Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development
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Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development


The subject of how individuals evolved morally has arisen over time. Lawrence Kohlberg (1969) utilizes his theories to expand Piaget’s (1932) theory of development and establish the framework for the present psychological discussion about the continuous processing of morals. He used Piaget’s narrative techniques to demonstrate moral dilemmas such as authority rights, individuals being treated unfairly, and the best-known Heinz dilemma (Sanders, 2018).

According to Kohlberg, moral growth is a continuous process that takes place throughout one’s life. Kohlberg’s theory has recently been attacked for its Western-centric approach, which is centred on upper and middle-class ideals.

Read More: The psychology behind Morality

The theoretical framework

Kohlberg’s theoretical framework is made up of six phases that are grouped successively into more complicated levels. He divided his six phases into three broad categories of moral growth.

Level 1: Preconventional level

At the pre-conventional stage, morality is externally regulated. Rules enforced by authoritative persons are followed to avoid punishment or get rewards. This viewpoint holds that what is proper is what one can get away with or what is personally pleasing. Level 1 has two stages.

Stage 1: Punishment and compliance-oriented

Consequences determine behaviour. The person will follow to escape punishment.

Stage 2: Instrumental purpose orientation

Consequences once again shape behaviour. The individual prioritizes getting rewards or meeting personal demands.

Level 2: Conventional level

Individuals continue to value compliance with social conventions at the conventional level. However, the emphasis swings away from self-interest and toward interpersonal connections and social structures. Individuals seek to support rules established by others, such as parents, classmates, and the government, to gain their favour or preserve social order.

Stage 3: Good Boy/Nice Girl Orientation

Social approbation drives behaviour. The individual wishes to keep or gain the affection and acceptance of others by being a “good person.”

Stage 4: Law & Order Morality

Moral reasoning considers societal laws. Heinz should not steal the drug because he must uphold the law and maintain societal order.

Level 3: Postconventional or Principled level

At the post-conventional level, the person transcends the confines of his or her own culture. Morality is described as abstract rules and ideals that apply in all situations and cultures. The individual seeks to consider the perspectives of all persons.

Stage 5: Social Contract Orientation

Individual rights govern conduct. The person sees laws and norms as adaptable instruments for advancing human goals. That is, in the correct circumstances, there are exceptions to rules. Laws that are inconsistent with individual rights and the interests of the majority do not benefit individuals and should be reconsidered.

Stage 6: Universal ethical principles orientation

According to Kohlberg, this is the highest level of functioning. However, he stated that some people will never achieve this level. At this point, the acceptable action is determined by one’s ethical principles of conscience. These principles are abstract and have a universal application. This style of thinking entails considering the perspectives of every individual or group who may be affected by the choice.

Read More: What is Contingency Theory?

Problems with Kohlberg’s methods

  • Artificial issues lack ecological validity and are often unfamiliar to the general population (Rosen, 1980). For example, it is perfectly OK in the Heinz dilemma to question people if Heinz should steal the medication to save his wife. However, Kohlberg’s participants ranged in age from ten to sixteen. They have never been married and have never been in a position substantially similar to the one described in the narrative. How do they determine if Heinz should steal the drug?
  • The sample is skewed. According to Kohlberg’s (1969) hypothesis, males are more likely to proceed beyond stage four in moral development, meaning that females lack moral reasoning skills. Carol Gilligan and his research assistant, challenged this, arguing that women’s moral thinking differed rather than being defective.

Read More: Erik Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development


Kohlberg is attacked for a variety of reasons, including a significant disparity between what we ought to do and what we do. Some detractors described it as a formulation of Western morality and justice. In the section below, essay typer has explored the primary critiques of Kohlberg’s moral growth theory to date.

Like Piaget’s approach, Kohlberg sought to build moral theories based on his own ideas, which appear to be psychological realities. Certain moral and political cultures may not accept these ideals. They claim that it overemphasizes moral and justice principles. Compassion, empathy, and interpersonal sentiments play an important part in formulating ideas that are not covered (Gibbs 2019).

Read More: Empathy vs Sympathy: Understanding the Difference

Most of Kohlberg’s notions are only applicable to those under the age of 16, who have no experience with marriage. For example, the Heinz issue articulated to him may involve concepts that could only be specified at that time, and if used in a daily context, the results may change (Baldwin, 2018). Kohlberg’s theory was gender-biased, with women thought to be lacking in moral thinking.

Read More: Understanding Gender and Sexuality in Psychology

His thesis was focused on upper-classmen and boys. He promptly stated that girls and women should focus on creating interpersonal relationships. Kohlberg stressed justice rather than ideals, presenting arguments from people who appreciate the moral elements of others. Several detractors suggested that Kohlberg’s phases are culturally biased and more Western-centric, with less concern for individual needs.

Lawrence Kohlberg, who relied on Piaget’s work to explain moral development in children, derives cognitive growth through series and phases. He teaches morals and values to students aged 10 to 16 using the moral dilemma, which presents contradictory viewpoints. After evaluating the situation, he organized the people’s replies into phases and levels.

Read More: The Psychology Behind Growth and Development

The first level specifies a person’s moral characteristics, which are distinguished by particular and individual perspectives. It comprises two stages for analyzing personal issues. At the conventional level, individuals get a fundamental comprehension of conventional morality and norms, with stages 3 and 4 defining norm shifts. At the post-conventional layer, individual judgment is defined in terms of values and principles. Whereas stages 5 and 6 saw the law as social contracts rather than strict rules.

Some objections are also related to the idea; such as the fact that many detractors believe it is gender-biased, while others believe it is centred on legislation rather than values. Despite these objections, Kohlberg’s theory is still a valuable framework for studying moral development, with consequences for education and parenting. By understanding the phases of moral growth, instructors and parents may assist steer youngsters towards more sophisticated levels of moral thinking.

Read More: Permissive Parenting: Its Approach and Impact on Child Development  

References +
  • Support. (2021, March 11). Kohlberg’s Moral Development Theory | Assignment help. Write My Essay for Me. https://sourceessay.com/kohlbergs-moral-development-theory-assignment-help/
  • Simply Psychology. (2024, January 17). Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. https://www.simplypsychology.org/kohlberg.html
  • The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (1998, July 20). Child psychology | Parenting, Development & Education. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/child-psychology

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