KOHLBERG'S IDEAS OF MORAL REASONING
Kohlberg defined moral reasoning as judgements about right and wrong. Hisstudies of moral reasoning are based on the use of moral dilemmas, orhypothetical situations in which people must make a difficult decision.
Kohlberg defined a subject's level of moral reasoning from thereasoning used to defend his or her positionwhen faced with a moral dilemma. He thought this more important than the actualchoice made, since the choices people make in such a dilemma aren't alwaysclearly and indisputably right.
He noted that development of moral reasoningseemed to be related to one's age. However, he also determined that the highest level of moralreasoning was not reached by all of his subjects.
Examples of Kohlberg's six stages of moraldevelopment (Woolfolk, 1993)
Consider the following moral dilemma: Mr. Heinz's wife is dying. There isone drug that will save her life but it is very expensive. The druggist willnot lower the price so that Mr. Heinz can buy it to save his wife's life. Whatshould he do? More importantly, why?
This is one of the dilemmas that Kohlberg used to determine stages of moraldevelopment. Examples of the reasoning individuals at each stage of development useto solve this dilemma are outlined below.
The reader is encouraged to examine the links offered at each stage. Theselinks contain concrete examples of each of applicationsof these types of reasoning in the classroom.
Level 1: Preconventional
At this level judgement is based solely on a person's own needs andperceptions.
- Stage 1: Punishment-obedienceOrientation
- Persons in this stage obey rules to avoid punishment. A good or badaction is determined by its physical consequences.
- Stage 2: Personal RewardOrientation
- In this stage, personal needs determine right or wrong. Favors arereturned along the lines of "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours".
- At level one, a person's answer to the Heinz dilemma might be,"itis wrong to steal the drug to save your wife because you might get caught." This reasoning is based on the consequences of his actions. This person'sprimary concern is avoiding punishment. On the reverse side, the reasoning forstealing the drug would be to avoid punishment by your wife and the law,assuming an investigation came after the wife's' death. The inquiry may blamethe man for not coming up with a way to get the money to save his wife's life.
Level 2: Conventional
The expectations of society and society's laws are taken into account in adecision about a moral dilemma.
- Stage 3: Goodboy-Nice girl Orientation
- To a person in this stage, good means "nice". One's behavior isdetermined by what pleases and is approved by others. This is a point inKohlberg's theories that has received criticism regarding itsbias against women.
- Stage 4: Law andOrder Orientation
- When deciding the punishment for a given wrongdoing, laws are absolute. In all cases, authority must be respected and the social order maintained.
- At level two, one takes into account society's norms and laws, saying, "It's wrong for Mr. Heinz to steal because it's against the law. Mr.Heinz wants society to approve of his actions, so he doesn't steal the drug." On the flip side, the subject may believe: "it's right to steal becauseMr. Heinz means well by trying to help his dying wife. He'll pay the druggistthe money when he is able, or accept the consequences for stealing the drug." In this case, the subject still respects the law, but places an even highervalue on loyalty to his loved ones. This shows a desire to be a good person but still conform to the law.
Level 3: Postconventional
Judgements are based on abstract, more personal principles that aren'tnecessarily defined by society's laws.
- Stage 5: SocialContract Orientation
- Good is determined by socially agreed upon standard of individual rights. The United States Constitution is based on this type of morality. Personsoperating in this moral stage believe that different societies have differentviews of what is right and wrong.
- Stage 6: Universal EthicalPrinciple Orientation
- What is "good" and "right" are matters of individualconscience and involve abstract concepts of justice, human dignity, andequality. In this stage, persons believe there are universal points of view onwhich all societies should agree.
- At level three, a person's response might be, "It's not wrong forMr. Heinz to steal because human life must be preserved and life is worth morethan personal property. " Note that the thinking here is more abstractthan the previous levels. Laws to a person at this level can be consideredsomewhat arbitrary, depending on the situation. This person realizes that lawsare important to keep society running relatively smoothly, but also knows thatthey can be too rigid to apply in some cases. This person justifies that savinga life is more important than an abstract symbol of power: money.
Kohlberg's ideas are everywhere! For examples of how Kohlberg'sideas fit in U.S. Congressional debatesclick here.