asked many such questions to discover how people reasoned about moral issues. He identified three distinct levels of moral reasoning each with two sub stages. People can only pass through these levels in the order listed. Each new stage replaces the reasoning typical of the earlier stage. Not everyone achieves all the stages.

Kohlberg Levels of Moral Development

Level 1 - Pre-conventional morality

• Authority is outside the individual and reasoning is based on the physical consequences of actions.

• Punishment and obedience stage. The child/individual is good in order to avoid being punished. If a person is punished they must have done wrong.

• Reward stage, The child/individual is good in order to be rewarded. The chemist should have let Heinz pay later, because one pay he might need something from Heinz.

Level 2 - Conventional morality

• Authority is internalized but not questioned and reasoning is based on the norms of the group to which the person belongs.

• Good boy/good girl stage. The child/individual is good in order to be seen as being a good person by others. Therefore, answers are related to the approval of others.

• Law and order stage. The child/individual becomes aware of the wider rules of society so judgments concern obeying rules in order to uphold the law and to avoid guilt.

Level 3 - Post-conventional morality

Individual judgment is based on self-chosen principles, and moral reasoning is based on individual rights and justice.

• Awareness of complications stage. The child/individual becomes aware that while rules/laws might exist for the good of the greatest number, there are times when they will work against the interest of particular individuals. The issues are not always clear cut. For example, in Heinz’s dilemma the protection of life is more important than breaking the law against stealing.

• Universal ethical principles stage. People at this stage have developed their own set of moral guidelines which may or may not fit the law. The principles apply to everyone. E.g. human rights, justice and equality. The person will be prepared to act to defend these principles even if it means going against the rest of society in the process...
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