Kohlberg and the Stages of Moral Development
Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) elaborated on Piaget’s theories of cognitive reasoning by conducting a series of studies in which children, adolescents. and adults were presented with moral dilemmas that took the form of stories, Based on his findings, Kohlberg (1969. 1981) classified moral reasoning into three sequentiallevels:
1. Preconventional level (age seven to ten). Children’s perceptions are based on punishment and obedience.Evil behavior is that which is likely to be punished good conduct is based on obedience and avoidance of unwanted consequences.
2. Conventional level (age ten through adulthood). People are most concerned with how they are perceived by their peers and with how one conforms to rules.
3. Postconventional level (few adults reach this stage). People view morality in terms of individual rights “moral conduct” is judged by principles based on human rights that transcend government and laws. Although Kohlberg presents interesting ideas about the moral judgments of children, some critics have challenged the universality of his stages of moral development.
They have also suggested that the elaborate “moral dilemmas” he used are too abstract for children. In one story, for example, a husband contemplates stealing for his critically ill wife medicine that he cannot afford. When questions are made simpler, or when children and adolescents are observed in natural (as opposed to laboratory) settings, they often demonstrate sophisticated levels of moral reasoning (Darley and Shultz, 1990; Lapsley, 1990).