Lawrence Kohlberg, a personality theorist, was born in 1927 and grew up in Bronxville. He later went to Andover Academy located in Massachusetts. He did not go to college immediately after that, but he worked with a team of officers who ferried refugees to Israel from Europe. He left the job in 1948 to join the University of Chicago, where he scored historic grades on tests given during an admission. This made him earn his bachelor’s degree without much struggle as he took fewer courses. Kohlberg finished the course in one year, staying in Chicago after that to do graduate work majoring in psychology. His first intention was to become a clinical psychologist, but he later was interested in Jean Piaget’s works, which led him to interviewing adolescents and children on moral issues. As a result, he got his doctoral dissertation in 1958 and this had played a major role in the development of his new stage theory. His research mainly focused on moral the development proposing a stage theory that involved moral thinking (Colby, Kohlberg & Higgins, 2011).
Lawrence Kohlberg developed some stages to be used in understanding and practicing the moral development comprising of the psychological theory that was held by Jean Piaget, who was a psychologist. He first thought of handling the topic while at the University of Chicago and developed the theory as grew older.
Lawrence Kohlberg cites for moral reasoning as the essentials of ethical behavior dividing it into six developmental stages. Each of these stages deals with the topic differently with each having more weight than its predecessor does. Kohlberg’s study on the theory surpassed that of Piaget’s as it is focused mainly on moral judgment. In his works, Piaget had recognized that logic and morality developed through certain stages. Kohlberg worked on his ideas and theory by determining the process that led to moral development which mainly involved justice, and also was continuous throughout an individual’s life.
Kohlberg studied several stories including the Heinz dilemma focusing on the reasons or rationale people would give for their actions if they were subjected to the same moral dilemmas. Analysis of this dilemma was done according to moral reasoning. This was later classified into six stages that he differentiated each of them according to its unique characteristics. The theory, however, was criticized by different people with different perspectives. Some of the arguments cited that the theory gave more weight on justice as compared to moral values such as caring, for example. It was also pointed out that the stages he highlighted had some characteristics in common making them overlap. As they said, the stages could not be identified as separate entities (Grice, 2011).
Despite the vast criticism, the theory helped to develop a completely new field in psychology. It is noted that among the psychologists of the 20th century Kohlberg was rated number sixteen among the most quoted psychologists in history. The scale he used was based on how behavior was justified rather than trying to identify the level of morality in a person. The scale of an individual was however, found to be similar to the behavior exhibited. The hypothesis formulated dictated that moral behavior carried more responsibility, prediction, and consistency from persons at higher levels.
The six stages developed by Kohlberg can be grouped into three divisions each of them haveg two stages. According to Piaget, there were some constructivist requirements needed by a stage model as it was stated in the theory of cognitive development. The requirements implied that it was not easy to regress at the formulated stages. It is not possible to skip the laid out stages as each of them is unique and contains some needed perspectives. They are more differentiated and comprehensive as compared to the predecessors. The set stages are:
Level One (Pre-Convectional)
It is subdivided into:
- Obedience and orientation of punishment. It concerns such issues as how an individual is able to avoid punishment for wrongdoing.
- Orientation of self-interest. It tackles question like what is in store for an individual in a transaction and the payment needed after a favor or benefit is provided.
Level Two (Conventional)
- Conformity and interpersonal accord. This mainly deals with the social norms and the attitude held by many individuals who think of themselves as good persons.
- Orientation for maintaining authority and social order of a given place. This mainly highlights how the people of a certain location have to maintain law and order.
Level Three (Post Conventional)
- Orientation of social contracts.
- Principles applied in universal ethics. This involves the conscience held by people that is principled.
However, the theory makes some assumptions of some of the points that it highlights. Kohlberg assumes that it is human nature to communicate and state reasons accordingly. It is also assumed that humans have the desire to understand the world and people around them. The model set out by Kohlberg focuses mainly on the moral reasoning done by individuals. Hence, blame cannot be placed on a specific person in case of not performing any actions. He argued that his theory also covered moral reasoning and not only moral conclusions as stated by his critics. He argued that moral arguments took the structure and form independently from what is included in the arguments, which he termed as “formalism” (Lind, Hartmann, Wakenhut, 2010).
Kohlberg’s theory of moral development has its main principles centered on the fact that justice is important in the development of moral reasoning. Justice is a concept that depends on proper reasoning as well as on the set of principles. Kohlberg considered his theory compatible with developments in deontology and other fields such as eudemonia despite being alleged and justice-centered. The theory establishes that values are an important requirement in identification and doing of the right thing. According to him, the right things done by humans should be accepted as being right by several societies (Piaget, 1999). People progressing to higher stages of the theory have to follow the set pattern without skipping any stages. The success of Kohlberg’s theory has led to its application in modern world in other fields other than psychology.