Stages of development of morality in Kohlberg's theories (2023)

Kohlberg's theory of moral development is a theory that focuses on how children develop morality and moral reasoning. Kohlberg's theory suggests that moral development occurs in a series of six stages and that moral logic focuses primarily on seeking and maintaining justice.

Here we discuss how Kohlberg developed his theory of moral development and what six stages he identified as part of this process. We also share some criticisms of Kohlberg's theory, many of which suggest that it may be biased due to the limited demographics of the subjects studied.

What is moral development?

Moral development is the process by which people develop a distinction between right and wrong (morality) and reason between the two (moral reasoning).

How do people develop morality? This question has long intrigued parents, religious leaders, and philosophers, but moral development has also become a hot topic in psychology and pedagogy.Do parental or societal influences play a larger role in moral development? Do all children develop morality in a similar way?

American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg has developed one of the best-known theories that examines some of these fundamental questions.His work has been modified and expanded.Jean PiagetPrevious work, however, has focused more on explaining how children develop moral reasoning.

Expanding on Piaget's theory, Kohlberg proposed that moral development is a continuous process that occurs throughout life. Kohlberg's theory describes six stages of moral development at three different levels.

In recent years, Kohlberg's theory has been criticized for being Western-centric with a male bias (he used mainly male research subjects) and a narrow-minded worldview based on upper-middle-class value systems and perspectives. .

How Kohlberg developed his theory

Kohlberg based his theory on a series of moral dilemmas presented to his study participants. The participants were also interviewed to determine the reasons for their judgments in each scenario.

An example was "Heinz steals the drug." In this scenario, a woman has cancer and her doctors believe that only medicine can save her. This drug was discovered by a local pharmacist and he could make it for $200 a dose and sell it for $2000 a dose. The woman's husband, Heinz, was only able to raise $1,000 to buy the drug.

You tried to negotiate a lower price with the pharmacist or get extended credit to pay for it over time. But the pharmacist refused to sell it for less or accept partial payments. Rebuffed, Heinz broke into the pharmacy and stole the medicine to save his wife. Kohlberg asked, "Should the husband have done this?"

Kohlberg wasn't as interested as he was in whether or not Heinz was right.argumentationby decision of each participant. He then placed his arguments within the stages of his theory of moral development.

stages of moral development

Kohlberg's theory is divided into three main levels. At each level of moral development there are two stages. Just as Piaget believed that not all people reach the highest levels of cognitive development, Kohlberg believed that not everyone reaches the highest levels of moral development.

levels of moral developmentEraSteps included in this level
preconventional morality0 a 9Level 1: obedience and punishment Level 2: individualism and sharing
conventional moralityEarly adolescence to adulthoodLevel 3: Develop good interpersonal relationships Level 4: Maintain social order
postconventional moralitysome adults; RarelyLevel 5: Social contract and individual rights Level 6: Universal principles

Level 1. Preconventional morality

Preconventional morality is the initial period of moral development. It lasts until about the ninth year of life. At this age, children's decisions are largely determined by adult expectations and the consequences of breaking the rules. Within this level there are two levels:

  • Stage 1 (Obedience and Punishment): The early stages of moral development, obedience and punishment are particularly common in young children, but adults are also capable of expressing this type of reasoning. According to Kohlberg, people at this stage see the rules as fixed and absolute.Following the rules is important because it is a way to avoid punishment.
  • Level 2 (individualism and exchange): In the individualism and exchange stage of moral development, children consider individual points of view and judge actions according to how well they meet individual needs. In Heinz's Dilemma, the children argued that the best course of action was the choice that best met Heinz's needs.reciprocityit is possible at this point in moral development, but only if it serves one's own interests.

Level 2. Conventional Morality

The next period of moral development is marked by the acceptance of social rules about what is good and what is moral. During this time, youth and adults internalize the moral standards they have learned from their role models and from society.

This period also focuses on accepting authority and adhering to group norms. At this level of morality, there are two stages:

  • Level 3 (development of good interpersonal relationships): This interpersonal relationship phase of moral development, often called the "good boy-nice girl" orientation, focuses on sticking to it.expectations and social roles.There is an emphasis onaccordance, be "cool" and consider how decisions affect relationships.
  • Level 4 (maintenance of social order): This phase focuses on ensuring that social order is maintained. At this stage of moral development, people begin to look at society as a whole when making judgments. The focus is on maintaining law and order by following the rules, doing duty, and respecting authority.

