KOHLBERG'S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT
Lawrence Kohlberg was a moral philosopher and student of child development. He was director of Harvard's Center for Moral Education. His special area of interest is the moral development of children - how they develop a sense of right, wrong, and justice. Kohlberg observed that growing children advance through definite stages of moral development in a manner similar to their progression through Piaget's well-known stages of cognitive development. His observations and testing of children and adults, led him to theorize that human beings progress consecutively from one stage to the next in an invariant sequence, not skipping any stage or going back to any previous stage. These are stages of thought processing, implying qualitatively different modes of thinking and of problem solving at each stage. These conclusions have been verified in cross-cultural studies done in Turkey, Taiwan, Yucatan, Honduras, India, United States, Canada, Britain, and Israel.
An outline of these developmental stages follows:
A. PREMORAL OR PRECONVENTIONAL STAGES:
AGES: Up to 10-13 years of age, most prisoners
Behavior motivated by anticipation of pleasure or pain.
STAGE 1: PUNISHMENT AND OBEDIENCE: Might Makes Right
Avoidance of physical punishment and deference to power. Punishment is an automatic
response of physical retaliation. The immediate physical consequences of an action
determine its goodness or badness. The atrocities carried out by soldiers during the
holocaust who were simply "carrying out orders" under threat of punishment, illustrate that
adults as well as children may function at stage one level. "Might makes right."
QUESTIONS: What must I do to avoid punishment? What can I do to force my will upon
STAGE 2: INSTRUMENTAL EXCHANGE:
Marketplace exchange of favors or blows. "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Justice
is: "Do unto others as they do unto you." Individual does what is necessary, makes
concessions only as necessary to satisfy his own desires. Right action consists of what
instrumentally satisfies one's own needs. Vengeance is considered a moral duty. People
are valued in terms of their utility. "An eye for an eye."
QUESTIONS: What's in it for me? What must I do to avoid pain, gain pleasure?
B. CONVENTIONAL MORALITY:
FOCUS: Significant Others, "Tyranny of the They" (They say….)
AGES: Beginning in middle school, up to middle age - most people end up here
Acceptance of the rules and standards of one's group.
STAGE 3: INTERPERSONAL (TRIBAL) CONFORMITY: Good Boy/Good Girl
Right is conformity to the stereotypical behavioral, values expectations of one's society or
peers. Individual acts to gain approval of others. Good behavior is that which pleases or
helps others within the group. Everybody is doing it." Majority understanding ("common
sense") is seen as "natural." One earns approval by being conventionally "respectable" and
"nice." Peer pressure makes being different the unforgivable sin. Self sacrifice to group
demands is expected. Values based in conformity, loyalty to group. Sin is a breach of the
expectations of one's immediate social order (confuses sin with group, class norms).
Retribution, however, at this stage is collective. Individual vengeance is not allowed.
Forgiveness is preferable to revenge. Punishment is mainly for deterrence. Failure to
punish is "unfair." "If he can get away with it, why can't I?" Many religious people end up here.
QUESTION: What must I do to be seen as a good boy/girl (socially acceptable)?
STAGE 4: LAW AND ORDER (SOCIETAL CONFORMITY): The Good Citizen
Respect for fixed rules, laws and properly constituted authority. Defense of the given social
and institutional order for its own sake. Responsibility toward the welfare of others in the
society. "Justice" normally refers to criminal...
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