Life (Psychology and Mental Health)
Lawrence Kohlberg was born to Alfred and Charlotte Kohlberg. He attended and graduated from Andover Academy. In the fall of 1945, Kohlberg traveled to war-torn Europe with the Merchant Marines and was much affected by the plight of Jewish refugees. Thereafter, Kohlberg volunteered on a ship smuggling Jewish refugees to British-controlled Palestine. The British navy seized the ship and imprisoned the crew. Eventually, Kohlberg escaped and returned to the United States. This early experience helped lay the groundwork for his abiding interest in moral dilemmas (for example, obeying the law versus doing what seemed morally right).
In 1948, Kohlberg entered the University of Chicago, tested out of several classes, and earned his bachelor’s degree in a single year. He began his dissertation research in the mid-1950’s, presenting moral dilemmas to boys between the ages of eleven and sixteen. A well-known dilemma concerns a man named Heinz whose wife is dying of cancer. Heinz cannot afford a life-saving drug, and faces the dilemma of whether he should break into a pharmacy to steal the drug. After presenting each dilemma to the boys, Kohlberg would ask whether the action taken was okay, and then ask additional questions to determine the moral reasoning behind their answers. Kohlberg received his doctorate in psychology in 1958.
Based on his research, Kohlberg posited his well-known theory of moral development. It consists of six...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Crain, William. Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005. Chapter 7 describes Kohlberg’s theory.
Kohlberg, Lawrence. The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages. New York: Harper & Row, 1984. Kohlberg sets forth his theory of moral development.
Rest, James, Clark Power, and Mary Brabeck. “Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987).” American Psychologist 43 (1988). A two-page obituary that examines the man and his life’s work.
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Kohlberg, Lawrence (Psychologists and Their Theories)
AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGIST, EDUCATOR
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, PhD, 1958
Lawrence Kohlberg was regarded for many years as a leader in the field of moral education and development. Trained in an institution identified with the progressive education ideals of American philosopher John Dewey, Kohlberg came to be regarded by his colleagues as more of an educator than a psychologist. Dissatisfied with the traditional character formation, behaviorist, and psychoanalytic models of moral behavior that were available to educators in the 1960s, Kohlberg worked out an approach to moral development known as cognitive structuralism, or cognitive developmentalism. This approach focuses on the growing child's processes of moral reasoning and the changes that take place in the structures of a person's thinking as he or she matures from childhood into adult life. Cognitive developmentalists regard children as independent agents capable of thinking for themselves about moral issues, as contrasted with the Freudian view of children as passive recipients of moral values imposed on them by adults. Kohlberg is best known for his stage theory, which postulated that human moral development progresses through a series of cognitive stages defined as total ways of thinking about moral issues rather than as attitudes...
(The entire section is 18786 words.)