Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development
Lawrence Kohlberg conducted research on the moral development of children. He wanted to understand how they develop a sense of right or wrong and how justice is served. Kohlberg used surveys in which he included moral dilemmas where he asked the subjects to evaluate a moral conflict. Through his studies, Kohlberg observed that moral growth and development precedes through stages such as those of Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. He theorized that moral growth begins at the beginning of life and continues until the day one dies. He believed that people proceed through each stage of moral development consecutively without skipping or going back to a previous stage. The stages of thought processing, implying qualitatively different modes of thinking and of problem solving are included in the three levels of pre-conventional, conventional and post conventional development. (2)
At the pre-conventional level, behavior is motivated by anticipation of pleasure or pain. The child is aware of cultural rules and labels of good or bad and right or wrong. (1) The subject interprets the labels in terms of the physical consequence, such as punishment or reward. (3) The child has an extreme self-interest. The first level of moral thinking is generally found at the elementary school level, before the age of 9. This level is divided into the following two stages. (2)
The first stage is the punishment and obedience orientation. This is observed in children ages 1-5. The subject is in avoidance of physical punishment and deference to power. The child behaves according to the socially acceptable norms, due to the fear of punishment by an authority figure. (4) The physical consequences of an action determine its goodness or badness. “What is right is to avoid breaking rules, to obey for obedience’s sake, and to avoid doing physical damage to people and property.” An example of stage one is evident in the soldiers of the holocaust who were asked to simply “carry out orders” under the threat of being punished. This illustrates that adults, as well as children may possibly be functioning at stage one. (2) An individual at this stage doesn’t consider the thoughts or feelings of others, nor are they able to relate two points of view. As in Piaget’s framework, ego-centrism and the inability to consider the perspectives of others characterize the reasoning of stage one. (8)
Stage two is the individual instrumental purpose and exchange orientation. Subjects usually between the ages of 5 to 10 are observed maintaining the attributes of being “self-serving.” (4) This stage is characterized by a view that right behavior means acting in one’s own best interest and occasionally taking into consideration the needs of others. There is an early emergence of moral reciprocity. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” The individual will do what is necessary to satisfy his own needs not...