Kohlberg's Moral Development Theory

Kohlberg's Moral Development Theory

We have all developed our own non-transferable morality: values ​​that not only separate "good" from "evil" in an abstract world, but also influence our behaviors, perceptions and thoughts. One could even say that it can be so internalized that it influences our emotions. One of the most important and influential models that attempt to explain the development of our morality is Kohlberg's theory of moral development.

On the other hand, being all morals, establishing a universal repository has always been theone of the big issues that preoccupied many philosophers and thinkers. And we can observe Kantian perspectives of morality, based on the benefit of the group, with utilitarian perspectives, inspired by the individual good.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg wanted to move away from the content of morality and study how it develops in people. He was not interested in what was good or bad, he cared how we came to this idea of ​​good or bad. Through a multitude of interviews and studies, he has observed that the construction of morality increases as children grow up. Likewise with other skills, such as language or reasoning ability.

In Kohlberg's theory of moral development, it is necessary to conclude that moral development goes through three levels: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. Each of them is divided into two stages. It is important to understand that not everyone goes through all the stages and that they do not all reach the last level of development. Let's explain each stage in detail below.

Kohlberg's Moral Development Theory

Orientation to punishment and obedience

This stage of Kohlberg's theory of moral development is part of the pre-conventional level. Here we find that the person delegates any moral responsibility to an authority. The criteria of what is right or wrong are given by the rewards or punishments granted by the authority. A child may think that not doing homework is bad because his parents punish him if he does not do it.

This thinking hampers the ability to assume that there may be moral dilemmas: statements that have no morally clear answer. It's because everything is posited from the sole point of view of the authority that the legitimate person. Here we find the simplest level of moral development, where differences of interest or intentions of behavior are not taken into account. At this stage, the only thing that is relevant are the consequences: reward or punishment.

Orientation towards individualism or hedonism

At this stage of Kohlberg's theory of moral development, it already appears that interests vary from one individual to another. And although the criteria for deciding what is good or bad are always the consequences of actions, they are no longer marked by others. In doing so, the individual will think that everything that gives him a benefit will be good, or bad, which implies a certain distraction or discomfort.

Sometimes, despite the selfish vision of this stage of Kohlberg's theory of moral development, the individual may think that it is acceptable to respond to the needs of others. But only when there is a reciprocity or a pragmatic guarantee. That is, the thought that if I do something for another, the other will have to do something for me. This step is a little more complex than the previous one, because the individual does not delegate to another for the construction of his morals, although the reasons are still simple and selfish.

Orientation to interpersonal relationships

In this stage begins the conventional stage of moral development. Because the individual begins to have more and more complex relationships, he must abandon the selfishness of the previous step. The important thing at this level is to be accepted by the group. As a result, morality will revolve around him.

For the person who is in this state, what is good will be what pleases or helps others. Here, what begins to matter is the good intentions of the behaviors and how well they are endorsed by others. The definition of morality in this stage is based on being a "good person", loyal, respectable, collaborative and pleasant.

There is a very curious test to detect when children reach this stage. It consists of making them watch two videos:

  • In one appears a child who makes a joke (causes a little harm, but intentionally).
  • In another appears a different child who also causes greater harm, but this time unintentionally (eg.he stains or drags a glass unintentionally).

Children who have already incorporated intention as a modulating variable of their moral judgments will say that the one who did the most wrong was the child who wanted to cause the harm, even if it was not very serious. On the other hand, children in the early stages of Kohlberg's theory of moral development will say that it is worse to have caused the greatest harm, regardless of the involuntary aspect.

Orientation towards the social order

The individual ceases to have a vision based on the group, to move to a vision based on society. Pleasing the group or the people around me does not matter anymore. The criterion of what is good or bad is based on the fact that the behavior maintains the social order or prevents it. The important thing is that society is stable and there is no chaos.

Here we observe a strong respect for laws and authority. This despite restrictions of individual freedoms for our good, in favor of social order. Morality goes beyond personal ties and is linked to current legislation, which must not be disobeyed, in order to maintain a social order.

Orientation towards the social contract

Here we enter the last level of moral development, a step that very few people reach in their lives. Here, morality begins to be understood as flexible and variable. For these individuals, good or evil exists because a society has created a contract that establishes moral standards.

The people at this stage understand the rationale for the laws and on that basis criticize or defend them. Moreover, these laws are not for them eternal and can be improved. For people or children who are at this stage, morality implies voluntary participation in an accepted social systemsince the constitution of a social contract is better for oneself and for others than its absence.

Orientation towards the universal ethical principle

This stage of Kohlberg's theory of moral development is the most complex. The individual creates his own understandable, rational and universally applicable ethical principles. These principles go beyond the laws and are abstract moral concepts difficult to explain. The person builds his morality based on how he believes society should exist and not how society imposes it.

An important aspect of this step is the universality of the application. The individual applies the same criteria to others as to himself. He treats others, at least he tries, as he would like to be treated himself. Because if it were not the case, we would be at a much simpler level, similar to the stage of orientation towards individualism.

Now, knowing how morality develops in people according to Kohlberg's theory of moral development, we have the opportunity to lead a personal reflection.At what stage of moral development do we find ourselves?

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