Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development
In introducing Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, you may want to present your class with his best-known dilemma:
Ask students to give their own best judgment as to what Heinz should have done and why. Strong differences in opinion inevitably occur and stimulate both a lively classroom discussion and an active interest in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development.
Kohlberg was more interested in respondents’ reasons than their “yes” or “no” answers. A person could argue that Heinz should or should not steal the drug and be at any of Kohlberg’s stages of moral reasoning. Reasons for stealing the drug at each level of moral judgment follow:
1. Avoids punishment—“Heinz’s father-in-law might make big trouble for him if he let his wife die.”
2. Gains rewards—“Heinz will have someone to fix fine dinners for him if his wife lives.”
3. Gains approval/avoids disapproval—“What would people think of Heinz if he lets his wife die?”
4. Does duty to support society/avoids dishonor or guilt—“Heinz must live up to his marriage vow of protecting his wife.”
5. Affirms agreed-upon rights—“Everyone agrees that people have the right to live.”
6. Abstract, autonomous moral principle—“Saving a life takes precedence over everything else, including the law.”
You might conclude by noting that at one time Kohlberg proposed a possible seventh stage of moral development. Presumably this stage reflected a cosmic orientation in which one is motivated to be true to universal principles and feels oneself part of a cosmic direction transcending social norms.
Alternatively, Mary Vandendorpe suggests applying Kohlberg’s theory to two realistic moral dilemmas—exceeding the 55-mph speed limit and cheating in school. Ask your class to think of reasons for and against these two behaviors. Then divide the class into small groups and have each group classify each reason into one of Kohlberg’s levels.
Kohlberg, L. (1969). Stage and sequence:
The cognitive-developmental approach to socialization. In D.
A. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of socialization theory and
Vandendorpe, M. M. (1990).
Three tasks of adolescence: Cognitive, moral, social. In V. P. Mokosky, C. C. Sileo, L. G. Whittemore, C. P. Landry, & M. L. Skutley
(Eds.), Activities handbook for the teaching of psychology (Vol. 3, pp.