Stages of Moral Development
Lawrence Kohlberg is a psychology professor who became interested in psychology while studying Piaget’s theory of cognitive development. He began interviewing children and adolescents on moral issues. From this, he eventually developed his own theory that extended the four stages Piaget worked on, to develop his own six stages. Only the first three stages of his theory share similarities to Piaget’s work. Piaget mainly focused on development and Kohlberg extended his focus to research choices made by individuals in his study. Kohlberg concluded that the process of moral development was principally concerned with justice, and that it continued throughout the individual's lifetime, a notion that spawned dialogue on the philosophical implications of such research. Kohlberg based his studies on a series of stories with dilemmas such as the Heinz Dilemma, and was interested in how individuals would justify their actions if placed in similar moral dilemmas. He then analyzed the form of moral reasoning displayed, instead of its conclusion, and classified it as belonging to one of six distinct stages.
In Kohlberg’s research, his first two stages occurred within the preconventional morality level of development. The first stage, obedience and punishment orientation is similar to Piaget’s first stage of moral thought. A child accepts that authority figures hand down a fixed set of rules in which the child unquestioningly obeys. During stage 2, the individualism and exchange stage, children realize that there are many different views points held by authorities and that punishment is a risk that is naturally meant to be avoided. Although some consider this unethical, there is a sense of justice. This is the notion of fair exchange or fair deals. Individuals in stage three see actions as either good or bad, but also reflect on the motive and show genuine concern for others. At this point in Kohlberg’s theory, similarities between Piaget’s theory and the first three stages of Kohlberg’s theory end. They both show there is a shift from unquestioning obedience to a comparative outlook and to a concern for good motives. Stage four can be depicted by individuals wanting to maintain social order. This means, moral decisions are made from the view point of a society as a whole. A subject in stage one and four can typically give the same answer to a question but stage one subjects cannot justify their answer where as an individual in stage four can give justification. The final two stages fall under the level of post convectional morality. Stage five primarily revolves around social contract of individual rights. An Individual believes that society will only function properly when all parties respect the rules and work toward benefit of all. The final stage, stage six, is universal principals. Individuals in this stage view situations neutrally.
According to Kohlberg, developmental growth cannot be achieved through maturation. It is accomplished through socialization. As children become older and are allowed to socialize with a variety of groups in different group settings, mental development occurs. Kohlberg’s stages expand in a sequential order and this prevents stages from being skipped or accomplished out of order. It is important to remember that although there are six stages an individual can go through, not all stages are realized due to lack of intellectual encouragement.
In regards to the concept of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian, individuals in the preconventional stage would base their decisions on what they know about the Bible and use this information to base their decisions. A child in the first stage would most likely think that they MUST follow the rules of the Bible or face major punishments. Children in the conventional stage may feel the same way but would know the difference between what is right and what is not but, they are willing to change taking the punishment if caught. A person in stage two may be able to justify a wrong deed by saying that the person did it to benefit others and may risk the fact that they may face retribution. A person in stage three would compare scenarios of “what if…” or “What would someone else in this situation do?” approach. They may come to the conclusion that this is a bad thing to do but, realize that they have no other option. A person in stage four would decide that we would all be better off if everyone obeyed the Bible. For example, if you are not following all of the Ten Commandments, you are not a good Christian. An individual in level three would agree with the fact that you should offer a hungry child food, but hope that they would not be punished by God if they stole food to survive. Everyone should follow the rules but, are there sometimes exceptions to the rule? Few people make it to the post conventional stage but, those who do follow their own set of rules while taking into account the rules of the land. Individuals in the final stage, would hope not to be judged solely upon the bad things that they have done in their life, simply because they feel that people put in awful situations and forced to break the law should not be how a person’s Christianity level is measured.