Lawrence Kohlberg - Mississippi State University

A moral dilemma…
In Europe a woman was near death from cancer. One drug
might save her, a form of radium that a druggist in the same
town had recently discovered. The druggist was charging
$2,000, ten times what the drug cost him to make. The sick
woman’s husband went to everyone he knew to borrow the
money, but still could not get together even half the cost. He
told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell
it to him cheaper or let him pay for the rest later, but the
druggist said “No.” The husband got desperate and broke into
the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife. Should the
husband have done this? Why?
Lawrence Kohlberg
October 25, 1927 – January 19, 1987
American Psychologist
Emphasis: Moral development
Teacher at Yale, the University of
Chicago and Harvard
“When people consider moral dilemmas, it is their
reasoning that is important, not their final decision.”
Kohlberg ’s Piaget!!!!!!!
theories on
are an
of Piaget’s
Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Reasoning
Kohlberg proposed that
people pass through 6
stages of moral
judgment or reasoning.
Stages 1 & 2: Preconventional Level
The preconventional level is the first stage of moral
development where the child’s choices are based
primarily around the rules set down by others.
Most children will pass through stage 1 & 2 by the
age of 9
Stage 1: Punishment & Obedience
One’s moral decisions
are based upon the
physical consequences
of actions
The child will only act
good in order to avoid
being punished
Don’t let the man get you down!
Stage 2
Instrumental Relativist Orientation
It’s all about
What is “right” is
whatever satisfies
one’s own needs, and
occasionally the needs
of others.
“You scratch my back,
and I’ll scratch yours”
interpretation of
fairness and reciprocity
Stages 3 & 4: Conventional Level
Individual adopts rules and will sometimes
subordinate own needs to those of the group.
Expectations of family, group or nation seen
as valuable in own right regardless of
immediate and obvious consequences.
Stage 3
Good Boy - Good Girl Orientation
Characterized by
being “nice”
Good behavior is
whatever pleases or
helps others
Stage 4
Doing One’s Duty
Social Order
Stages 5 & 6
Post Conventional Level
Attained by fewer than
25% of all adults
Stages 5 & 6 are
characterized by a
person’s ability to
define their values
based upon their own
ethical principles
Stage 5
Social Contract Orientation
A societies laws and values
are seen as somewhat
arbitrary and culturally
What is right is defined in
terms of general
individual’s rights or by
terms and standards agreed
upon by society
Laws are not seen as
“frozen” but always up for
debate and subject to
Stage 6
Universal Ethical Principal Orientation
What is right is defined by
one’s own conscience and
ethical principles.
“Justice is above the law.”
The Golden Rule vs. the 10
Abstract and ethical not
specific moral prescriptions
Later in life Kohlberg
speculated that stages 5
& 6 are really not
separated and should
be combined
Moral development is
principally concerned
with justice and
continues throughout
one’s lifespan
Criticisms of Kohlberg’s Theory
One limitation of his work
is that it mostly involved
Boys’ moral reasoning
revolves primarily around
issues of justice, girls are
more concerned about
issues of caring and
responsibility for others.
Another criticism is that
young children can often
reason about moral
situations in more
sophisticated ways than a
stage theory would suggest.
The most important
limitation of Kohlberg’s
theory is that it deals with
moral reasoning than with
actual behavior.
Value to Practitioners
Educators (and families) have grappled with the important
distinction that theories deal with moral reasoning rather than
actual moral behavior.
Many schools have chosen to institutionalize a global,
inclusive approach to character building with input from
teachers, administrators, parents, and, at the higher grade
levels, even students. This emphasizes the individual citizen
as a member of the social institution and advocate particular
levels of moral behavior.
A teacher might choose to capitalize on students’ natural
curiosity and might teach values and decision making through
“What if…?” discussions.
Psychology (8th and
9th Editions) R. Slavin
Wikipedia, duh.
And a couple youtube
videos..which didn’t really help much