Level 3. Postconventional morality

At this level of moral development, people develop an understanding of the abstract principles of morality. The two steps at this level are:

  • Level 5 (articles of incorporation and individual rights): The ideas of social contract and individual rights mean that people in the next stage begin to deal with the different values, opinions and beliefs of other people.The rules of law are important for the maintenance of a society, but the members of the society must agree to these rules.
  • Level 6 (Universal Principles): Kohlberg's highest level of moral reasoning is based on universal ethical principles and abstract thought. At this stage, people follow these internalized principles of fairness even when they conflict with laws and regulations.

Kohlberg believed that only a relatively small percentage of people make it to the post-conventional stages (about 10 to 15 percent).One analysis found that while stages one through four can be considered universal in populations around the world, stages five and six were extremely rare in all populations.

Applications of Kohlberg's theory

Understanding Kohlberg's theory of moral development is important because it can help parents guide their children in developing their moral character. parents withyounger childrenFor example, they can work on following rules, while perhaps teaching older children about social expectations.

Teachers and other educators can also apply Kohlberg's theory in the classroom, providing additional moral guidance. A kindergarten teacher can help promote moral development by establishing clear classroom rules and the consequences for breaking them. This helps children in the first stage of moral development.

A secondary school teacher might focus more on the development that occurs in stage three (developing good interpersonal relationships) and stage four (maintaining social order). This can be achieved by involving students in defining the rules to be followed in the classroom, giving them a better idea of ​​the reasons behind those rules.

A critique of Kohlberg's theory of moral development

Kohlberg's theory played an important role in the development of moral psychology. While the theory has been highly influential, some aspects of the theory have been criticized for a variety of reasons:

  • Moral thought is not the same as moral behavior.: Kohlberg's theory deals with moral reasoning, but there is a big difference between knowing what we should do and our actual actions. Moral considerations must not, therefore, lead to moral behaviour.
  • justice overrated: Critics have pointed out that Kohlberg's theory of moral development overestimates the concept of fairness in moral decisions. Factors such as compassion, caring, and other interpersonal feelings can play an important role in moral reasoning.
  • cultural tour:Individualistic Culturesemphasize personal rights whilecollectivist culturesemphasize the importance of society and community. Eastern collectivist cultures may have different moral views that Kohlberg's theory does not take into account.
  • age distortion: Most of his subjects were children under the age of 16 who were obviously inexperienced in marriage. The Heinz dilemma may have been too abstract for these children to understand, and a scenario that applied better to their everyday problems would have produced different results.
  • gender bias: Kohlberg's critics, including Carol Gilligan, have suggested that Kohlberg's theory was gender-biased, since all the subjects in his sample were male.Kohlberg believed that women tended to remain at the third level of moral development because they placed more emphasis on things like social relationships and the well-being of others.

Rather, Gilligan suggested that Kohlberg's theory overemphasizes concepts such as justice and fails to adequately address principled moral considerations and the ethics of care and concern for others.

Other theories of moral development

Kohlberg is not the only psychologist to theorize about how we develop morally. There are several other theories of moral development.

Piaget's theory of moral development.

Kohlberg's theory is an extension ofto the Piaget theoryof moral development. Piaget described a three-stage process of moral development:

  • Level 1: The child is more concerned with developing and mastering his motor and social skills without worrying about morality in general.
  • Level 2: The child develops unconditional respect for both authority figures and established rules.
  • level 3: The child begins to see rules as arbitrary and also considers an actor's intentions when judging whether an action or behavior is moral or immoral.

