The Merriem-Webster dictionary defines a moral as concerning or relating to what is
right or wrong in human behavior; based on what is you think is right or good. Morals
refer to the way a person thinks, behaves, or reacts. Morals guide us to what we think is
acceptable behavior. How does one go about acquiring certain moral values? It is
believed that moral development begins in our childhood and continues into adulthood.
Through these developmental years we acquire our values, beliefs, and thinking patterns.
It is believed that these then guide us to responsible behavior.
Lawrence Kohlberg (October 25, 1927-January 19, 1987) was an American
psychologist who is best known for his theory of stages of moral development. Kohlberg
thought that we learn moral values through thinking and reasoning. Moral judgement was
not considered a “hot topic” in his era, but he decided to study it anyway. Lawrence
Kohlberg was inspired by and agreed with the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s theory of
moral development, and was particullary facinated with children’s reactions to moral
dilemmas, but he also wanted to extend and develop these ideas even further.
Kohlberg’s theory states that moral reasoning has six individual stages of
development. Kohlberg studied moral development by posing dilemma stories to children
of all ages. He hoped as he did this he would discover how moral reasoning changed as
children/individuals grew. He identified three distinct levels of moral reasoning. It is
important to note that not everyone achieves all the stages. The lowest level is the
preconventional level, and moral thinking is guided by the physical consequences of
actions (punishment, rewards, or the exchange of favors). This level is characteristic of
younger children and delinquents. Stage 1 of this lowest level states that a individual
must be good to avoid being punished, and stage 2 says children start to recognize that
there is not just one right view taught by authorities, and different people have different
points of view. The second level is the conventional level, and is based on the desire to
please others. Authority is internalized but not questioned, and reasoning is based on
which group a person belongs to. Stage 3 at this level says that a child is good or behaves
well in order to be seen by other people as being good, and they want the approval of
others. Stage 4 states that children become increasingly aware of the rules of society, and
judgements now concern obeying rules in order to obey the law and avoid guilt. The
highest level is known as the postconventional level. This level states that moral behavior
is directed by self-chosen ethical principles and is based on justice and individual rights.
Stage 5 under this level states that the person becomes aware that...