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Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development *

Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) was a well-known theorist in the field of


moral development. He posed moral dilemmas to his subjects then asked
questions to probe their reasons for recommending a specific course of
action.

STAGE 0: What's Right: I should get my own way.


EGOCENTRIC Reason to be -
REASONING good:

PRE- STAGE 1: What's Right: I should do what I'm told.


CONVENTI- UNQUESTIONED To stay out of trouble. To get rewards and
ONAL OBEDIENCE Reason to be avoid punishments.
MORALITY good:

STAGE 2: I should look out for myself but be fair to


What's Right:
WHAT'S-IN-IT- those who are fair to me.
FOR ME Self-interest: What's in it for me?
FAIRNESS Reason to be
good:

CONVENTI- STAGE 3: I should be a nice person and live up to


ONAL INTERPERSONA What's Right: the expectations of people I know and
MORALITY L care about.
CONFORMITY So others will think well of me (social
Reason to be
approval) and I can think well of myself
good:
(self-esteem)
STAGE 4: I should fulfil my responsibilities to the
What's Right:
RESPONSIBILIT social or value system I feel part of.
Y TO "THE To keep the system from falling apart and
SYSTEM" Reason to be
to maintain self-respect as somebody who
good:
meets my obligations.
POST- STAGE 5: I should show the greatest possible
CONVENTI- PRINCIPLED respect for the rights and dignity of every
What's Right:
ONAL CONSCIENCE individual person and should support a
MORALITY system that protects human rights.
The obligation of conscience to act in
Reason to be
accordance with the principle of respect
good:
for all human beings.

*Stages 1 through 5 are adapted from Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral


reasoning as described in Kohlberg (1975, 1978, 1981); Stage 0 is adapted from
William Damon (1977) and Robert Selman (1980).