Kohlberg expanded this theory to include additional stages in the process. Furthermore, while Piaget's stages of moral development are common to all, Kohlberg believed that individuals rarely reach the last stage.

moral basis theory

The moral foundations theory proposed by Jonathan Haidt, Craig Joseph, and Jesse Graham is based on three moral principles:

  1. Intuition develops before strategic thinking🇧🇷 In other words, our reaction comes first, then rationalization.
  2. Morality involves more than harm and justice🇧🇷 There are a series of moral considerations contained in this second principle. Includes: care versus harm, freedom versus oppression, justice versus deceit,loyaltycontraTreason, authority versus subversion and holiness versus degradation.
  3. Morality can unite blind groups and individuals🇧🇷 When people are part of a group, they tend to adopt the same value systems as that group. They may also sacrifice their own morale for the benefit of the group.

While Kohlberg's theory focuses primarily on helping in the face of harm, the moral foundations theory encompasses several other dimensions of morality. However, this theory also fails to explain the "rules" that people use to determine what is best for society.

Normative theories of moral behavior

There are several other theories that try to explain the development ofMoralespecially in relation to social justice.Some fall into the transcendental institutionalist category, which involves trying to establish "perfect justice." Others are achievement oriented and more focused on correcting injustice.

A theory that falls into the second category is social choice theory. Social choice theory is a collection of models that attempt to explain how individuals can use their inputs (preferences) to influence society as a whole. An example of this is voting, where the majority can decide what is "right" and what is "wrong."

A word from Verywell

Although Kohlberg's theory of moral development has been criticized, the theory played an important role in the rise of the field of moral psychology. Researchers continue to explore how moral reasoning develops and changes throughout life and the universality of these stages. Understanding these stages provides useful information about how children and adults make moral decisions and how moral thinking can influence decisions and behavior.

11 fuentes

Verywell Mind only uses quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts in our articles. read ourpublishing processto learn more about how we verify our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Lapsley D.Moral agency, identity and narrative in moral development.development buzz. 2010;53(2):87-97. doi:10.1159/000288210

  2. Elorrieta Grimalt M.A critical analysis of Lawrence Kohlberg's moral and educators. 2012;15(3):497-512. doi:10.5294/edu.2012.15.3.9

  3. Govrin A.From nursing ethics to nursing psychology: reconnecting nursing ethics with contemporary moral psychology.frontal psychology. 2014;5:1135. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01135

  4. American Psychological Association.Heinz's dilemma.

  5. American Psychological Association.Kohlberg's theory of moral development.

  6. Kohlberg L,essays on moral development. Harper and Row; 1985.

  7. Mom H.K.The moral development of children: an integrated model.Public Health Front. 2013;1:57. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2013.00057

  8. gibbs j.Moral development and reality.🇬🇧 4th edition Oxford University Press; 2019

  9. gilligan c.with a different voice🇧🇷 Harvard University Press; 2016.

  10. Patanela D.Piaget's theory of moral development..Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. 2011. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-79061-9_2167

  11. Dubas KM, Dubas SM, Mehta R.Theories of justice and moral behavior.J Legal ethical issues in regulation. 2014;17(2):17-35.

Stages of development of morality in Kohlberg's theories (1)

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What are Kohlberg's stages of moral development What are examples of each? ›

Kohlberg's 6 Stages of Moral Development
  • The full story. ...
  • Stage 1: Obedience and punishment. ...
  • Stage 2: Self-interest. ...
  • Stage 3: Interpersonal accord and conformity. ...
  • Stage 4: Authority and maintaining social order. ...
  • Stage 5: Social contract. ...
  • Stage 6: Universal ethical principles. ...
  • Pre-conventional level.
22 Jan 2021

What is the correct answer to the Heinz dilemma? ›

Everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law. The scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick, it does not make his actions right. Saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person.

What are Kohlberg's 3 stages of moral development? ›

Key Takeaways: Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development

The levels are called preconventional morality, conventional morality, and postconventional morality. Since it was initially proposed, Kohlberg's theory has been criticized for overemphasizing a Western male perspective on moral reasoning.

What is the conclusion of Kohlberg's theory of moral development? ›

Moral development is invariant, individuals go through the stages one at a time and they are in a fixed order, but some Individuals may not reach the final stage. He also concluded that the order of stages is universal across all cultures.

What are stages of moral development explain each briefly? ›

Kohlberg identified three distinct levels of moral reasoning: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. Each level has two sub-stages. People can only pass through these levels in the order listed. Each new stage replaces the reasoning typical of the earlier stage. Not everyone achieves all the stages.

