Some theorists of moral development assume that moral development takes place in a series of stages, with gradual changes in moral understanding overtime. Discuss one such theory of moral development. Refer to evidence in your answer. (12marks)



Kohlberg is one key theorist who suggested that an individual’s moral development follows strict progression relating to age through a series of stages which gradually increase in sophistication.

To form his model, Kohlberg conducted a longitudinal study which involved moral dilemmas. Participants aged between 10-16 years each heard the Heinz dilemma and were then asked a series of questions about the actions described with Kohlberg being mainly interested in the reasoning behind the decision. Participants were then interviewed every three years for the next 20 years. Results showed that younger children tended to reason on the basis of likely punishment or personal gain, whereas older participants were more concerned with issues such as care, the law and the views of society.

Analysis of the results led to Kohlberg’s three level model, with the three levels being pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. Each of these levels contain two stages, for example in the conventional level there is the good boy/good girl stage (stage 3) which works on the basis of what other people would think, if the action is approved then it is considered morally correct. Another example is that in the post-conventional level, there is the social contract stage (stage 5) which involves understanding that laws are part of a social contract between members of society which may sometimes result in changes through democratic procedures.

In order to support his idea that moral development takes place in a series of stages, with gradual changes overtime another longitudinal study was carried out. Males aged 10 and 16 years were interviewed every 4 years about the same 9 hypothetical dilemmas for 20 years with answers being scored using a standard scoring system. It was shown that participants progressed through Kohlberg’s stages in the predicted order, with no one skipping a stage and only 4% returning to a lower level. It can therefore be concluded that Kohlberg’s stages exist and they occur both sequentially and irreversibly.

This study raises the issue of there being much inconsistency in an individual’s level of moral reasoning due to the 9 dilemmas ranging in severity of the outcome of the decision. For example one dilemma might involve making a decision that will severely affect someone’s life whereas another might just result in a minor falling out. This goes against Kohlberg’s theory who claimed that moral reasoning would remain consistent in all contexts.

Further to this inconsistency, regression


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