Kohlbergs stages of Moral Development
Lawrence Kohlberg laid the groundwork for the current debate within psychology on moral development. He proposed that children form ways of thinking through their experiences which include understandings of moral concepts such as justice, rights, equality and human welfare. Kohlberg followed the development of moral judgment beyond the ages. He determined that the process of attaining moral maturity took longer and was more gradual than other studies have shown.
Kohlberg identified six stages of moral grouped into three major levels. Each level represented a fundamental shift in the social-moral perspective of the individual. At the first level, the preconventional level, a person’s moral judgments are characterized by a individual perspective. Within this level, a Stage 1 they focused on avoiding breaking rules that are backed by punishment, obedience for its own sake and avoiding the physical consequences of an action to persons and property. At Stage 2 there is the early emergence of moral reciprocity. The Stage 2 focused on the value of an action. Reciprocity is of the form, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” The Golden Rule becomes, “If someone hits you, you hit them back.” At Stage 2 one follows the rules only when it is to someone’s immediate interests. What is right is what’s fair in the sense of an equal exchange, a deal, an agreement. At Stage 2 there is an understanding that everybody has his own interest to pursue and these conflict, so that right is relative.
Individuals tend to be self-identified with these rules, and uphold them consistently, viewing morality as acting in accordance with what society defines as right. Within this level, individuals at Stage 3 are aware of shared feelings, agreements, and expectations which take primacy over individual interests. Persons at Stage 3 define what is right in terms of what is expected by people close to one’s self, and in terms of the stereotypic roles that define being good. Being good means keeping mutual relationships, such as trust, loyalty, respect, and gratitude. The perspective is that of the local community or family. Stage 4 marks the shift from defining what is right in terms of local norms and role expectations to defining right in terms of the laws and norms established by the larger social system. This is the “member of society” perspective in which one is moral by fulfilling the actual duties defining their responsibilities. One must obey the law except in extreme cases in which the law comes into conflict with other prescribed social duties. Obeying the law is seen as necessary in order to maintain the system of laws which protect everyone.
Finally, the post conventional level is characterized by reasoning based on principles, using a “prior to society” perspective. These individuals reason based on the principles which underlie rules and norms, but reject a uniform application of a rule. While two stages have been presented within the theory, only one, Stage 5, has received substantial empirical support. Stage 6 remains as a theoretical endpoint which rationally follows from the preceding 5 stages. In essence this last level of moral judgment has reasoning rooted in the ethical fairness principles from which moral laws would be devised. Laws are within terms of their basic principles of fairness rather than basis of their place within an existing social order.