Lawrence Kohlberg

Moral Development

By: Anita Kalangara, Neha Kodali, Colleen Jones, Balsubash Balakrishnan, & Riley Phillips

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Moral Development - emergence, change, and understanding of morality

Morality- principles for how individuals should treat each other i.e. respect justice, welfare, rights

Level 1: Pre-conventional Morality

Most nine-year-olds and younger (some over nine) are at the pre-conventional level. At this level, individuals don’t have a personal code of morality. Instead, the moral code is shaped by the standards of adults and the consequences of following or breaking their rules. So in essence, the authority is outside the individual and the reasoning is based upon the physical consequences of their actions.
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Stage 1: Obedience and Punishment Orientation

The individual is good in order to avoid being punished. So if a person is punished, they must have done wrong.

Stage 2: Individualism and Exchange

At this stage, children recognize that there is not necessarily just one right view that is handed down by the authorities. So, different individuals have different viewpoints. The right behavior is defined by the individual's viewpoint (what's in it for me)

Level 2: Conventional Morality

Most adolescents and adults are at the conventional level. The individuals begin to internalize the moral standards of valued adult role models. So, the authority is internalized but not questioned and reasoning is based on the norms of the group to which the person belongs.
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Stage 3: Good Interpersonal Relationships

At this stage most children are entering their teenage years. They emphasize having good motives towards those close to them. The belief that people should live up to family and community expectations is instilled. Here the morality of an action is determined by the consequences of personal relationships. Individuals conform to society as social consensus determines good intentions.

Stage 4: Maintaining the Social Order

Here morality is dictated by an outside force. Emphasis is put on obeying laws and respecting authority, and performing necessary tasks to maintain social order. Subjects think from a full-fledged member-of-society perspective.

Level 3: Post-conventional Morality

About 10-15% of adults that are not in their mid-30s are at the post-conventional level. Individual judgement is based on self-chosen principles, and moral reasoning is based on individual rights and justice.
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Stage 5: Social Contract and Individual Rights

Consider rights and values that a society should uphold. Individuals believe that a good society is best conceived as a social contract into which people freely enter to work toward the benefit of all. They believe morality and rights take priority over certain laws.

Stage 6: Universal Principles

Has a clearer and broader conception of universal principles. The principles of justice guide us toward decisions based on an equal respect for all. Subjects at stage 6 are more likely to endorse civil disobedience.


Kohlberg believed that individuals could only progress through these stages one stage at a time. They could not "jump" stages. They could only come to a comprehend the morality one stage above their own. According to Kohlberg, it was important to present them with moral dilemmas for discussion which would help them to see the reasonableness of a "higher stage" morality and encourage their development in that direction. He saw this as one of the ways in which moral development can be promoted through formal education. Kohlberg believed, like Piaget, that most moral development occurs through social interaction. The discussion approach is based on the insight that individuals develop as a result of cognitive conflicts at their current stage. Ex: Should a person steal medicine to save a loved one’s life?
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  • Stage development is invariant and sequential
  • Subjects can't comprehend moral reasoning at a stage more than one stage beyond their own.
  • Individuals are cognitively attracted to reasoning one level above their own present level.
  • Movement through the stages is effected when a person's cognitive outlook isn't adequate to cope with a given moral dilemma.
  • It is possible for a human to be physically mature but not morally mature.
  • The focus of concern moves from the self to the wider social world
  • As our thinking matures, our behavior also becomes less selfish and more caring


Moral Thinking

  • Character- the psychological muscles for controlling impulses; Develops from childhood to adolescence
  • To be moral person is to think morally and act accordingly
  • Moral reasoning- the thinking that occurs as we consider right and wrong
  • Postconventional level is controversial. -Occurs mostly in the European and North American educated middle class which prizes individualism
  • Individualism- giving priority to one’s own goals rather than to a group of goals
  • Critics say the theory is biased against the moral reasoning of those in communal societies such as China and India- and also against Western women, whose morality may be based less on abstract impersonal principles and more on caring relationships.

Moral Feeling

  • The mind makes moral judgments quickly and automatically
  • Moral feelings precede moral reasoning
  • Moral judgement involves quick gut feelings or intuitions (engage emotions), which then trigger moral reasoning
  • Elevation -" the warm and fuzzy's" tingly, warm, glowing feeling in chest when witness to exceptional generosity, compassion, or courage
  • Moral reasoning aims to convince others of what we intuitively feel

Moral Action

  • Morality involves doing the right thing and, and what we do also depends on social influences
  • Nazi concentration camp people were “moral” people corrupted by a powerfully evil situation
  • Character education programs focus both on discussions of moral issues and their implications and on doing the right thing
  • Teach children empathy for others’ feelings and self-discipline needed to restrain one’s own impulses
  • To delay gratifications now to enable bigger rewards later
  • Those who learn to delay gratification become more socially responsible, academically successful, and productive
  • Engage students in responsible action through service learning such as
    tutoring, cleaning up neighborhoods, and assisting the elderly
  • Their desire to serve increases and their school absenteeism and drop-out rates diminish
  • Moral action feeds moral attitudes