Lawrence Kohlberg tested
children of different ages to
determine how moral values are
acquired. He developed a theory
that has three levels:
Preconventional Level
“If I can get away with it I will.”
• Stage 1 - Punishment - Actions are evaluated
based on whether or not they will result in
punishment, not on whether they are good or bad.
• Characteristic of young children and delinquents
“What’s in it for me?”
Stage 2 - Pleasure Seeking Orientation Actions are determined by one’s needs and
whether the other person will give you what you
“I don’t misbehave because my teacher wouldn’t like it.”
• Stage 3 - Good boy/good girl orientation Other’s approval is the measure of what is
“I don’t steal because it is against the law.”
• Stage 4 - Authority Orientation - Morality is
based on a respect for authority, doing one’s
duty and following social roles.
• Characteristic of older children and adults.
“I don’t steal because society has made a law
against stealing.”
• Stage 5 - Social -contract orientation Support of rules is based on rational
analysis and mutual agreement. Rules can
be negotiated, but are followed for the good
of others and to uphold deeply held
“I don’t steal because it is wrong.”
• Stage 6- Universal Ethics Principle
• The individual has chosen his/her own code
of principles that tend to be universal and
control all aspects of his/her life.
• High value is placed on justice, equality
and dignity. ***
• Only 20% of adults ever reach this stage.
Critics argue that Kohlberg’s model is biased because
it emphasizes western biases. A study of American and
Indian moral reasoning found that Americans are
concerned about justice while Indians were interested
in responsibilities in relationships.
Carol Gilligan was colleague of Kohlberg, from
Harvard, who found that women scored lower on tests
of Kohlberg’s model because they had a care
orientation focused on fairness to all parties
concerned, while men were had a justice orientation.
Research has indicated that each sex is influenced
somewhat by the above orientations, but neither sex is
completely influenced by either orientation.