Kohlberg’s stages of moral development is a theory that was put forth by a psychologist of the same name and focused on how the different stages of moral behavior come to be. In the article that follows, we will look at how this behavior pattern develops in humans.
Psychology as a subject deals with the human mind and behavior, which makes it one of the most extensively studied subjects. Why? Because it helps us to get an insight into the human psyche and behavior patterns. The subject of moral development (what is right, what is wrong, and the reasoning behind it) is something that generates a lot of interest because it is one of the most basic forms of behavior that every human being can relate to. That’s where the subject of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development comes in. This theory was drawn by a famous psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg, who studied the basis of development of moral behavior in order to draw this particular theory. In the following article, we will get to the core of how the theory came about and the reasoning behind the same.
Kohlberg expanded on the theory that was put forth by Jean Piaget (another psychologist) in the same subject and went on to draw the theory that is today referred to as Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. Moral development in a person is something that instills in him the understanding of what is moral behavior―a behavior that is considered right in societal terms and the rules that are therefore formed in order to maintain moral behavior in humans. But this moral behavior of understanding what is right and what is wrong, has certain thought processes and stages that lead to it. Kohlberg divided this thought process into 6 stages, which he based on the findings of an experiment.
The Heinz Dilemma
This experiment was used as one of the main examples in psychology. The Heinz dilemma was based on a situation that was introduced to a group of young guys and their responses related to moral development thus checked.
Heinz had a wife who was on her death bed because of being afflicted by a certain cancer form. A special radium that was recently discovered by a druggist of the same town was touted to save her. So Heinz ordered for the drug. The drug cost $ 200 to be manufactured, but the druggist quoted the price at $ 2000. Heinz could not afford the drug and pleaded to the druggist to sell it for less because his wife was on her deathbed. But the druggist refused. In desperation, Heinz stole the drug.
The boys were then questioned about whether what Heinz did was right or wrong, thus helping to study the reasoning behind those answers which acted as moral dilemmas for students. These are the 6 stages that he drew from the same:
Level 1 ~ Preconventional Morality
- Stage 1 (Obedience and Punishment) ~ In this stage, rules are looked upon as being absolute and fixed and are followed with the objective of avoiding punishments.
- Stage 2 (Individualism and Exchange) ~ In this stage, the rules are given secondary importance and what is focused on instead is the way in which individual needs are satisfied.
Level 2 ~ Conventional Morality
- Stage 3 (Interpersonal Relationships) ~ Conforming to societal rules becomes important. Decisions are based with the view of how they affect others.
- Stage 4 (Maintaining Social Order) ~ ‘Society’ as a concept becomes clearer. They learn to be a part of the same by following societal rules and law and do the duties that are expected of them.
Level 3 ~ Postconventional Morality
- Stage 5 (Social Contract and Individual Rights) ~ The differing values, beliefs, and opinions of the other members of society come to the fore. Maintaining of law with differing personalities can pose to be a challenge.
- Stage 6 (Universal Principles) ~ People follow their individual sets of rules and values, even though they clash with societal rules and principles.
Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development – Chart
The following is a chart that you can refer to for easy reference. It gives you a brief outlook of the different levels and stages that this theory brings forth.
Good Boy-Nice Girl Orientation
Social Contract Orientation
Instrumental Relativist Orientation
Law and Order Orientation
Universal Ethical Principle Orientation
This theory based on the stages of moral development as theorized by Kohleberg, gives us a clear understanding of how moral behavior is developed within an individual. It is very interesting to note that the value system and moral behavior which includes ethics and morality is something that has dimensions to it, that it can be studied and theorized upon in comparison with the important values in society. It gives us an understanding of how the human mind and psyche thinks and how it is influenced and undergoes change due to changes within the mind setup caused by age and other reasons.