Summarizing Kohlberg’s Philosophy of Moral Development
Influenced by Jean Piaget’s psychosocial model of cognitive development, in 1958, American developmental psychologists Lawrence Kohlberg published a dissertation which revolutionized the field of moral development. Kohlberg’s work posited a Platonic model of morality that believed that morality is universal, and humans all innately subscribe to a universal moral ideal: this ideal he referred to as justice. Speaking against the “bag of virtues” perspective of morality, in his first volume of the Philosophy of Moral Development, Kohlberg asserted that “Justice, in turn, is a matter of equal and universal rights… justice is not a rule or a set of rules, it is a moral principle. By a moral principle, I mean a mode of choosing that is universal, a rule of choosing that we want all people to follow” (Kohlberg, 1981). According to Kohlberg’s model, each individual has an inherent sense of justice which he develops throughout his life, and the development of justice occurs in stages.
The first stage—the pre-conventional stage—begins in childhood. The pre-conventional stage is subdivided into two stages, “Stage 1” and “Stage 2.” “Stage 1” thinkers rationalize morality in terms of reward and punishment: an action is deemed good or bad depending on whether the action is rewarded or punished by authorities. “Stage 2” reasoning considers reciprocity, and moral b...
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...t model leads into the issue of cultural function in moral development.
Kohlberg’s theory rejected the cultural model of morality—the idea that morality is relative to one’s society. However, can culture be completely disentangled from moral beliefs? Moral reasoning is not completely independent.
Gibbs, J.C. (2010). Moral Development & Reality: Beyond the Theories of Kohlberg and Hoffman. Boston, MA. Pearson Education.
Haidt, J. (2001). The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment. American Psychological Association, 814-834.
Kohlberg, L. (1981). Essays on Moral Development Volume I: The Philosophy of Moral Development. New York, NY. Harper & Row.
McNeil, J. (2013, November). Introduction to Development. PSY210: Introduction to Development. Lecture conducted at the University of Toronto, Toronto, ON.
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