Lawrence Kohlberg Lawrence Kohlberg conducted research on moral development, using surveys as his major source of assessment. He presented surveys with moral dilemmas and asked his subjects to evaluate the moral conflict. In developing his theory, he made an intensive study using the same survey techniques of the bases on which children and youths of various ages make moral decisions. He found that moral growth also begins early in life and proceeds in stages throughout adulthood and beyond which is until the day we die. Influenced by Piaget’s concept of stages, Kohlberg’s theory was created based on the idea that stages of moral development build on each other in order of importance and significance to the person. On the basis of his research, Kohlberg identified six stages of moral reasoning 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, concrete, individual perspective characterizes a person`s moral judgments. Within this level, a Stage 1 heteronomous orientation focuses 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. As in Piaget’s framework, ego-centrism and the inability to consider the perspectives of others characterize the reasoning of Stage 1. At Stage 2 there is the early emergence of moral reciprocity. The Stage 2 orientation focuses on the instrumental, pragmatic 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.

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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 (her) own interest to pursue and these conflict, so that right is relative in the concrete individualist sense. Individuals at the conventional level of reasoning, however, have a basic understanding of conventional morality, and reason with an understanding that norms and conventions are necessary to uphold society. They tend to be self-identified with these rules, and uphold them consistently, viewing morality as acting in accordance with what society defines as right. 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. There is not as yet a consideration of the generalized social system. 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 one’s social 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 or norm. 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 evokes reasoning rooted in the ethical fairness principles from which moral laws would be devised. Laws are evaluated in terms of their coherence with basic principles of fairness rather than upheld simply on the basis of their place within an existing social order. Thus, there is an understanding that elements of morality such as regard for life and human welfare transcend particular cultures and societies and are to be upheld irrespective of other conventions or normative obligations. There is some controversy that Kohlberg`s theory of moral development is sexist towards women. Kohlberg’s theory is based on data drawn from an all-male sample.

Kohlberg’s six stages that describe the development of moral judgment from childhood to adulthood are based on a study of eighty-four boys whose development Kohlberg has followed for a period of over twenty years. Although Kohlberg claims universality for his stage sequence, those groups not included in his original sample rarely reach his higher stages. Those who appear to be deficient in moral development when measured by Kohlberg’s scale are women. Their judgments seem to reach only the third stage of his six-stage sequence. At this stage, morality is expressed in interpersonal terms and goodness is equated with helping and pleasing others.

This conception of goodness is considered by Kohlberg to be functional in the lives of mature women in the home. He implies that if women enter the traditional arena of male activities, then they will recognize the inadequacy of this moral perspective, and only in this way can they progress like men toward higher stages where relationships are subordinated to rules and rules to universal principles of justice. Women researchers have views of their own on Kohlberg`s implications that women don`t reach a full development of maturity. The reason why women cannot reach the higher stages of Kohlberg’s scale is not because their moral development cannot reach maturity. Research has found that woman’s moral development centers on the elaboration of the knowledge of the importance of responsibility, relationships, and care.

This importance is something that women have known from the beginning. However, because that knowledge in women has been considered “intuitive” or “instinctive,” psychologists have neglected to describe its development. The women’s care for and sensitivity to the needs of others traditionally has been defined as the “goodness” of women, but these also mark the women as deficient in moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg`s theory is the basis for debates today on moral development.The six stages of his theory are dependent on the other from simple to the complex. Each stage also is more cognitively complex than the previous stages.The works of Jean Piaget on cognitive development influenced Kohlberg.

There is some controversy on whether his theory is sexist. Arguments on this matter frequently arise among psychologists.


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