Kohlberg's theory of moral development

Discuss Kohlberg's theory of moral development (8 + 16 marks)

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Lucy Warnes
TOTAL ­ 601
Outline ­ 188
Evaluate ­ 413
Discuss Kohlberg'stheory of moral understanding
(8 + 16 marks)
Kohlberg's theory of moral understanding was inspired by Piaget's theory of cognitive
development, with a key feature being that his stages are invariant and universal, whilst forming
an organised whole. Similarly, each new stage represents a more equilibrated form of moral
understanding, resulting in a more logically consistent and morally mature form of understanding.
Lastly, Kohlberg's theory claims that maturity is achieved through biological maturation,
disequilibrium and gains in perspective-taking. Outline - 70
Kohlberg's theory of moral development consists of six stages divided into three levels. In the
pre-conventional level are stage 1, the punishment and obedience orientation, where intention is
ignored, and stage 2, the instrumental purpose orientation, where children view actions as `right'
if they satisfy their own needs. In the conventional level is stage 3, interpersonal cooperation,
where what is right is defined by expectation, and stage 4, the social-order-maintaining
orientation, where there is a shift towards norms from expectations. Lastly, in the
post-conventional level is stage 5, the social-contract orientation, where laws are seen as relative
and flexible, and stage 6, the universal ethical principles orientation, where morality is defined in
terms of self-chosen abstract moral principles. Outline ­ 118
Kohlberg's claim that his stages were universal was supported by his findings from Mexico, India,
Turkey and Kenya. Snarey also reviewed studies using Kohlberg's dilemmas conducted in 27
different countries, all reporting the same sequence of development. However, other research
(Snarey and Keljo) has found that post-conventional understanding occurs mainly in more
developed, industrialised societies and is much less usual in rural communities. Evaluate - 63
Kohlberg's leading study was the Heinz moral dilemma, where participants were asked to give
their opinion on the outcome of a vital predicament. Colby et al. re-interviewed Kohlberg's original
participants at intervals of 3 ­ 4 years over a 20 year period. The findings of this longitudinal study
confirmed the original cross-sectional study, meaning that Kohlberg's six stages of moral
development are applicable. Evaluate - 62
Despite this research support, Kohlberg's dilemmas deal with wrongdoing. The result it that his
classification system is based on morality of justice when there are other criteria on which moral
decisions could be based. Moreover, Gilligan found that women tend to be more focused on
relationships than was gender-biased and restricted to only one type of morality. Evaluate - 57
Gilligan also criticised Kohlberg's research because the evidence was not based on real-life
decisions. The moral dilemmas were hypothetical scenarios which may have made little sense,
especially to young children. Gilligan's own research was involved interviewing people about their
own moral decisions. Evaluate - 42
Another problem with Kohlberg's theory is that it concerns moral thinking rather than behaviour.
Kohlberg did predict that those who reason in a more mature fashion should be more inclined to

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Burton found that people only behave consistently with their
moral principles on some kinds of moral behaviour. This means that Kohlberg's theory lacks some
ecological validity because it doesn't account for real world behaviours. Evaluate - 70
A further issue is that participants do not make consistent judgements when given moral
dilemmas.…read more


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