Stages of Moral Development

Raghav Kotha, 2nd Period GT English

Introduction to Kohlberg's stages of Moral Development

Moral Development is a major topic of interest in psychology. Lawrence Kohlberg is a famous psychologist who created a six stage theory of moral development with 3 levels(2 stages in each category). Kohlberg expanded on a theory created by psychologist Jean Piaget.

How did Kohlberg form his theory?

First, Kohlberg created a test that had a set of moral dilemmas, such as the Heinz Dilemma. Next, he administered this test to people(mostly children/teens) belonging to different age groups and saw their reactions to the moral dilemmas. Finally, he interviewed the test takers to see why they chose to "react" in the way they did to each scenario. These answers helped him create his theory.

Level 1: Preconventional Morality

Stage 1 - Obedience and Punishment
The earliest stage of moral development is especially common in young children, but sometimes adults are can display this form of morality. At this stage, people see rules as fixed and absolute. These people obey the rules to avoid punishment

Stage 2 - Individualism and Exchange

At this stage of moral development, children account for individual points of view and judge actions based on how they serve individual needs. People who exhibit this tend to do something if it will benefit them in some way.

Level 2: Conventional Morality

Stage 3 - Interpersonal Relationships
Often can be called the "good boy-good girl" stage, this stage of moral development is focused on living up to social expectations and roles. There is an emphasis on behavior conformity in which people change behavior to meet social expectations and look good in front of others.

Stage 4 - Maintaining Social Order
At this stage of moral development, people begin to consider society as a whole when making decisions. They tend to focus on maintaining law and order by following the rules, doing their duty and respecting officials. People obey the law and try to uphold it.

Level 3: Postconventional Morality

Stage 5 - Social Contract and Individual Rights
At this stage, people begin to account for the differing values, opinions and beliefs of other people. Rules of law are important for maintaining a society, but members tend to group and behave based on their values and beliefs. They also realize that laws are important but some issues are not clear cut and cannot be decided by existing laws;rather by change which they try to bring forth.

Stage 6 - Universal Principles
Kohlberg’s final level of moral development is based upon universal ethical principles and abstract reasoning. People act based on what they think is right rather than what the government/law thinks is right.
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Opposition to Kohlberg's theory

Critics state that his theory focuses on the individualistic nature of Western culture, while people from other parts of a world tend to work/live together as a group and think/react in a different way morally.

Critics also say that Kohlberg tests moral thinking but not action, because people can say something but never actually live up to their answer, this is especially true in Postconventional morality.

Connection to Lord of the Flies

William Golding included children at all different stages of moral development in order to show that people often stay or move backward on the stages of moral development. All the characters were in the same or a backward stage throughout the novel.

He included the Littluns, who were in the Preconventional Stage, because they were often individualistic when gathering fruits and often listened to the older kids so that they did not get in trouble.

Piggy and Ralph could be considered as people in the conventional stage, because they tried to make/enforce rules to keep order between the members of their group. They use the conch as a way to enforce laws.

Jack is part of the postconventional stage at first because he tries to do what he thinks is right, but soon progresses backwards to the pre conventional stages as he becomes self-serving and individualistic.


"Kohlberg." - Moral Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2014 <>.

"Moral Development." Moral Development. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Mar. 2014. <>.