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".

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.

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.

Kohlberg's ideas are everywhere! For examples of how Kohlberg'sideas fit in U.S. Congressional debatesclick here.