Stages of Moral Development - Lawrence Kohlberg’s Theory

(Lecture Notes from Mr. Kersey's 8th Grade Religion Class - Morality)

The Theory

  • Lawrence Kohlberg, a psychologist at Harvard, came up with a theory that said people progressed through stages of moral development as they grew.
  • Kohlberg was able to demonstrate this through experiments.
  • His theory says that people can go through six stages of moral development.
  • You have to go through them one by one, but you can go backwards.

The Stages of Moral Development

  • Level One: Pre-Conventional
    • 1. Obedience and Punishment
    • 2. Individualism…and Exchange
  • The first level of moral thinking is generally found at the elementary school level.
  • In Stage 1 (Obedience…), people behave and do the right thing because they are told to.
  • Authority figures are parents, teachers, etc.
  • This obedience is compelled by the threat or application of punishment.
  • In Stage 2 (Individualism…), people have a view that right behavior means acting in one's own best interests.
  • Level Two: Conventional
    • 3. Good boy/girl
    • 4. Law and Order
  • This is the second level of moral thinking. It is the stage usually found in society.
  • In Stage 3 (Good boy/girl), people do what will gain the approval of others.
  • In Stage 4 (Law and Order) people want to abide by the law and do what is right out of a sense of duty.
  • Level Three: Post-Conventional
    • 5. Social Contract
    • 6. Principled Conscience
  • Kohlberg thought most people never reached this level.
  • In Stage 5, (Social Contract) people understand the importance of others and that welfare is mutual.
  • In Stage 6 (Principled Conscience) people do good because they believe it is the right thing to do, regardless of reward or punishment.
  • Kohlberg had trouble finding people who were examples of Stage 6.
  • Jesus was a definite Stage 6 guy.
  • Which stage are you?
  • What can you do to move up the ladder, or develop your conscience?