Laurence Kohlberg’s theory of Moral Development I Six Stages of Moral Development

Posted on Apr 28 2021 - 7:31pm by Preeti

Laurence Kohlberg’s theory of Moral Development

Kohlberg became fascinated by Piaget’s studies of moral development and because of this he decides to further develop the theory of moral development. According to Kohlberg, there are three universal levels of moral development, each divided into two stages. These levels are:

Level I: Preconvention Reasoning
• Stage 1: heteronomous morality
• Stage 2: Individualism, instrumental purpose and exchange
Level II: Conventional Reasoning
• Stage 3: Mutual Interpersonal expectations, relationships and interpersonal conformity
• Stage 4: Social systems morality
Level III: Post-Conventional Reasoning
• Stage 5: Social contract and individual rights
• Stage 6: Universal ethical principles

 

Level and Stage

 

Description

Level I : Preconventional reasoning

Stage 1 : Heteronomous morality Moral decisions are based primarily on fear of punishment or the need to be obedient. Whatever is rewarded is good, whatever is punished is bad. Children obey because they fear punishment.
Stage 2: Individualism, instrumental purpose and exchange

 

Moral reasoning is guided most by satisfying one’s self-interest, which may involve making bargains. I’ll do something good for you if you do something good for me.
Level II: Conventional Reasoning

 

Stage 3: Mutual Interpersonal expectations, relationships and interpersonal conformity

 

Moral decisions are guided mostly by conforming to the standards of others we value. Children and adolescents may adopt the moral standards of their parents in order to be seen as good boys or girls.
Stage 4: Social systems morality

 

Moral reasoning is determined mostly by conforming to the laws of society. Rules and laws are obeyed because they are needed to maintain social order.
Level III: Post-Conventional Reasoning

 

Stage 5: Social contract and individual rights

 

Moral decisions are made after careful thinking about all the alternatives and striking a balance between human rights and laws of society.
Stage 6: Universal ethical principles

 

At this stage the individual has developed an internal moral code based on universal values and human rights that takes precedence over social rules and laws. When faced with a conflict between law and law and conscience will be followed

even though this may involve personal risk.

According to Kohlberg, children progress sequentially from lower to higher stages out of recognition that a higher stage of moral reasoning provides a better mechanism for the resolution of moral issues. Initially children make judgements about right or wrong based solely on how actions will affect them. However, over time they recognize that they may need to take other’s needs into account when determining what is right or wrong. Finally, it is recognized that morality concerns a set of standards and principles that account for human rights, not individual needs. According to Kohlberg everyone progresses through the levels in order, from lowest to higher. Not everyone reaches, however the highest levels of moral development.

Criticism of Theory of Moral Development by Kohlberg
1. It has been suggested that Kohlberg’s theory is culturally biased because it emphasizes ideals such as individual rights and social justice, which are found mainly in western cultures. Miller and Bersoff showed that American placed greater value on a justice orientation (stage 4) than Indians. In contrast, Indians placed a greater weight on interpersonal responsibilities, such as upholding one’s obligations to others and being responsive to others and being responsive to other people’s needs (stage 3).
2. Psychologist Carol Gilligan criticized it strongly on the grounds that it was biased against women. She has argued that Kohlberg’s theory is excessively androcentric (evaluation of individuals and cultures based on male perspectives, standards, and values). She noted that many women do not base moral judgements on the principles of justice emphasized by Kohlberg, rather they base them on what she termed care-based principles- concern over relationships, caring and the promotion of other’s welfare. Placing abstract principles of justice (stage 4) above relationships and concern for others (stage 3) is based on a male norm and reflects the fact most of Kohlberg’s research used male participants.
3. Kohlberg’s theory, like other stage theories, suggests that as people grow older, they move through a series of successive discrete stages. If that were true, then it would be predicted that individual’s moral reasoning across a wide range of moral dilemmas should be consistent – it should reflect the stage they have reached. But that’s not true. People frequently demonstrate significant inconsistency in their moral judgements.
4. Other psychologists have questioned the assumption that moral action is primarily a result of formal reasoning. Social intuitionists such as Jonathan Haidt argue that individuals often make moral judgments without weighing concerns such as fairness, law, human rights or ethical values. Thus the arguments analyzed by Kohlberg and other rationalist psychologists could be considered post hoc rationalizations of intuitive decisions; moral reasoning may be less relevant to moral action than Kohlberg’s theory suggests.

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