Monday, June 2, 2014

What are Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development

As we grow, develop and create or own identity, we are also learning what is considered to be right and wrong.  Determining and thinking about right and wrong is part of our moral reasoning (Woolfolk, 2013).  Lawrence Kohlberg developed a theory of moral development, which is partially based on Piaget’s ideas, and aimed to evaluate the moral reasoning in both children and adults. 
Kohlberg evaluated moral reasoning by placing both children and adults in moral dilemmas, or hypothetical situations, and evaluating their responses. According to Woolfolk (2013) a moral dilemma is a “situation in which no choice is clearly and indisputably right” (p. 100).  He used the information he gained from his observations and evaluated how individuals based their reasoning and decision making to come up with his Stages of Moral Development.  He divided his theory of moral development into three different stages, the preconventional, conventional, and postconventional stage. 
Woolfolk (2013) discussed that in Kohlberg’s preconventional level, “judgment is based solely on a person’s own needs and perceptions.  The two stages that make up the preconventional level are the Obedience Orientation and Rewards/Exchange Orientation. Essentially in Obedience Orientation the individual will adhere to the rules in order to avoid punishment.  While in the Rewards/Exchange Orientation right and wrong is determined based on what the individual wants.  Level two, the conventional level, considers what the expectations of society are and what the laws are.  The conventional level can further be broken into the Being Nice/Relationships Orientation and the Law and Order Orientation.  In the Being Nice/Relationships Orientation, in order for the individual to be good, he or she must be nice to others. While in the Law and Order Orientation, the social system must be kept in order and laws and authority must be obeyed.  Finally, Kohlberg’s third level of his Moral Development is the postconventional stage in which judgments are based on the person’s principles of justice, not according to laws or rules suggested by society.  The postconventional stage can be further divided into the Social Contract Orientation and the Universal Ethical Principles Orientation.  In Social Contract Orientation, social standards determine what the moral choice is.  In the Universal Ethical Principles Orientation, “there are universal principles of human dignity and social justice that individuals should uphold, no matter what the law of other people say” (Woolfolk, 2013, p. 101).
Kohlberg aimed to make a theory of moral development that evaluated what both children and adults did when facing a hypothetical moral dilemma.  A persons moral reasoning is related to both “cognitive and emotional development” (Woolfolk, 2013, p. 101).  As a person moves up through the stages of Kohlberg’s moral development, a person’s decision making process goes from evaluating and obeying the rules and laws to thinking in more conceptual ways.  

Woolfolk, A. (2013). Educational Psychology (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.

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