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Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development

Research papers on Lawrence Kohlberg will illustrate that this famous psychologist sought to explain the growth of moral development in children. Taking largely from Piaget’s theories of cognitive development, Kohlberg focused on qualitative changes in how children think. The strength in Kohlberg’s theory rests in its basis in Piaget’s cognitive development theory. The true value of Kohlberg’s moral development theory is that it refined Piaget’s theory and reconciled some of the differences between developmental theories that focused on morals rather than virtues and natural understanding of principles rather than cognitive development.

Kohlberg, like Piaget, also validated his theory by not seeing little children as “mini adults” and recognizing that they go through stages of development morally. A child grows from stage to stage through schemas, whereby he or she adapts to experience, assimilates that experience, and accommodates the change in perception. Jean Piaget developed the theory of cognitive development in opposition to how human growth was viewed at the time. The general view of children was that they were little versions of adults. Piaget begged to differ, and devised his theory which contends that children’s thought processes are qualitatively different than adults’. Kohlbergs Stages of Moral Development

  1. The first stage of cognitive development is sensorimotor (0-2 years). Intelligence is based in motor activity.
  2. The second is pre-operational (3-7 years). Intelligence in this stage is intuitive in nature.
  3. The third is concrete operations (8-11 years). This form of intelligence is logical, but dependent on concrete references.
  4. Finally, a child reaches formal operations (12-15 years). Intelligence has reached the level where a child can think abstractly.

This is a broad overview of the theory, but in fact, each stage has many detailed structural forms to account for individual differences in children.

Kohlberg reduced Piaget’s theory to explain moral development. He describes moral development in six stages, which are, in turn, divided into three levels. First, the pre-conventional level contains the heteronomous morality stage, and the concrete operational stage. In the heteronomous morality stage, children adhere to rules to avoid being punished. They are very egocentric at this point. At the concrete operational stage, children strive to meet their own needs and interests, but can also let others do the same. The second level is called “conventional,” and is divided into the good-child morality stage and the law-and-order morality stage. With good-child morality, children try to live up to what others expect. They are learning formal operations thinking. With law-and-order morality, they fulfill duties to which they have agreed to carry out. They begin to ask the question, “what if everyone did it?” when considering social duties. In the third level, post-conventional, stage 5 and 6 are called the social-contract reasoning stage and the universal principles. These levels are rarely reached because of the sophisticated formal operational thinking necessary. They involve the rare ability to simultaneously grasp several abstract principles when considering moral behavior.

Two glaring weakness in Kohlberg’s theory have largely discredited it. The fact that boys and girls develop at different stages mentally and morally is problematic to his theory. Also, Kohlberg does not take into account that children of different cultures develop at different rates. More aptly, recent research focuses on the cognitive and social aspects of development and places less emphasis on stages of development due to the many variables that enter into development.

Kohlberg reduced Piaget’s theory to explain moral development. He describes moral development in six stages, which are, in turn, divided into three levels. First, the pre-conventional level contains the heteronomous morality stage, and the concrete operational stage. In the heteronomous morality stage, children adhere to rules to avoid being punished. They are very egocentric at this point. At the concrete operational stage, children strive to meet their own needs and interests, but can also let others do the same. The second level is called “conventional,” and is divided into the good-child morality stage and the law-and-order morality stage. With good-child morality, children try to live up to what others expect. They are learning formal operations thinking. With law-and-order morality, they fulfill duties to which they have agreed to carry out. They begin to ask the question, “what if everyone did it?” when considering social duties. In the third level, post-conventional, stage 5 and 6 are called the social-contract reasoning stage and the universal principles. These levels are rarely reached because of the sophisticated formal operational thinking necessary. They involve the rare ability to simultaneously grasp several abstract principles when considering moral behavior.

Two glaring weakness in Kohlberg’s theory have largely discredited it. The fact that boys and girls develop at different stages mentally and morally is problematic to his theory. Also, Kohlberg does not take into account that children of different cultures develop at different rates. More aptly, recent research focuses on the cognitive and social aspects of development and places less emphasis on stages of development due to the many variables that enter into development.

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