There are various stages of moral development. According to Lawrence Kohlberg, there are six stages of moral development. A person will pass through each stage in the order listed, and not everybody will reach the highest stages.
The first level contains two stages. This level is known as the pre-conventional morality level. In the first stage, people make decisions just to avoid being punished. In the second stage, people realize there is more than one viewpoint regarding a given situation. In this level, the individual hasn’t developed a personal moral code. Most people at this stage are children. The adults around them and the consequences for breaking the rules that adults have established influence their actions.
At the second level, the conventional morality level, people begin to internalize the values of important adults around them. The approval of others is very important to people at this level. At stage three, the person is making decisions so he or she can be seen as a good person. At stage four, the person can see the rules from a societal standpoint. At this stage, people make decisions in order to follow the law and to avoid legal consequences.
At the third level, the post-conventional morality level, people use self-chosen principles to make decisions. Moral reasoning is based on concepts of justice and individual rights. Only a small percentage of people, about 10-15 percent, reach this stage. In stage five, people understand that something that might be good for the society as a whole might not be good for that person. In stage six, people have a universal set of principles that guide their decision-making. A person will do whatever is necessary in order to defend these principles, including breaking the law if needed.
The further along a person gets in Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, the more that decisions are made based on significant analysis of a situation instead of just trying to please somebody or to avoid punishment. The goal for any person should be to advance as far as possible in his or her moral development. People should be able to make moral decisions and judgments based on complex factors instead of on simplistic ones.