Lawrence Kohlberg
(from The Story of Psychology)


·        Moral-development psychologistŕHarvard

·        Passions: psychology & philosophy (particularly ethics)

·        Doctoral dissertation created a rating system (later made into a test) to chart the stages of moral development from which he derived his cognitive -development theory of the stages of moral development.

·        It is against the law to steal; does that make it morally wrong?, etc. for a total of 21 questions.

·        Kohlberg's original sample consisted of a cross-section of 72 Chicago area males aged 10, 13, & 16, whom he tested every 2 to 5 years for a span of 30 years.

·        Differences among the 3 age groups suggested that the moral sense develops in distinct stages.

·        Posits six stages of moral development.

·        Critics suggest that there are some flaws in this theory in that moral development is not always upward and sequential (some individuals skip stages in their development, others regress).  See Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice.

·        Begs the questions: Does moral thinking necessarily lead to moral behavior? Does the test accurately predict moral action? What about gender bias? Was his sampling large enough or general enough?

·        Test consists of nine moral dilemmas, which the researcher introduces one at a time to the subject. Each is followed by an interview comprising a long series of questions about what the subject considers the right and wrong course of action in each particular case.

·        ExampleŕHeinz dilemma: In a European town, a woman is near death from a particularly nasty form of cancer. Fortunately a new drug, discovered by the town druggist, could save her. Unfortunately, the druggist knows the value of his product and refuses to sell it to the poor woman. Heinz, the dying woman's husband, can only raise enough money to cover only half the cost of the miracle cure. Desperate, he pleads with the druggist, but to no avail; the druggist flatly refuses to make a deal. Heinz considers stealing the drug to save his wife's life.

1. Should he?

2. Why or why not?

3. Does he have a duty or obligation to steal the drug?

4. Should he steal the drug for his wife even if he doesn't love her?

5. What if the person dying were a stranger; should Heinz steal the drug for



The Six Stages of Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development


1.  Naive moral realism: action based on rules; motivation is the avoidance of punishment.

PRO: If you let your wife die, you will get in trouble.

CON: You shouldn't steal the drug because you'll get caught and sent to jail.

2.  Pragmatic morality: action based on desire to maximize reward or benefit/minimize negative consequences to oneself.

PRO: If you get caught, you could give the drug back and you might get a reduced sentence or probation. It wouldn't be so bad to do a little time or be a little inconvenienced if it meant that your wife would be alive and waiting for you when you get out.

CON: If you steal the drug, your wife will probably still die before you get out, so it won't really benefit you in the long run.

3. Socially shared perspectives: action is based on anticipated approval or

disapproval of others and actual or imagined guilt feelings.

     PRO: No one will think you're bad if you steal the drug, but if you let your wife die,

     you'll never be able to look anybody in the face again.

CON: Everyone will think you're a criminal. After you steal it, you won't be able to face anyone again.

4.   Social system morality: action based on anticipation of formal dishonor (not

just disapproval) and guilt over the harm done to others.

PRO: If you have any sense of honor, you won't let your wife die. You'll always feel guilty that you caused her death if you don't do your duty to her and steal the drug.

CON: You're desperate and may not know what you're doing wrong when you steal the drug. But you'll know it when you're sent to jail. You'll always feel guilt for you dishonesty and lawbreaking.

5.   Human rights and social welfare morality; the perspective is that of a rational

moral person considering the values and rights that ought to exist in a moral society; action based on maintaining the respect of the community and one's self-respect.

PRO: You'd lose other people's respect if you don't steal it. If you let your wife die, it would be out of fear, not reasoning it out. You'd lose self-respect and probably other's respect as well.

CON: You'd lose standing and respect in the community and violate the law. You'd lose respect for yourself of you're carried away by emotion and forget the long-range consequences.

6.   Universal ethical principles: the perspective is the moral view all human beings      should take toward one another and oneself; action is determined by equity, fairness, and concern about maintaining one's own moral principles.

PRO: If you don't steal it and thereby let your wife die, you'd always condemn yourself for it afterward. You wouldn't be blamed and you'd have lived up to the law but not to your own standards of conscience.

CON: If you stole the drug, you wouldn't be blamed by other people but you'd condemn yourself because you wouldn't have lived up to your own conscience and your belief in honesty.

Carol Gilligan’s Response to Kohlberg’s Theory:

from In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development

·       Piaget observes that boys in their games are more concerned with rules while girls are more concerned with relationships, often at the expense of the game itself.

·         Chodorow concludes that men's social orientation is positional while women's is personal.

·        Women's moral concerns are rooted in their sensitivity to the needs of others and the assumption of responsibility for taking care.

·        Women must attend to voices other than their own and must include in their judgment other points of view.

·        What appears to be women's moral weakness, according to Kohlberg's hierarchy or moral development, is that they consider the opinions of others as important as their own, an assessment that would relegate women to the third stage of moral development.

·       Women's moral weakness, which ostensibly manifests in an apparent diffusion and confusion of judgment, is thus inseparable from women's moral strength, an overriding concern with relationships and responsibilities.

·      Women not only define themselves in a context of human relationship butalso judge themselves in terms of their ability to care.

·      In Kohlberg’s hierarchy of moral development, the focus is on individuation, autonomy, and individual achievement.  His theory identifies the masculine tendency equated with personal autonomy as a higher stage of moral development than the feminine tendency to nurture, protect, and bond as a group.

·          Studies on sex-role stereotypes reported by Broverman, Vogel,

Broverman, Clarkson, and Rosenkrantz (1972).

1.        The qualities deemed necessary for adulthood-the capacity for autonomous thinking, clear decision-making, and responsible action-are those associated with masculinity and considered undesirable as attributes of the feminine self.

2.         The stereotypes suggest a splitting of love and work that relegates expressive capacities to women while placing instrumental abilities in the masculine domain.

3.         Looked at from another perspective, these stereotypes reflect a conception of adulthood that is itself out of balance, favoring separateness over union and promoting an autonomous life of work than the interdependence of love and care.

·        Women's moral development centers on the elaboration of intuition and instinctive knowledge that is a function of anatomy coupled with destiny, and thus delineates a critical line of psychological development in the lives of both of the sexes.

·        The psychology of women that has consistently been described as distinctive in its greater orientation toward relationships and interdependence implies a more contextual mode of judgment and a different type of moral understanding.

·        Given the differences in women's conceptions of self and morality, women bring to the life cycle a different point of view and order human experience in terms of different priorities than men do, at least .

·     Consider these related items:  Myth of Demeter and Persephone, the Eleusian Mystery Cults, Dionysus & the patriarchal usurpation of feminine power. Mother goddesses were virginized (Athena) when patriarch’s conquered goddess cultures in the Mediterranean. Importance of connection is the theme of numerous Greek myths. Mother Nature. Minoan culture. Amazons. Medusa. Medea. Antigone. Lysistrata.