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Lawrence Kohlberg conducted research on moral development, using surveys as his
major source of assessment. He presented surveys with moral dilemmas and asked
his subjects to evaluate the moral conflict. In developing his theory, he made
an intensive study using the same survey techniques of the bases on which
children and youths of various ages make moral decisions. He found that moral
growth also begins early in life and proceeds in stages throughout adulthood and
beyond which is until the day we die. Influenced by Piaget's concept of stages,
Kohlberg's theory was created based on the idea that stages of moral development
build on each other in order of importance and significance to the person. On
the basis of his research, Kohlberg identified six stages of moral reasoning
grouped into three major levels. Each level represented a fundamental shift in
the social-moral perspective of the individual. At the first level, the
preconventional level, concrete, individual perspective characterizes a person`s
moral judgments. Within this level, a Stage 1 heteronomous orientation focuses
on avoiding breaking rules that are backed by punishment, obedience for its own
sake and avoiding the physical consequences of an action to persons and
property. As in Piaget's framework, ego-centrism and the inability to consider
the perspectives of others characterize the reasoning of Stage 1. At Stage 2
there is the early emergence of moral reciprocity. The Stage 2 orientation
focuses on the instrumental, pragmatic value of an action. Reciprocity is of the
form, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours." The Golden Rule
becomes, "If someone hits you, you hit them back." At Stage 2 one
follows the rules only when it is to someone's immediate interests. What is
right is what's fair in the sense of an equal exchange, a deal, an agreement. At
Stage 2 there is an understanding that everybody has his (her) own interest to
pursue and these conflict, so that right is relative in the concrete
individualist sense. Individuals at the conventional level of reasoning,
however, have a basic understanding of conventional morality, and reason with an
understanding that norms and conventions are necessary to uphold society. They
tend to be self-identified with these rules, and uphold them consistently,
viewing morality as acting in accordance with what society defines as right.
Individuals at Stage 3 are aware of shared feelings, agreements, and
expectations, which take primacy over individual interests. Persons at Stage 3
define what is right in terms of what is expected by people close to one's self,
and in terms of the stereotypic roles that define being good. Being good means
keeping mutual relationships, such as trust, loyalty, respect, and gratitude.
The perspective is that of the local community or family. There is not as yet a
consideration of the generalized social system. Stage 4 marks the shift from
defining what is right in terms of local norms and role expectations to defining
right in terms of the laws and norms established by the larger social system.
This is the "member of society" perspective in which one is moral by
fulfilling the actual duties defining one's social responsibilities. One must
obey the law except in extreme cases in which the law comes into conflict with
other prescribed social duties. Obeying the law is seen as necessary in order to
maintain the system of laws which protect everyone. Finally, the post
conventional level is characterized by reasoning based on principles, using a
"prior to society" perspective. These individuals reason based on the
principles, which underlie rules and norms, but reject a uniform application of
a rule or norm. While two stages have been presented within the theory, only
one, Stage 5, has received substantial empirical support. Stage 6 remains as a
theoretical endpoint which rationally follows from the preceding 5 stages. In
essence this last level of moral judgment evokes reasoning rooted in the ethical
fairness principles from which moral laws would be devised. Laws are evaluated
in terms of their coherence with basic principles of fairness rather than upheld
simply on the basis of their place within an existing social order. Thus, there
is an understanding that elements of morality such as regard for life and human
welfare transcend particular cultures and societies and are to be upheld
irrespective of other conventions or normative obligations. There is some
controversy that Kohlberg`s theory of moral development is sexist towards women.
Kohlberg's theory is based on data drawn from an all-male sample. Kohlberg's six
stages that describe the development of moral judgment from childhood to
adulthood are based on a study of eighty-four boys whose development Kohlberg
has followed for a period of over twenty years. Although Kohlberg claims
universality for his stage sequence, those groups not included in his original
sample rarely reach his higher stages. Those who appear to be deficient in moral
development when measured by Kohlberg's scale are women. Their judgments seem to
reach only the third stage of his six-stage sequence. At this stage, morality is
expressed in interpersonal terms and goodness is equated with helping and
pleasing others. This conception of goodness is considered by Kohlberg to be
functional in the lives of mature women in the home. He implies that if women
enter the traditional arena of male activities, then they will recognize the
inadequacy of this moral perspective, and only in this way can they progress
like men toward higher stages where relationships are subordinated to rules and
rules to universal principles of justice. Women researchers have views of their
own on Kohlberg`s implications that women don`t reach a full development of
maturity. The reason why women cannot reach the higher stages of Kohlberg's
scale is not because their moral development cannot reach maturity. Research has
found that woman's moral development centers on the elaboration of the knowledge
of the importance of responsibility, relationships, and care. This importance is
something that women have known from the beginning. However, because that
knowledge in women has been considered "intuitive" or
"instinctive," psychologists have neglected to describe its
development. The women's care for and sensitivity to the needs of others
traditionally has been defined as the "goodness" of women, but these
also mark the women as deficient in moral development. Lawrence Kohlberg`s
theory is the basis for debates today on moral development.The six stages of his
theory are dependent on the other from simple to the complex. Each stage also is
more cognitively complex than the previous stages.The works of Jean Piaget on
cognitive development influenced Kohlberg. There is some controversy on whether
his theory is sexist. Arguments on this matter frequently arise among
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