Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development B.Ed Notes

Lawrence Kohlberg, a psychologist associated with Harvard University, is known for putting forward the theory of the development of moral judgment in an individual from childhood years. He based his theory of moral development on the findings of his studies. Hundreds of children from different cultures.

He differs from the popular view that children acquire the sense and methods of moral judgment from their parents and elders through learning. According to him as soon as we talk to children about morality, we find that they have many ways of taking decisions which are not internalized from outside and which are not subject to any pressure from parents, teachers and even peers. Do not come in a direct and obvious manner (Kohlberg, 1968). Going further, he explained that internal or cognitive processes like thinking and reasoning also play a major role in one’s moral development i.e. the way children make moral decisions depends on their level of intellectual development as well as their upbringing and learning. Also depends on experience.

To study the process of moral development in humans, Kohlberg first defined moral development as the development of a person’s sense of justice.

Table of Kohlberg’s six stages of Moral Development

  • Level I Pre- moral (age 4 to 10 years)
    • Stage 1: The stage of obedience for avoiding punishment
    • Stage 2 : The stage of conforming to obtain rewards and favours in return.
  • Level II Conventional Morality (Age 10 to 13 years)
    • Stage 3: The stage of maintaining mutual relations and approval of others
    • Stage 4: The stage of obedience for avoiding censure by higher authority or social systems.
  • Level III Self – accepted moral principles (Age 13 or not until middle or later adulthood)
    • Stage 5: Stage of conforming to the democratically accepted law and mores of community welfare
    • Stage 6: Stage of conforming to the universal ethical principles and the call of one’s conscience.

Pre-Moral Level ( 4 to 10 years)

The child starts making decisions about right or wrong, good or bad. However, the standards by which he measures morality are the standards of others. He is persuaded to take such a decision either to avoid punishment or to earn a reward. The development of morality at this level usually occurs in the following two stages.

Stage 1: In the beginning the child’s morality is controlled by fear of punishment. He tries to obey his parents and elders completely to avoid reprimand and punishment.

Stage 2: In the second stage of the pre-moral stage, children’s moral judgments are based on self-interest and consideration of what others can do for them in return. Here they value something because it has some practical utility for them.

Conventional Morality Level (10 to 13 years)

Even at this stage, children’s moral judgment is governed by the likes and dislikes of others – traditions, rules and regulations and the law and order system maintained within the society. Thus stalking or mercy killing would be considered wrong because it is considered wrong by the legal system and by society at large. Thus, the traditional level of morality can be considered to be the level where the child identifies with authority. It is characterized by the following stages.

Stage 3: In the early years of the second level of moral development, the child’s moral judgment is based on the desire to gain the approval of others and avoid being declared a good boy or good girl. For this purpose, he starts examining the intentions and likes and dislikes of others so that he can act accordingly.

Stage 4: In the years following the traditional morality level, children’s moral judgment is governed by tradition as well as by the law and customs of the social system.

Self-Accepted Moral Principles (Age 13 or Later Childhood)

This represents the highest level of attainment of true morality as the centralized power to take decisions now rests with the individual himself. He values something or conforms to an idea not merely because of consideration of others’ ideas, traditions, or the legal system of society but within the framework of a framework of self-accepted moral principles. This level is also characterized by two distinct stages.

Stage 5: At this stage the individual’s moral judgment is internalized in such a way that he responds positively to authority only when he agrees with the principles on which the demands of the authority are based.

Stage 6: In this stage the controlling forces for making moral decisions become highly internalized. An individual’s decisions are now based on his conscience and belief in the universal principles of dignity, justice and equality. He does what he, as an individual, thinks regardless of legal restrictions or the opinions of others. Thus people at this level act according to their inner voice of conscience and live the life they can without self-condemnation or feeling of guilt or shame.

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