Kohlberg's Moral Development

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Kohlberg’s Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg was born in Bronxville, New York on October 25, 1927. He was born into a wealthy family and enjoyed all of the luxuries that the rich lifestyle had to offer including the finest college prep schools. However, Kohlberg was not too concerned with this lifestyle. Instead he became a sailor with the merchant marines. During World War II, Kohlberg played an instrumental role in smuggling Jews through a British blockade in Palestine. It was during these times that Kohlberg first began thinking about moral reasoning, a subject that would later make him famous. After this Kohlberg enrolled at the University of Chicago where he scored so high on admission test that he only had to take a limited number of courses to earn his bachelor’s degree. This he did in one year. Kohlberg remained at the University Chicago as a graduate student. In 1958, Kohlberg completed his Ph.D. which dealt with moral decision making and was based primarily on the earlier work of Jean Piaget. The result was his doctoral dissertation, the first rendition of his new stage theory. Later he served as an assistant professor at Yale University from 1959 to 1961, began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1963. He remained at Chicago until his 1967 appointment to the faculty of Harvard University, where he served as professor of education and social psychology until his death in 1987.

Many of our inner standards take the form of judgments as to what is right and what is wrong. They constitute the moral and ethical principles by which we guide our conduct. Lawrence Kohlberg refined, extended, and revised Piaget’s basic theory of the development of moral values. Like Piaget, Kohlberg focused on the moral judgements in children rather than their actions. The manner in which moral judgments develop has been studied extensively by Kohlberg, through the questioning of boys seven years old and up. Kohlberg presented his subjects with a number of hypothetical situations involving moral question like the following. If a man’s wife is dying for lack of an expensive drug that he cannot afford, should he steal the drug? If a patient who is fatally ill and in great pain begs for a mercy killing, should the physician agree? By analyzing the answers and particularly the reasoning by which his subjects reached their answers. Kohlberg determined th...

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...g means that the stages are not just isolated responses but general patterns of thought that will consistently show up across many different kinds of issues. The third concept is Invariant Sequence. Kohlberg believed that his stages unfolded in an invariant sequence. Children go form stage 1 to stage 2 and so on with out skipping a stage. Concept four is Hierarchic Integration. When Kohlberg said that his stages were hierarchically integrated, he meant that people do not lose the insights gained at earlier stages but integrate them into new, broader framework.

Other studies confirm that moral development is sequential, moving from external to internal control. In other words, while young children behave in order to avoid punishment or receive approval from others, adults develop internal codes and regulate their own behavior even in the absence of external enforcement. However, criminologists have not found truly strong indications of the effect of moral development on criminal activity. Sociologists who compared the patterns of moral development between delinquents and no delinquents found some differences between the groups, but these differences were not conclusive.
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