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Lawrence Kohlberg Moral Development. Colleen Anderson. Biography:. Born in 1927 in Bronxville New York His high school days were spent at Andover Academy in Massachusetts Before going onto college, he went oversees to help the Israeli cause.

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  • Born in 1927 in Bronxville New York
  • His high school days were spent at Andover Academy in
  • Massachusetts
  • Before going onto college, he went oversees to help the Israeli
  • cause.
  • Received his BA(1948) and PH.D.(1958) from the University of
  • Chicago. It was during his career here that he first became
  • interested in Piaget’s work.
  • From 1959-1961 he was an assistant professor at Yale University.
  • In 1967 he was appointed to the faculty of Harvard University
  • where he served as a professor of education and social psychology.
  • In 1987 at the age of 59, he committed suicide by drowning.
kohlberg s view of morality
Kohlberg’s view of morality:

Kohlberg opposed the view of social scientists, namely that morality is “behavioral conformity to the more common rules of the individual’s culture.” He argued that this “conception of individual morality necessarily eliminates any special theoretical significance which could be assigned to the question of how moral attitudes develop.” Instead he considered morality to be the philosophic sense of JUSTICE. Also, he summarizes his ideal of justice as “giving each man his due.”

(Kohlberg Modes of Moral Thinking 14)

kohlberg s studies
Kohlberg’s studies:

In his original study, Kohlberg presented seventy-two boys ages 10, 13, and 16 with several probing questions, moral dilemmas. He then engaged them in interviews to determine and evaluate their responses. From this study, Kohlberg constructed his stages of moral Development.

Later, Kohlberg conducted a twelve week research study to determine the effects of classroom moral discussion upon children’s level of moral development. This study comprised of thirty children at a Reform Jewish Sunday school ages 11 and 12. Eleven of these children were randomly selected for testing; six were boys and five were girls. To evaluate the affects, he compared his experimental group with three control groups of the same ages and social status.

moral stages of development
Moral Stages of Development:

Pre-conventional Level

Stage 1: The Punishment and Obedience Orientation

The person views an action as moral or immoral

depending solely on the physical consequences that

will occur.

Stage 2: The Instrumental Relativist Orientation

Now, moral action seen in terms of reciprocity. The person thinks

an action an action is right only if it is fair. They will help another

person if they get something in return.

Conventional Level

Stage 3: The Interpersonal Concordance or “Good Boy/Nice

Girl” Orientation

People desire to be seen as good or nice; they want to please

others. They can see various aspects of a problem and want the

people involved to follow the “Golden Rule” or an ideal


Stage 4: Society Maintaining Orientation

People view moral behavior as respecting authority and fixed

rules. Also morality is no longer confined to relationships between

individuals but with individuals and society.

moral stages of development1
Moral Stages of development:

Post Conventional Level

Stage 5: The Social Contract Orientation

Moral action is based on individual rights that have been

agreed upon by the society. Personal values are relative.

People place emphasis on following laws but also consider

changing the laws for the benefit of society.

Stage 6: The Universal Ethical Principle Orientation

Morality is now defined by self chosen ethical principles

appealing to logical comprehensiveness, universality, and

consistency. These principles are also abstract.


“Assuming that moral development passes through a natural sequence of stages, the approach defines the aim of moral education as the stimulation of the next step of development rather than indoctrination into the fixed conventions of the school, the church, or the nation”

(Kohlberg Moral Development 130-131)

“Contrary to what we usually think, it is quite easy to teach conventionally virtuous behavior but very difficult to teach true knowledge of the good.”

(Kohlberg Essays on Moral Development 47-48)

Kohlberg’s Approach:

Arouse a genuine moral conflict and present modes of thought that are one stage above the child’s own to promote an advancement in moral development.

my problem
My Problem:

Are 7th grade students (ages 12-13) likely to show evidence of increased moral reasoning as a result of a discussion focused on a moral dilemma during which there are multiple perspectives offered?

  • Will students initially vary from one another in their stages of moral
  • development? What affect will this have on the discussion?
  • Will students who do not participate in the discussion also change
  • their answers?
  • Do the results of this discussion have implications for the teaching
  • or religious or ethics education?
my hypotheses
My Hypotheses:

Based on my reading of Lawrence Kohlberg, I hypothesize that the students who participate in a discussion of the moral dilemma that I present will advance from their current moral stage to the next while those students who do not participate will remain in their initial stage.

my procedure
My Procedure:

I went to the Holy Family of Nazareth School and had the 7th grade teacher hand out the dilemma questionnaire to her students.

I collected the questionnaires and analyzed them according to my rubric to decide how I should lead the discussion and see their initial stages in moral development.

I introduced myself and a friend, Jonny Wilder, to the class and randomly selected four boys and four girls to engage in a discussion based on the dilemma.

Jonny and I had a discussion with all eight students. Then, a week later we came back, and he had a discussion with the boys while I had a separate discussion with the girls.

I had the teacher hand out the dilemma questionnaire to the entire class again.

I evaluated the second set of questionnaires for changes in moral reasoning.

the dad dilemma
The Dad dilemma:

Joe was a 14 year old boy who wanted to go to camp very much. His father promised him he could go if he saved up the money for it himself. So, Joe worked hard at his paper route and saved up the $40 it cost to go, and a little besides. But just before camp was going to start, his father changed his mind about letting him go. His father’s friends had decided to go on a special fishing trip and Joe’s father was short the money it would cost him to go with them. So, he told Joe to give him the money he saved from the paper route. Joe didn’t want to give up going to camp so he thought of refusing to give his father the money.

  • Would Joe be right to keep his money? Yes or No? Why
  • Does Joe’s Father have a right to take Joe’s money? Why or why not?
  • Does giving up the money have anything to do with Joe being a good son? Why or Why not?
  • What should Joe do? What should Joe’s father do?


my study
My Study:

Nick Bautista: age 13

Antonio Gonzalez: age 13

Carley Williams: age 13

Melissa Hantelmann: age 12

Bobje van Tilburg

Madison Straup: age 12

Caitlyn Hale: age 13

Nnaemeka: age 12

Tim Cruz: age 12

Arielle Melliza: age 13

Matthew Medina: age 12

Sarah Carmical: age 12

Maria Lynn: age 12

Jon Jon Valdez: age 13

Aaron Barker: age 13

Marco Sanchez: age 12



  • Hypothesis:
  • From the limited information this small study yields, I believe that my hypothesis is true. Children who partake in discussions of moral dilemmas do indeed advance in their moral development. However, like in the case of Caitlyn Hale, development does not always proceed from one stage to the next.
  • Critical Questions:
  • The students did vary from one another in their stages of moral development, and this proved to help drive the discussion.
  • The students who did not participate in the discussion also changed their answers; however, only one of them actually advanced. My study cannot explain this result.
  • While this study cannot provide conclusive evidence, I believe that it does have implications for the teaching of religious and ethics education. Students who engage in a discussion of a dilemma are more likely to be interested and engaged in the subject discussed. Also, if they are actively participating, they are more likely to develop in their moral reasoing.
if i could do it over again
If I could do it over again:

However, if I were to do this research again, I would want a larger study group for more reliable results. Also, I would want much more time so that I could conduct follow up tests in order to see if the children truly advanced in their own moral reasoning or if they were merely restating the views they heard in the discussion. Furthermore, I wish I had used another dilemma in addition to the Dad dilemma for the final test to also help determine if their moral reasoning actually developed.