Kohlberg Ethics

"Moral Theory of Development"

Quick facts:

Glimpse of Dr. Kohlberg's life

* Lawrence Kohlberg was born in 1927 in Bronxville, NY.

*He is an American psychologist and educator who developed the Moral Theory of Development.

*He completed his B.A. in one year and he completed his PH.D. in 1968.

*Intrigued by Piaget's work on moral development, Kohlberg created the famous "Heinz dilemma" which poses the question if it is permissible for a husband to steal medication for his dying wife.

*According to Dr. Kohlberg, there are 6 stages of moral development. Depending on what you answer for the moral dilemma will determine what moral stage you are currently in.

*Kohlberg dedicated his time on developing and researching his theory from1958 until his apparent suicide in 1987.

(GoodTherapy, n.d.)

Video Explaination of Kohlberg's Moral Development

Kohlberg Moral Development
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Essential Vocabulary

*Ethics- the ideals (concepts/principles) that help guide you in life to make the best possible decisions.

* Pre-conventional Morality- At the pre-conventional level (most nine-year-olds and younger, some over nine), don’t have a personal code of morality. Instead, our moral code is shaped by the standards of adults and the consequences of following or breaking their rules.Authority is outside the individual and reasoning is based on the physical consequences of actions.

*Conventional Morality-At the conventional level (most adolescents and adults), we begin to internalize the moral standards of valued adult role models.

Authority is internalized but not questioned and reasoning is based on the norms of the group to which the person belongs.

*Post-Conventional Morality-individual judgment is based on self-chosen principles, and moral reasoning is based on individual rights and justice. According to Kohlberg this level of moral reasoning is as far as most people get.

Critical Evaluation (Problems with Kohlberg's Method)

According to Saul McLeod (2011), there are some faults in Kohlberg's theory. He points out various reasonings such as:

1) The dilemmas are artificial-they lack validity. McLeod points out that when doing his research, he interviewed mainly children using the “Heinz Dilemma.” Being so young, his subjects are not married or have ever been placed in a similar situation so how could they possibly know if Heinz should or shouldn’t steal the medicine.

2) The sample used is biased. Kohlberg’s subjects were all male. There are some similarities to male and female thinking, but “Mens’ morality is based on abstract principals of law and justice, while womens’ are based on principals of compassion.

3) Poor research design. Kohlberg’s research was cross-sectional meaning that he interviewed children of different ages to see what level or moral development they were at. McLeod explains that a better way test the children and follow the same children as they grow up and note the differences in their responses.

Theory In Action


Grades are due Friday at 4:00pm. UIL eligibility also goes in at 4:00pm. There is one student who has all straight A's in every class (top 10% of her class and has excellent attendance) plus she is the starting pitcher for the softball team. She has recently been out for 2 weeks due to a family emergency concerning her father. Although she has worked hard everyday to make up the work for all her classes, her grade in your class is currently a 73. She missed the 6wks test while she was out so once you enter that zero, she will no longer be eligible to compete in the Regional playoff game. She comes in to pled with you not to mark a zero so she can still go to the game and promises you that she will take her test first thing Monday morning. It is currently 3:45 Friday afternoon.

What would you do? Fail her or leave the grade blank so it doesn't affect her eligibility.


GoodTherapy. (n.d). Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987). Retrieved from


McLeod, S. A. (2013). Kohlberg. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/kohlberg.html