Adult Development

Kohlberg (1927 - 1987)

Summary of Theory
Kohlberg proposed a theory of moral development that expanded on Piaget's work.  Piaget had mapped moral development to two stages, with the second stage emerging at about 10-11 years. Piaget observed that children under age 10-11 made decisions based on consequences and saw fixed rules delivered by stern authority. Children older than 10-11 saw rules as relative and bendable (if not breakable). They made moral judgements based on the motives of the person involved (Crain, 1985). Kohlberg's final ideas closely parallel Piaget's in the early stages, he included additional stages that emerge well into adolescence and adulthood. 

Kohlberg denies that his stages are result of physical maturation, nor are they the product of socialization. The stages emerge, instead, from our own thinking about moral problems (Kohlberg, 1968). Experiences themselves do not promote new ways of thinking; it is in our reflections on and in discussions with others about these experiences that "we find our views questioned and challenged and are therefore motivated to come up with new, more comprehensive positions. New stages reflect these broader viewpoints (Kohlberg et al., 1975)", as cited in Crain (1985, online) .

Kohlberg maintains that moral development is inextricably linked to intellectual development (Dean, 2007), and there is empirical evidence to suggest that achievements in logical and social thought precede advances in moral thinking (Kohlberg, 1976; Kuhn et al., 1977). For example, "children seem to advance to stage 2, overcoming their egocentrism in the moral sphere, only after they have made equivalent progress in their logical and social thought" (Crain, 1985, online).

Kohlberg's six stages of moral development fall into three levels.

Moral decisions are made on the basis of fear of punishment and self-satisfaction (Dean, 2007). Children are 'preconventional' because they speak  only for themselves, rather than as part of a larger social unit (Crain, 1985).

Stage 1: Children think 'right' is determined by authority. Doing the right thing is obeying authority and avoiding punishment.
Stage 2: Children begin to see that every issue has many sides. Since everything is relative, they feel they can do what they want, although it is often useful to make deals and exchange favors with others (Crain, 1985).

Moral decisions are made that support the social order and the expectations of one's social groups (Dean, 2007). Young people are now 'conventional' because they uphold society's values, norms, and expectations (Crain, 1985).

Stage 3: Young people emphasize being a good person, which basically means being helpful to those close to them.
Stage 4: Emphasis shifts to obeying laws so that social order is maintained (Crain, 1985).

Autonomous or Principled
This level is characterized by decision making that is based on values and principles apart from their sociocultural context (Dean, 2007). These values are self-chosen principles that uphold the dignity and  inalienable rights of all human beings.(Dean, 2007)

Stage 5: Adults focus decision-making on fundamental rights and the democratic processes
Stage 6: Adults make decisions based on the principles of justice. The principles of justice require us to treat the claims of all parties in an impartial manner (Crain, 1985).

Where are my learners in this scheme?
My learners will fall into levels 2 - 4:

Preconventional - Level 2: “What’s in it for me?”
Conventional. Level 3: The good boy/good girl attitude
Conventional. Level 4: The "law and order" orientation

In general, what does this mean?

Stage 2: The instrumental relativist orientation or "what's in it for me?"

  • Right action consists of what satisfies one's own needs and occasionally the needs of others. (Kohlberg, 1971)
  • Children recognize that there is not just one right view that is handed down by the authorities. Different individuals have different viewpoints. (Crain, 1985)
  • Elements of fairness, reciprocity, and equal sharing are present, but they are always interpreted pragmatically (Kohlberg, 1971)
  • Reciprocity is a matter of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch your", not loyalty, gratitude, or justice.(Kohlberg, 1971)
  • Punishment is simply a risk that one naturally wants to avoid (Crain, 1985)

Stage 3: The interpersonal concordance or "good boy-nice girl" orientation.

  • At this stage, morality is seen as more than simple deals; people should live up to the expectations of the family and community and behave in "good" ways (Crain, 1985)
  • Good behavior means having good motives and feelings such as love, empathy, trust, and concern for others (Crain, 1985)
  • There is much conformity to stereotypical images of 'normal' behavior (Kohlberg, 1971)
  • Behavior is frequently judged by intention; this is the first time that intents are manifestly important (Kohlberg, 1971)
Stage 4: The "law and order" orientation.

  • The individual becomes more broadly concerned with society as a whole
  • Right behavior consists of obeying laws, respecting authority, and performing one's duties so that the social order is maintained (Kohlberg, 1971)

What does this mean to me?

Challenge learners' ideas. Use Socratic questioning techniques.
Kohlberg believes children move through the stages of moral development by encountering views that challenge their thinking and stimulate them to formulate better arguments (Kohlberg et al., 1975). This is consistent with Piaget's equilibration model and the process of Socratic teaching (Crain, 1985).

Watch for cultural differences.
Some, Simpson (1974) for example, have argued that Kohlberg's stages are culturally biased. Kohlberg's response is that different cultures do teach different beliefs, but that his stages refer not to specific beliefs but to underlying modes of reasoning (Kohlberg, 1971). Thus far, the studies have supported Kohlberg's stage sequence. To the extent that children move through the stages, they appear to move in order (Edwards, 1980). At the same time, people in different cultures seem to move through the sequence at different rates and to reach different end-points (Edwards, 1980).