Kohlberg's Moral Development

What Kohlberg's moral development theory is, and how it applies to thinking in society.

Kohlberg was one of the important figures in developing psychology.He is particularly important to the developmental field.His concept of moral development is one that psychologists still use and teach today.

Kohlberg's moral theory has three stages to it: Pre-formal, formal, and post-formal logic.

In the pre-formal stage, which is seen exclusively in infants and young children (until about age 7) and occasionally in adults or older children, is a basic level of moral reasoning.That is, there is a punishment/reward system of what's right and wrong.The person who is in the pre-conventional phase reasons like this: "If I got punished for it, or I expect to be punished for it, it's wrong.If I get or expect to be rewarded for it, it's right."

In the formal reasoning phase, which is seen children beginning around age 7, and is still seen in many adults, is a good/bad system.That is, someone may reason, "I obey the laws because it's a good thing to do, it's the right thing to do."They may reason, "I don't steal because it's bad, and it's wrong."This level of moral reasoning focuses a lot on what society says about a given action.Stealing is wrong and bad because society says it is.Society also says that we should follow laws.

The latest stage, post-formal, is seen only in a small percentage of adults, and doesn't even develop until adolescence (and isn't complete until, likely, a person's mid-20's).This is a "what's truly right/wrong" system.That is, the person who reasons this way doesn't follow what they've been told to do or what society says to do, necessarily.They take time to think about what THEY, individually, believe is right and wrong, and incorporate many of their own experiences and beliefs.Thinkers like Thoreau and others reason this way.Civil disobedience began because of this type of thinking.

Most people don't reason entirely at one level.Some people who reason at the post-formal level on serious matters may choose not to speed because they don't want to be punished (pre-formal).Someone may ordinarily choose to do what society dictates is right (formal), but question a particular new law (post-formal).

These forms of reasoning are significant, because the way a person PREDOMINANTLY reasons, particularly in important matters, is a sign of one's mental processes and capabilities.Some people aren't capable of reasoning about the pre-conventional level, ever.This could lead to crime in the society (it's only wrong because the criminal is punished for it).This theory helps to explain crime, as well as other decision-making processes.

To test for a person's level of reasoning, propose a reasonably important moral question and ask for the person's reasoning.It doesn't matter what the answer is; only the reason behind it.

For example, "Suppose a man has proof that his dearest friend committed a crime.Should he turn his friend in, or keep his mouth shut?"

A person who reasons "He should turn him in because the police will be happy," or "He shouldn't because his friend will be angry" are reasoning a pre-conventional level.

A person who reasons "He should turn him in because it's the right thing to do," or "He shouldn't turn him in because he has loyalties to his friend" is reasoning on a formal level.

A person who reasons, "He should turn him in because he may be a danger to society otherwise" or "He shouldn't turn him in because he believes what his friend did was not much of a crime, anyway" is reasoning on a post-formal level.

All future psychologists should know about and be able to apply Kohlberg's theory of moral development.It can also be helpful to the lay person who is trying to understand morality.

© High Speed Ventures 2011