What is Lawrence Kohlberg's stage theory of moral development?

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Kohlberg, seeing that 10-11 years old is the beginning of formal operations (according to Piaget), questioned whether thinking about moral issues might have more stages. He determined that there were actually six stages, only 3 of which share features of Piaget’s stages. He asks children and adolescents questions about a man stealing a drug to save his wife’s life. He asks if it was right or wrong, but what he is really looking for is how they come up with their answer.

Level 1- Preconventional Morality

Stage 1-Obedience and Punishment Orientation- punishment proves it is bad to do certain things

Stage 2-Individualism and Exchange- punishment is something that you risk, but does not inherently make something bad

Level 2-Conventional Morality

Stage 3- Good Interpersonal Relationships- usually entered as children become teens. Belief that people should live up to certain standards or expectations. Be “good”. Character judgments are seen as vital to understanding a person and what they do (good, bad, nice, fair, unfair etc. )

Stage 4- Maintaining the Social Order-concern with society as a whole. Emphasis on obeying the law, showing respect for authority, and performing one’s duties.

Level 3- Postconventional Morality

Stage 5-Social Contract and Individual Rights- question what makes for a good society. Theoretical. What are the rights and values that people should be guaranteed? Idea that a good society is one that people freely enter into to work toward the benefit of all. Morality and rights take some precedence of over particular laws.

Stage 6- Universal Principals- define the principals by which we achieve justice. Justice such as that practiced by great moral leaders such as MLK and Gandhi. We would not vote for a law that helps some and hurts others. Empathy for others and dignity for all. (Kohlberg and other researchers have had a hard time finding subjects who function at level 6 consistently. Currently referring to this stage as a “theoretical stage.”)

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