The Heinz Dilemma

By: Gabi Siewczynski

What is the Heinz Dilemma?

Heinz's dilemma is a well known example explaining the theory on the stages of moral development. The man who came up with this commonly used example in the 1960's is psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg.

The theory supporting the stages of moral development belongs to Lawrence Kohlberg. However, Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget is one of the most influencial scholar on children’s moral development whose work Kohlberg expanded on.

Heinz Dilemma - Kohlberg's stages of Moral Development (Interactive Animation)

The justification of a person's actions for what they believe they should do is what is significant.

  • "The because"
  • The form of moral reasoning displayed was analyzed, rather than its conclusion
  • Classified it as belonging to one of six distinct stages

Level 1. Preconventional Morality-

Focussed on the external, direct consequences that will result from the action taken.


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.
  • Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it is only worth $20,000 and not how much the druggist wanted for it; Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else.


Stage two (self-interest): what's in it for me?


  • Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he will have to serve a prison sentence.
  • Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would more likely languish in a jail cell than over his wife's death.




Level II. Conventional Morality-

People who are in the state of Conventional Morality they are most concerned with the acceptance of society's right and wrong.


Stage three (conformity): good VS bad


  • Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband.
  • Or: Heinz 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 four (law-and-order):


  • Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal.
  • Or: actions have consequences.

Level III. Postconventional Morality-

Living by one's own ethical principles, typically including basic human rights such as life, liberty, and justice are what one is taking into account


Stage five (human rights): opinions, rights and values regard individual members of communities


  • Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law.
  • Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick, it does not make his actions right.


Stage six (universal human ethics): reasoning while considering universal and ethical principles


  • Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person.
  • Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.

Connection to Lord of the Flies

Heinz's dilemma is an example that is significantly symbolic. The story Lord of the Flies is no different. As the story progresses there are many examples that mean much more than their literal meaning in the story.

The children were stranded on the island for a long time, during this time they aged, changed and developed greatly. For some their personalities changed rather quickly from civilized to savage like.

Along with personality and age change their moral development evolved as well. Their decisions reflected this which the Heinz Dilemma illustrates.

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Works Cited

"Lawrence Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 Jan. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg's_stages_of_moral_development>.


"Brain Pickings." Brain Pickings RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/03/29/heinz-dilemma-interactive/>.


"Kohlberg's Moral Stages." Kohlberg's Moral Stages. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm>.