What have you learned about Kohlberg's stages of moral development? ›

Kohlberg's theory of moral development is a theory that focuses on how children develop morality and moral reasoning. Kohlberg's theory suggests that moral development occurs in a series of six stages and that moral logic is primarily focused on seeking and maintaining justice.

Should Heinz steal the drug Why or why not what stage is your answer? ›

Stage one (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he will consequently be put in prison which will mean he is a bad person.

Should Heinz steal the drug Why or why not answer? ›

Or: H should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he has tried to do everything he can without breaking the law, you cannot blame him. Stage 4 (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal.

Why is it called Heinz dilemma? ›

a story about an ethical dilemma faced by a character named Heinz that was used by Lawrence Kohlberg to assess the moral reasoning skills of those he asked to respond to it. Having exhausted every other possibility, Heinz must decide whether to steal an expensive drug that offers the only hope of saving his dying wife.

Why is moral development important to our lives essay? ›

Moral development helps you with improving your beliefs because it is possible to believe wrong things while growing up considering many times people don't bother telling you what is wrong or right. Many children don't get proper education about morality and ethics which leads them in the wrong direction.

What is Kohlberg's most important contribution to the moral development? ›

Kohlberg is most well known among psychologists for his research in moral psychology, but among educators he is known for his applied work of moral education in schools. The three major contributions Kohlberg made to moral education were the use of Moral Exemplars, Dilemma Discussions, and Just Community Schools.

How is Kohlberg's theory of moral development used today? ›

Another use of Kohlbergs Theory is it's use for a model of disipline in school systems. A writer by the name of Budd Churchwood developed a system using Kohlbergs theory of moral development to explain that children function at different levels of disipline.

What is the most important stage of moral development? ›

Stage 6: Universal ethical principle orientation

According to Kohlberg, this is the highest stage of functioning. However, he claimed that some individuals will never reach this level. At this stage, the appropriate action is determined by one's self-chosen ethical principles of conscience.

What is moral development in your own words? ›

Moral development refers to the process whereby people form a progressive sense of what is right and wrong, proper and improper.

What is the most common stage of moral development? ›

Conventional. The conventional level of moral reasoning is typical of adolescents and adults.

What is moral development and why is it important? ›

Moral development focuses on the emergence, change, and understanding of morality from infancy through adulthood. In the field of moral development, morality is defined as principles for how individuals ought to treat one another, with respect to justice, others' welfare, and rights.

How does Kohlberg explain moral development in children? ›

According to Kohlberg, children early in their middle childhood stage of development will typically display "Preconventional" moral reasoning. Children displaying preconventional moral reasoning have internalized basic culturally prescribed rules governing right and wrong behavior.

What is the purpose of Heinz's dilemma? ›

The Heinz dilemma is a thought exercise that is used to study ethics and morality scenarios. In psychology it is used in Kohlberg's stages of moral development. Kohlberg would present this dilemma to people and then ask questions to determine their stage of moral development.

How does Heinz dilemma relate to moral development? ›

In the 1960s, psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg built upon Piaget's work with his own theory on the stages of moral development. Much of his reasoning was based on the Heinz dilemma, which explores how people justify and rationalize their actions when placed in similar moral quandaries.

Should Heinz have stolen the drug would it change anything if Heinz did not love his wife? ›

No, it would not change. I would still steal the drug, as should Heinz. It would be saving a life of someone else. 3.

Is Heinz dilemma a moral issue? ›

This decision lets Heinz save his wife and both of them can live happily. This thinking is based on the thought that the rigidity in law should be rejected and justice should be done on moral grounds. This is a Post-conventional level of Moral thinking.

What is an example of moral development? ›

During this stage, moral development is influenced by social expectations or norms. A person makes moral decisions based on how it will affect their interpersonal relationships. For example, a child who acts nice or behaves properly to win the approval of others.

What is a moral dilemma Kohlberg? ›

A moral dilemma, as developed by Kohlberg, is a fictional story where someone is faced with a situation in which they must make a difficult moral decision. The most notable is the Heinz dilemma, where a man has a wife who is on her deathbed and needs an expensive drug to survive that they cannot afford.

