he Development of Moral Reasoning

The earliest stage Kohlberg described was one in which right and wrong are defined by punishment rather than by any larger principle. If something is followed by punishment, it was wrong; if it is not, it was right. The light-fingered 5-year-old mentioned before was at this stage. A second stage considers reward as an important indication that something is right. The stress in these early stages is on works, not faith—rightness or wrongness is identified in terms of what a person actually does, not what he or she intended but was unable to perform.

A third stage described by Kohlberg involves social approval and disapproval. By this point, the child separates moral correctness from specific punishment or reward. The moral choice is instead the one that makes other people consider someone a nice boy or a good girl. Continuing with the stress on community approval, a fourth stage emphasizes the existence of laws or rules that are valuable in themselves; breaking a rule is morally wrong simply because it is a rule, not because of the possible consequences for the rulebreaker or for others.

Very few individuals would move beyond this fourth stage during childhood, but in adolescence or afterward a number of people will achieve a “social contract” level of moral reasoning, in which laws and rules are seen as desirable for the comfort of the community, but potentially changeable if they do not work well. Moral decisions can involve complying with rules or working to change them. A final stage, not likely to be reached before late adolescence, involves thinking in terms of universal ethical principles such as the value of human life; decisions to support a universal principle could be made in spite of others’ finding one “not nice” or even in the face of certain punishment under the laws.

Most descriptions of developmental change involve steps that are typical of all human beings. Kohlberg’s theory is somewhat different, however. This approach suggests everyone follows moral development in the same sequence, but that people do not necessarily arrive at the same step at the same age and that some may never reach the higher stages. Certainly, a number of adults do not appear ever to go beyond the second stage posited by Kohlberg, and the “official morality” of the United States appears to be somewhere between the fourth (“law and order”) and the fifth (“social contract”) stages. These facts raise questions about advanced development in moral reasoning: Are there experiences that help people achieve these higher stages?


As defined by Lawrence Kohlberg.

Folksonomies: ethics morality

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Morality (0.969366): dbpedia | freebase
Ethics (0.824068): dbpedia | freebase
Human (0.684010): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Kohlberg's stages of moral development (0.656584): dbpedia
Moral psychology (0.570414): dbpedia | freebase
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 Behaving Yourself: Moral Development in the Secular Family
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book Chapter:  Mercer, Ph.D., Jean , Behaving Yourself: Moral Development in the Secular Family, Retrieved on 2012-03-28
Folksonomies: parenting atheism