Kohlberg`s Three Levels and Six Stages of Moral Reasoning
Lawrence Kohlberg, a professor of psychology in the University of Chicago, has created his own theory of moral development. The theory is based on children’s reasoning, when facing moral dilemmas, however, Kohlberg went far beyond that and created a common theory for all ages. Under his theory moral thinking passes through six separate stages, which are broken into three levels. This paper aims to provide a review of stages and levels proposed by Kohlberg. The first level is PRE-CONVENTIONAL. This level is more characteristic for children, although it is sometimes passed by adults too. At this level an individual considers exclusively direct consequences of an action for himself. Reasoning at this level is purely egoistic and consists of two stages:
Stage 1 An individual concentrates only on direct consequences for himself and the main moral deterrence is fear of punishment. Moral futility of an action is estimated by punishment. The more severe is the punishment, the worse an action is.
Stage 2 is characterized by limited interest to the needs of others. However, this interest is of egocentric. A person is interested in getting something for himself for his/her moral behavior. The second level is CONVENTIONAL. This stage is typical for most adults. At this level individuals compare the morality of their actions to social norms and expectations. This level includes the third and fourth stage of moral reasoning.
Stage 3 is related to social roles. People act so, as their relatives, friends and members of their group act to receive their praise. Actions are evaluated in terms of personal relationships and social stereotypes. The main deterrence is fear of authority and fear of social condemnation.
Stage 4 is similar to stage 3, however it is extended as actions are evaluated in terms of laws and social conventions. Individual needs are overcome at this stage and laws are attributed own value. A distinction between right and wrong in this stage is created by culpability of an action. The third level is POST-CONVENTIONAL is also called “principled level”. Actions are evaluated by an individual before they are evaluated by society. A person becomes morally “autonomous”. The level includes stages 5 and 6.
Stage 5 At this stage an individual comes to understanding, that people hold different views and opinions. Laws are understood not only as rules, but as useful social contracts. Those, who act against common good are considered to be morally bad and those have to be changed. The aim of morals is understood as “as much good for as many people as possible”, which is achieved by decision of the majority.
Stage 6 is characterized by abstract reasoning and universality of ethical principles. An individual comes to understanding that any laws may be justified only to the extent they correspond those universal principles. The social consensus is reached after “seeing the situation from another man’s eyes”. It is firstly necessary to get full understanding of all moral positions on the matter and after that a consensus between those positions should be reached. This action is validated by consent of every person, not only the majority.
1. Shaffer, David R. (2004). Social and Personality Development, 5th Ed, Wadsworth Publishing
2. Kohlberg, Lawrence; T. Lickona, ed. (1976). “Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach”, Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Rinehart and Winston
3. Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belkap Press of Harvard University Press
4. Kohlberg, Lawrence (1973). “The Claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest Stage of Moral Judgment”. Journal of Philosophy 70
 Shaffer, David R. (2004). Social and Personality Development, 5th Ed, Wadsworth Publishing, p.- 43  Kohlberg, Lawrence (1973). “The Claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest Stage of Moral Judgment”. Journal of Philosophy 70: 630-646
 Supra note  Kohlberg, Lawrence; T. Lickona, ed. (1976). “Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach”, Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Rinehart and Winston p.-188  Rawls, John (1971). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belkap Press of Harvard University Press, p.-201