What is the impact of moral development in a person's life? ›

Through understanding principles of fairness, justice, and social responsibilities, children learn to find a balance between their own needs and wants and the interests of the greater social environment. By placing limits on their desires, children benefit from a greater sense of love, security, and shared identity.

Why morality is important in our daily life? ›

Being treated morally increases happiness, and treated immorally decreases it. Personally engaging in moral acts increased people's sense of meaning and purpose in life. Among other findings, this study revealed that the religious and non-religious were equally likely to commit moral and immoral acts.

Why is it important to learn about morality? ›

They are standards that help an individual choose for himself between right and wrong or good and bad. This understanding of morals is absolutely necessary for anyone to make honest, credible, and fair decisions and relations in their daily lives. Moral development is an essential process of overall human development.

What is moral development give some examples? ›

During this stage, moral development is influenced by social expectations or norms. A person makes moral decisions based on how it will affect their interpersonal relationships. For example, a child who acts nice or behaves properly to win the approval of others.

What is an example of Postconventional moral development? ›

1. Rosa Parks Refusing to Move on the Bus. Rosa Parks stood up for what she saw as universal moral principles despite the fact society around her disagreed. She had reached the level of postconventional morality.

What are Kohlberg's stages of moral development quizlet? ›

  • Overview. Moral development related to cognitive development. ...
  • Premoral level. ...
  • Conventional Morality. ...
  • Post-conventional morality. ...
  • Stage 1- Punishment and Obedience Orientation. ...
  • Stage 2- Instrumental Relativism. ...
  • Stage 3- interpersonal Concordance. ...
  • Stage 4- Society maintaining (law and order orientation)

What is an example of conventional morality? ›

Conventional Level

The morality of an action depends heavily on peer approval. Example: I better not drink and drive because my friends will think less of me and I, in turn, will think less of myself.

Why it is important to understand our moral development? ›

Moral development helps you with improving your beliefs because it is possible to believe wrong things while growing up considering many times people don't bother telling you what is wrong or right. Many children don't get proper education about morality and ethics which leads them in the wrong direction.

What is the main idea of moral development theory? ›

Piaget's Theory of Moral Development

To understand adult morality, Piaget believed that it was necessary to study how morality manifests in the child's world and the factors that contribute to the emergence of central moral concepts such as welfare, justice, and rights.

What is the most ideal stage of moral development? ›

Stage 6: Universal ethical principle orientation

According to Kohlberg, this is the highest stage of functioning. However, he claimed that some individuals will never reach this level. At this stage, the appropriate action is determined by one's self-chosen ethical principles of conscience.

What does Preconventional mean? ›

preconventional (not comparable) (ethics) Belonging to the earliest of Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development, focusing on self-interest and on obedience for the sake of avoiding punishment.

What is an example of post-conventional stage? ›

Post-conventional Moral Development

For example, the man should break into the store because, even if it is against the law, the wife needs the drug and her life is more important than the consequences the man might face for breaking the law.

What is Kohlberg's theory of moral development essay? ›

Kohlberg believes that moral development is a process which occurs throughout the lifespan and does not end at any given time. He is not so much focused on the right or wrong answer but in the reasoning behind the decision making. Stage one of preconventional morality focuses on obedience and punishment.

What are the Kohlberg's stages of moral development in lifespan? ›

Kohlberg identified three levels of moral reasoning: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional: Each level is associated with increasingly complex stages of moral development.

What is the Postconventional morality? ›

Definition. Postconventional morality, a concept developed largely by psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, identifies the ethical reasoning of moral actors who make decisions based on rights, values, duties, or principles that are (or could be) universalizable.

What is Preconventional and Postconventional? ›

To capture such individual differences in moral development, Kohlberg's theory1 classified moral development into three levels: pre-conventional level (motivated by self-interest); conventional level (motivated by maintaining social-order, rules and laws); and post-conventional level (motivated by social contract and ...

What age is Postconventional morality? ›

5.12: Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development
AgeMoral Level
Young children- usually prior to age 9Preconventional morality
Older children, adolescents, and most adultsConventional morality
Rare with adolescents and few adultsPostconventional morality
2 Jun 2019


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