By: Alex Rock

Basic theory

"The first level of moral thinking is that generally found at the elementary school level. In the first stage of this level, people behave according to socially acceptable norms because they are told to do so by some authority figure (e.g., parent or teacher). This obedience is compelled by the threat or application of punishment. The second stage of this level is characterized by a view that right behavior means acting in one's own best interests.The second level of moral thinking is that generally found in society, hence the name "conventional." The first stage of this level (stage 3) is characterized by an attitude which seeks to do what will gain the approval of others. The second stage is one oriented to abiding by the law and responding to the obligations of duty.The third level of moral thinking is one that Kohlberg felt is not reached by the majority of adults. Its first stage (stage 5) is an understanding of social mutuality and a genuine interest in the welfare of others. The last stage (stage 6) is based on respect for universal principle and the demands of individual conscience. While Kohlberg always believed in the existence of Stage 6 and had some nominees for it, he could never get enough subjects to define it, much less observe their longitudinal movement to it.Kohlberg believed that individuals could only progress through these stages one stage at a time. That is, they could not "jump" stages. They could not, for example, move from an orientation of selfishness to the law and order stage without passing through the good boy/girl stage. They could only come to a comprehension of a moral rationale one stage above their own. Thus, 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. The last comment refers to Kohlberg's moral discussion approach. He saw this as one of the ways in which moral development can be promoted through formal education. Note that Kohlberg believed, as did 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."(http://www.qcc.cuny.edu)

Pros & Cons of the theory

  • "The Kohlberg moral development theory has a positive effect on educational matters, especially the education of young adults and their sense of intellectual and moral development. Kohlberg's intention was to enable individuals to understand advanced stages of moral thought, the principles of universal liberty and justice and the need for a sense of order in society. Kohlberg's belief was that the development of moral thought would help individuals to develop a greater understanding of the norms of society."(www.ehow.com).

  • How Theory could be used in the classroom

    "Lawrence Kohlberg's theory on moral development can be applied to the classroom where rules, standards, and consequences are concerned. The theory tracks an individual's level of moral reasoning by assigning him to one of six stages, where the first stage is a basic submission to authority and the last is universal ethics for all. As an educator, consider where your students' personal development lies in terms of Kohlberg's six stages. Then work toward achieving optimal moral character along the lines of Kohlberg's level six "Universal Principals" for a positive and constructive learning environment." (www.ehow.com).

    Information on Kohlberg

    "Lawrence Kohlberg is well-known theorist to modern psychology. Born in 1927 to a wealthy family, Lawrence Kohlberg lived a modest life, first as a sailor, and then helping to smuggle Jews into Palestine. He studied psychology at the University of Chicago in the late 1940s and 1950s, completing his dissertation in 1958. His dissertation outlined the theory that he is now quite well-known for: Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. He died in 1987 of a possible suicide."(www.wisegeek.com).