Kohlberg’s Model of Moral Development

  • INTRODUCTION

    In 1958, Lawrence Kohlberg began developing the ‘stages of moral development’, his own adaption of a theory initially conceived by Jean Piaget. The first study was conducted on sample of 72 boys from either lower- or middle-class families, from the age groups of 10-, 13-, and 16-. Younger kids, delinquents, and boys and girls from other cities/countries were added to this sample later on.
  • Details of Experiment

    Participants were presented with a series of hypothetical moral dilemmas, the best-known being ‘Heinz Steals the Drug’.
    Each participant was asked what action Heinz should take, and their responses were classified into one of the six stages. In 1983, Kohlberg revised his scoring manual, making it more reliant on the reasoning used to arrive at the choice rather than the choice itself. He also conducted a longitudinal study with seven of the boys he tested in the 1958 interviews.
  • GENDER BIAS (cont.)

    Gilligan suggested that if Kohlberg’s scale were more sensitive to women’s distinctly interpersonal orientations, it would show that women also continue to develop their thinking beyond stage 3. Later on, she designed a model of moral development (ethics of care) for women; however, there was insufficient evidence to support her critique of Kohlberg.
  • CULTURAL BIAS (pt 1)

    CULTURAL BIAS (pt 1)
    Kohlberg’s model has been criticised as culturally biased because it emphasises ideals found primarily in Western cultures, eg) individual rights and social justice. This resulted in the study’s expansion to several other countries, including Canada, the UK, Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey, Israel, the Yucatan, Honduras, Kenya, and the Bahamas. Findings showed that people in different cultures went through the sequence at different rates and reached different end-points.
  • CULTURAL BIAS (pt 2)

    In the US, most urban middle-class adults reached stage 4, with a small percentage reaching stage 5. This is also prevalent in urban areas of other countries. However, in the isolated villages and tribal communities of many countries, it was rare to find any adult beyond stage 3. Kohlberg suggested that cultural factors did not directly shape the child’s moral thought, but instead stimulated thinking.
  • CULTURAL BIAS (pt 3)

    Social experiences can challenge children’s ideas, motivating them to come up with new ones. In traditional villages, however, there may have been little to challenge a stage 3 morality and challenge further thinking; the norms of care and empathy work very well in governing the face-to-face interactions of the group.
  • GENDER BIAS

    GENDER BIAS
    Carol Gillian suggested that Kohlberg’s theory was biased against women. After females were admitted into the study, on average, they have consistently scored lower than men have.
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    Note

    The stages are placed on the timeline in a way that coincides with the ages at which, according to Kohlberg’s revised studies (1983, with Colby et al.), most people would be at in their moral development. As it is an approximation, it should be used only as a general guide.
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    LEVEL 1: Preconventional level

    (Ages <13) Authority is outside the individual and reasoning is based on the physical consequences of actions.
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    GENDER BIAS

    Carol Gillian suggested that Kohlberg’s theory was biased against women. After females were admitted into the study, on average, they have consistently scored lower than men have. Gilligan suggested that if Kohlberg’s scale were more sensitive to women’s distinctly interpersonal orientations, it would show that women also continue to develop their thinking beyond stage 3.
  • Stage 1

    Stage 1
    Obedience and punishment orientation; behaviour is judged good if it serves to avoid punishment.
    ARGUMENT FAVOURING HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG: Heinz should steal the drug to avoid being blamed if his wife dies.
    ARGUMENT AGAINST HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG: Heinz shouldn’t steal the drug because he would be punished for stealing it if he were caught and would be sent to jail.
  • Stage 2

    Stage 2
    Instrumental purpose orientation; behaviour is judged good when it serves personal needs or interests.
    ARGUMENT FAVOURING HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG: Heinz should steal the drug because he needs his wife and she might die without it.
    ARGUMENT AGAINST HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG: Heinz would likely be sent to prison and his wife would probably die before he gets out, so it wouldn’t do her or himself any good to steal the drug.
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    LEVEL 2: Conventional level

    (Ages 13<) Authority is internalised but not questioned and reasoning is based on the norms of the group to which the person belongs.
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    LEVEL 3: Postconventional level

    (Ages 20<) Individual judgment is based on self-chosen principles, and moral reasoning is based on individual rights and justice.
  • Stage 6

    Stage 6
    Universal ethical principle orientation; adopting an internal moral code based on universal values that takes precedence over social rules and laws.
    FAVOURING STEALING: Heinz would be morally wrong not to steal the drug because it would violate his belief in the absolute value of a human life.
    AGAINST STEALING: Sometimes doing what we believe is right requires personal sacrifice. If Heinz truly believes that stealing is worse than letting his wife die, he must not steal the drug.
  • Stage 3

    Stage 3
    “Good boy-nice girl” orientation; confirming with rules to impress others.
    ARGUMENT FAVOURING HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG: People would lose respect for Heinz if he didn’t at least try to save his wife by stealing the drug.
    ARGUMENT AGAINST HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG: Heinz shouldn’t take the drug because other will see him as a criminal, and that would bring shame and dishonour to his family.
  • Stage 4

    Stage 4
    Authority or law-and-order orientation; obeying rules and laws because they are needed to maintain social order.
    ARGUMENT FAVOURING HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG: Heinz must steal the drug because he has a duty to protect his wife. People need to do their duty even if they might get punished for it.
    ARGUMENT AGAINST HEINZ STEALING THE DRUG; People should not be permitted to break the law under any circumstances. The law must be respected.
  • Stage 5

    Stage 5
    Social contract orientation; viewing rules and laws as based on mutual agreement in the service of the common good.
    ARGUMENT FAVOURING HEINZ STEALING: While laws should be obeyed to maintain order in society, an exception should be made in Heinz’s case because a law should not take precedence over protecting a human life.
    ARGUMENT AGAINST HEINZ STEALING: Though Heinz faces and difficult choice, he reasons that respect for the law outweighs individual needs no matter what the circumstances.