Kohlberg, Lawrence


Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) illustrated the morals/ethics distinction, by presented his subjects with a series of moral dilemmas, such as whether it is permissible to steal food to feed one's starving family. He then noted the reasoning his subjects used in justifying their particular decisions.

Kohlberg concluded that there are five levels of moral development that people go through.

  1. In the first stage, starting at about age ten, people avoid breaking moral rules to avoid punishment.
  2. In the second stage, people follow moral rules only when it is to their advantage.
  3. In the third stage, starting about age 17, people try to live up to what is expected of them in small social groups, such as families.
  4. In the fourth stage, people fulfill the expectations of larger social groups, such as obeying laws that keep society together.
  5. In the fifth and sixth stages, starting at about age 24, people are guided by both absolute and relative moral principles; they follow these for altruistic reasons, though, and not because of what they might gain individually (the final two stages are differentiated in that the fifth is based on adherence to democractic processes and rule of law, the sixth allows for the possibility of civil disobedience in the interests of changing laws).

According to Kohlberg, few people ever reach this level. It is especially noteworthy that he effectively confirms that an “innate” sense of morality does not exist, that it is, in so far as it exists at all, cultured into people rather than bred into them.

See also: Ethics, httpKohlberg and interwikiGoogle! Kohlberg Lawrence

Last edited on Tuesday, September 30, 2003 6:37:22 pm.