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Lawrence Kohlbergs Stages Of Moral Development

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Lawrence Kohlberg conducted research on the moral development of children. He wanted to understand how they develop a sense of right or wrong and how justice is served. Kohlberg used surveys in which he included moral dilemmas where he asked the subjects to evaluate a moral conflict. Through his studies, Kohlberg observed that moral growth and development precedes through stages such as those of Piaget's stages of cognitive development. He theorized that moral growth begins at the beginning of life and continues until the day one dies. He believed that people proceed through each stage of moral development consecutively without skipping or going back to a previous stage. The stages of thought processing, implying qualitatively different modes of thinking and of problem solving are included in the three levels of pre-conventional, conventional and post conventional development. (2)

At the pre-conventional level, behavior is motivated by anticipation of pleasure or pain. The child is aware of cultural rules and labels of good or bad and right or wrong. (1) The subject interprets the labels in terms of the physical consequence, such as punishment or reward. (3) The child has an extreme self-interest. The first level of moral thinking is generally found at the elementary school level, before the age of 9. This level is divided into the following two stages. (2)

The first stage is the punishment and obedience orientation. This is observed in children ages 1-5. The subject is in avoidance of physical punishment and deference to power. The child behaves according to the socially acceptable norms, due to the fear of punishment by an authority figure. (4) The physical consequences of an action determine its goodness or badness. "What is right is to avoid breaking rules, to obey for obedience's sake, and to avoid doing physical damage to people and property." An example of stage one is evident in the soldiers of the holocaust who were asked to simply "carry out orders" under the threat of being punished. This illustrates that adults, as well as children may possibly be functioning at stage one. (2) An individual at this stage doesn't consider the thoughts or feelings of others, nor are they able to relate two points of view. As in Piaget's framework, ego-centrism and the inability to consider the perspectives of others characterize the reasoning of stage one. (8)

Stage two is the individual instrumental purpose and exchange orientation. Subjects usually between the ages of 5 to 10 are observed maintaining the attributes of being "self-serving." (4) This stage is characterized by a view that right behavior means acting in one's own best interest and occasionally taking into consideration the needs of others. There is an early emergence of moral reciprocity. "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." The individual will do what is necessary to satisfy his own needs not concentrating on loyalty or gratitude. Justice becomes "Do unto others as they do unto you." What is right is the immediate interest in the form of an equal exchange, deal or agreement. A subject at this stage of moral development has a basic understanding that norms and conventions are necessary to uphold society. (2) The motto of this stage is "What's in it for me?" Elements of sharing are present but are interpreted in a physical pragmatic way. (4)

The second level of moral development is the conventional level. At this level, the adolescent begins to accept the rules and standards of one's family or group. This level of moral thinking is generally found in society. The attitude of the individual is to maintain, support, and justify social order and identify with the persons or group involved. This level is divided into the stages of interpersonal conformity and law and order orientation, with a transition stage before the post conventional level. (3)

An individual at the interpersonal conformity or "good boy/girl" stage define what is right in terms of what is expected by people close to one's self. The characteristics of this stage are observed in subjects, ages 8 to 16. (2) Good behavior is what pleases or helps others and is approved by them. "What is right is living up to what is expected by people close to one or what people generally expect of people in one's role as son, sister, friend and so on." Being good means keeping mutual friendships/relationships that include trust, loyalty, respect and gratitude. Sin is an infringement of the expectations at this social level, retribution, however, may be collective. (4) Forgiveness is preferred to revenge, for individual vengeance is not allowed. Failure to punish is viewed as "unfair." " If he can get away with it why can't I?" The third stage of moral development is where the subject begins to truly regard other individual's personal thoughts. The individual relates points of view and begin to put oneself in the other person's shoes. (2) They are aware of other people's feeling and are sensitive to how his/her choices effect others. (4)

Stage four of Lawrence Kohlbergs theory is that of a law and order orientation. The majority or people 16 years old and older have accustomed to societies rules and expectations. (2) This stage is where the subject abides by the rules and laws established by the larger social system. "Right" behavior consists of doing one's duty. These duties include showing respect for authority, and maintaining local norms. "The reason for doing what is believed to be right is to keep the institution going as a whole..." Justice demands that a wrongdoer be punished, that he "pay his debt to society," and that the law abiders be awarded. "A good day's pay for a good day's work." Injustice is failing to reward hard work or punish demerit. "Laws are to be upheld except in extreme cases where they conflict with other fixed social duties and rights." (4) The subject at this stage maintains the perspective that obeying the law is necessary in order to maintain the system of laws that protect everyone. (3)

In between stages four and five there is a belief that there is a transitional stage. This stage is considered to be post conventional but it is not yet principled. Many college students tend to show evidence of this transitional stage. (2) Choices become emotional and conscience is relative and random. The individual is able to make decisions without a contract with society. One can pick their obligations, defined by society but one has no principles for such choice. A "do your own thing" mentality is apparent in this stage. (4)

Individual reasoning and principles rather than the

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