Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

Kohlberg's theory is divided into three levels with two stages per level.

Each stage is slightly more complex and more effective than the prior.

As children, adolescents, and adults assume more responsibility they may progress through the six levels.

People understand their present stage, all below, and the one immediately above. They may revert to lower stages during stressful times. If a teacher or person in authority uses a control strategy at a level below the student's current level, the student will feel humiliated and may regress to that level.

Level one: Stage one (Preschool age 3-4) Stage two (K - grade 3)

Understands neither social conventional or moral rules

Stage one is characterized by a pain-pleasure response for individual satisfaction. Control: Use of physical force for compliance. Short-term effect. Physical constraint - Physical abuse

Stage two is characterized by the attitude: I want to appear fair, but come out ahead. Control: Positive reinforcement - Negative reinforcement - Abuse.

Level two: Stage three (grades 4 - 8) Stage four (grades 9 - 12)

Understands and embraces social coventions

Stage three is characterized by a perception of the social order as a need to please, help, or conform for the benefit of the group. Control: Peer pressure - Concern for feelings of group. Range from cooperation and working together and helping each other to ostracism and shunning or shaming a person and making s/he an outcast.

Stage four is characterized by a perception of a need or duty to obey social rules and regulations to maintain social order to have an ordered society. Control: Individual responsibility, Legal systems with an over reliance on legalism and laws carried to extremes.

Level three: Stage five (maybe grade 11-12 for a few? Stage six (?)

Understands and embraces morality

Stage five is characterized by individuals that attempt to define moral principles as social-contracts, or legal-contracts based on an understanding of principles of justice and a democratic community. Control: Governance and sanctions based on general democratic principles: fairness, equity, toleration, freedom of thought...

Stage six is characterized by universal justice and ethical considerations that respect the dignity of individuals. Control: principled self-control.


Dr. Robert Sweetland's Notes ©