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Kohlberg's Moral Stage Theory

 

Explanations > Learning Theory > Kohlberg's Moral Stage Theory

 

Lawrence Kohlberg found that Piaget's stage theory was rather simplistic and discovered that individuals mix their modes of thinking, particularly in moral development. He developed a six stage model, broken down into three levels and with two stages at each level.

 

Level Name Characteristics
Level 1 Pre-conventional  
Stage 1 Heteronomous morality Sticks to the rules.

Moral judgement as avoiding punishment.

Stage 2 Individualism / instrumentalism Concrete individual interests. Is aware of others' interests.

Moral judgement as what serves me.

Level 2 Conventional  
Stage 3 Mutual interpersonal Lives up to others' expectations in order to be seen to be good and then has self-regard as being good.

Moral judgement as avoiding rejection by others.

Stage 4 Social system and conscience Fulfils social duties in order to keep the social system going.

Moral judgement as avoiding criticism by respected authority.

Level 3 Post-conventional  
Stage 5 Social contract Upholds relative rules in the interest of impartiality and welfare for all.

Moral judgement as social respect.

Stage 6 Universal ethical principles Follows self-chosen ethical principles, even when they conflict with the laws.

Moral judgement as personal conscience.

So what?

When working with people's values and ethics, be aware of the stage that they are at. Work with their values, not yours.

You may also consider displaying values that are similar to theirs, but beware of the traps of appearing false and immoral that this can bring.

See also

Values, Preferences

Kohlberg, L. (1986). The Philosophy of Moral Development, Harper and Row, San Francisco

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