Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

Topics: Morality, Ethics, Kohlberg's stages of moral development Pages: 22 (8564 words) Published: November 7, 2008
Running head: LESSON 12 ESSAY

Lesson 12 Essay
Bill King
Rio Salado College
Developmental Psychology
Mr. McElfresh
August 08, 2008

Lesson 12 Essay
Level One: Preconventional Moral Reasoning Level One of Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning is called Preconventional Moral Reasoning. It is called “preconventional” because people at this stage are not able to understand the social mores and rules of good and bad or right and wrong in their particular society. The preconventional level is characterized by behavior which is motivated by egocentrism, and manifested with the anticipation of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. At this level the individual’s moral judgments are concerned with the “self”. “Will I get into trouble for doing (or not doing) it”? Good behavior is associated with avoiding punishment. Typically, “preconventional thinking” occurs as children reach elementary school age. The Preconventional Level includes Stage One, and Stage Two. Stage One includes a “punishment and obedience orientation”, and Stage Two, the “instrumental – relativist orientation”. In Stage One morality is as simple as obeying rules because of the negative consequences of disobeying them (might makes right). Avoiding punishment through obedience to those in authority is most important. At this stage the perception of rules are fixed and absolute. This obedience however, is void of any ethical value other than to avoid punishment. There are no underlying altruistic values associated with “good behavior”. Children in this stage do what is “right” (to avoid punishment) by what they learn from their authority figures, such as parents, school teachers, or other individuals they perceive to be in charge. Sarah is an eight year old girl who has been sexually molested. Because she perceives her assailant as a person in authority and threatened to punish her if she reported this crime, she is fearful of punishment, and reluctant to talk about her experience.

In Stage Two, behavior is driven by what is in the “best interest” of the individual (looking out for number one). For example, what best fulfills the individual’s needs or wants, or “what will this do for me”? ( there is not an underlying motive of loyalty, gratitude, or justice). The individual is “taking care of number one” by seeking rewards of good behavior, rather than just avoiding punishment. Indications of fairness, reciprocity, and equal sharing begin to emerge, but the individual interprets this in a physical or superficial way. Reciprocity is perceived in a matter of “you scratch my back and I will scratch your back” (people are valued by what they can do for the individual). Ideation of this phase is the expectation of personal benefit from doing the right thing. The individual’s behavior is “right” if it satisfies a need or if a “fair exchange” is involved. Individuals begin to realize that others also have needs. The individual may try to solve a need for others, but only if their own needs will reap a reward or benefit in the process. For example, Billy and John are best friends, but play on opposing little league teams. Billy has a new bat that John has long wanted, and John has a new glove that Billy feels will improve his fielding. Both agree that each can use the other’s equipment and a mutual exchange is negotiated. Billy and John are happy to their mutual gain and benefit. Level Two: Conventional Moral Reasoning The second level is called Conventional Moral Reasoning because people in this level conform to the rules of society, and the focus shifts away from the individual. At this level, the individual is expected to place emphasis on family, group, and community mores and rules. Individual behavior is based on conformity to the social order in terms of loyalty and identification with other people in the group. Stage Three includes an “interpersonal concordance...

References: Arnold, M. (2000). Stage, sequence, and sequels: changing conceptions of morality, post-kohlberg. . Educational psychology review, 12(4), 365-383.
Dawson , T. (2002). New tools, new insights: kohlberg 's moral judgment stages revisited. International journal of behavioral development, 26(2), 154-166.
Green, M. (1989). Theories of human development A comparative approach (1 ed.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall,
Jorgensen, G. (2006, June). Kohlberg and Gilligan: duet or duel ? Journal of Moral Education, 35(2), 179-196.
Nugent, F. (2000). Introduction to the profession of counseling. (3rd ed.). New Jersey: Prentice Hall,
Westin, D. (1985). Narcissism, collectivism, and the development of morals (1st ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press.
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