Kohlberg's Stages in the Development of Moral

Diploma in Child Protection Studies
Kohlberg’s Stages in the Development of Moral Judgment
Stage One
Obedience-and-punishment orientation
The child obeys rules to avoid punishment. There is as yet no internalisation of moral standards.
Stage Two Naïve hedonistic and instrumental orientation
The child’s behaviour is motivated by a selfish desire to obtain rewards and benefits. Although reciprocity occurs,
it is self-serving, manipulative, and based on a marketplace outlook: “You can play with my blocks if you let me
play with your cars.”
Stage Three “Good boy”-“Nice girl” morality
The child is concerned with winning the approval of others and avoiding their disapproval. In judging the
goodness or badness of behaviour, the child considers a person’s intentions. The child has a conception of a
morally good person as one who possesses a set of virtues; hence, the child places much emphasis on being
Stage Four “Law-and-order” orientation
The individual blindly accepts social conventions and rules. Emphasis is on “doing one’s duty,” showing respect
for authority, and maintaining a given social order for its own sake.
Stage Five
Social contract orientation
The individual believes that the purpose of the law is to preserve human rights and that unjust laws should be
changed. Morality is seen as based on an agreement among individuals to conform to laws that are necessary for
the community welfare. But since it is a social contract, it can be modified as long as basic rights like life and
liberty are not impaired.
Stage Six
Universal ethical principle orientation
Conduct is controlled by an internalised set of ideas, which, if violated, results in self-condemnation and guilt. The
individual follows self-chosen ethical principles based on abstract concepts (e.g., the equality of human rights, the
Golden Rule, respect for the dignity of each human being) rather than concrete rules (e.g., the Ten
Commandments). Unjust laws may be broken because they conflict with broad moral principles.
Sources: Lawrence Kohlberg, “The development of Children’s orientations towards a Moral Order”. Vita Humana,
Vol.6 (1963) pp 11-33; “Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Development Approach To Socialisation” in
D.A.Goslin (ed.), Handbook of Socialisation Theory and Research (Chicago: rand McNally 1969) pp 347 – 480,
“Moral Stages and Moralisation” in T.Lickona (ed) Moral Development and Behaviour: Theory, research and
Social Issues (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976) pp 31 - 53
Page 1 of 1
© Child Matters