Describe and Critically Evaluate Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Topics: Kohlberg's stages of moral development, Jean Piaget, Morality Pages: 7 (2212 words) Published: April 17, 2011

Lawrence Kohlberg born in 1927 was an American Psychologist who led the movement in the study of moral development in the late 1950’s. He is an outstanding example of research in the Piagetian tradition. He set out to improve and extend the work of Piaget. His work focused on Moral Development and Moral reasoning and began to develop a stage theory of moral thinking. His theories were based on the way children, adolescents and adults develop moral reasoning. The first three of these stages were in essence Piaget’s initial formations concerning cognitive reasoning.

In his doctoral dissertation (1958a) while studying at the University of Chicago Kohlberg composed six stages (in three levels, with two stages each) of moral development, based on cognitive reasoning, through which each person passes in unvarying and irreversible order. Daeg de Mott (2007). Kohlberg (1973) declares his theory holds that moral reasoning, which is the basis for ethical behaviour has six identifiable developmental constructive stages- each more adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than the last. Kohlberg believed that people must pass through each of these stages in order but not everyone would reach the last stage of moral judgement. According to Walker (1989) it is extremely rare to regress backward in stages-to lose functionality of higher stage abilities.

Kohlberg adapted Piaget’s clinical interview technique in order to develop a standardised procedure for eliciting participant’s moral reasoning. Durkin (1995). His technique involved giving moral dilemmas stories about the rights of some authority and the need of some serving individual who was unfairly treated to participants. The participants were then asked to make a decision about what a person should do and then to explain why they chose that outcome.

Kohlberg was interested in how they would justify their actions. One of these stories was about a man called Heinz whose wife was dying of cancer. A Chemist had a cure for this cancer and was selling it at twice the amount of money Heinz could raise. He would not sell it for any less so Heinz broke into the store when it was closed and stole the medicine. Kohlberg would ask the participants whether the man is justified in stealing the medicine from the pharmacy when he does not have enough money to pay for it?

Crain (1985) states Kohlberg is interested in the reasoning behind the answer; he is not really interested in whether the participant says “yes” or “no” to this dilemma. The interview then goes on to give more dilemmas in order to get a good sampling of a participant’s moral thinking. Then procedure called interrater reliability is followed. Kohlberg would then categorise and classify evoked responses into one of six distinct stages. No one functions at their highest stage abilities at all times and each stage provides a new yet necessary perspective, and is more comprehensive, differentiated, and integrated than its predecessors. Colby, Gibbs, Liebermann and Kohlberg (1983). In this essay I will describe and critically evaluate Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. I will do this by looking at Kohlberg’s achievements and criticisms.


Kohlberg’s theory of moral development has six stages grouped into three levels, pre-conventional, and conventional. Kohlberg (1971) Kohlberg & Lickona (1976).

Pre-conventional Morality is level one. Moral reasoning has not started yet. Stage one obedience and punishment orientation, the child is concerned with what is right and wrong. It does not matter what a persons motives are. They have no concept of pro and anti-social behaviour. Shaffer (2004) states the child is more concerned with the punishment they would receive. The worse the punishment for the act is, the more ‘bad’ the act is perceived to be. Stage two self –interest orientation older children make judgements based on what gives them pleasure. If a reward is given they behave. They still...

References: Colby, A., Gibbs, J. Liebermann, M., and Kohlberg, L. (1983). A Longitudinal Study of Moral Judgement: A Monograph for the Society of Research in Child Development. The University of Chicago Press.
Colby, A., & Kohlberg, L. (Eds). (1987). The measurement of moral judgement (Vols. 1 and 2). New York: Free Press
Crain, W.C
Daeg de Mott, D.K. ‘Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning’. Encyclopaedia of Childhood and Adolescence. 20010406. Find 08 Nov.2007.
Dien, D. A Chinese perspective on Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. Developmental review 2, 331-341 (1982) California State University, Hayward.
Durkin, K. (1995). Developmental Social Psychology: From Infancy to Old Age. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Gillian, C., (1982) In a Different Voice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kohlberg, L. (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, L. (1973). “The claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest Stage of Moral Judgement”. Journal of Philosophy 70:630-546.
Kohlberg, Lawrence., Lickona, T. ed. (1976). “Moral stages and moralisation: The cognitive-developmental approach”, Moral Development and Behaviour: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Rinehart and Winston.
Krebs, D.L,. & Denton, K. (2005). Toward a More Pragmatic Approach to Morality: A Critical Evaluation of Kohlberg’s Model. Psychological Review, Vol. 112, No3, 629-649.
Reiter, S.A. The Kohlberg-Gillian controversy: Lessons for accounting ethics education. Critical perspectives on Accounting 7, 33-54 (1996). Binghamton University.
Santrock, J. W. (1975). Moral structure: the interrelations of moral behaviour, moral judgement, and moral affect. Journal of Genetic Psychology 127, 201-213.
Shaffer, David R. (2004). Social and Personality Development, 5th Ed, Wadsworth Publishing.
Simpson, E.L. (1974) Moral development research: A case study of scientific cultural bias. Human Development, 17, 81-106.
Walker, L. J. (1989). “A Longitudinal study of moral reasoning”. Child Development 60 (1):157-166
Woolfolk, A.E
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Essay about Describe Kohlberg’s Stages or Moral Development
  • Essay about Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development
  • Essay about Kohlberg's Moral Development
  • Describe and evaluate Kohlberg’s cognitive theory of gender development Research Paper
  • Kohlberg's Moral Development Essay
  • Discuss Theories Of Moral Development Essay
  • Kohlberg's Theory of Development Essay
  • Essay about Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free