Moral Development – Lawrence Kohlberg

First draft, ready for comments

Psychological development in adults has been an academic field since the 1960s. Until then, psychology was mainly about experimental psychology and behaviorism where research focused on studying animals’ and people’s behavior and how to manipulate it, and psychoanalysis where therapy aimed to allow people to find subconscious reasons for their moods, emotions and behaviors etc.

In 1958, Lawrence Kohlberg, who was then studying psychology at the University of Chicago, developed a model of three levels of moral development based on Piaget’s developmental psychology: pre-conventional morality, conventional morality and post-conventional morality. Each of the three levels has two stages. The first moral stage is oriented towards obedience and avoiding punishment (Will I get caught?), the second is instrumental and oriented towards self-interest (Does this serve me?); both of them pre-conventional morality. The third stage is oriented towards interpersonal relations and conformity (living up to social norms), the fourth towards authority and maintaining social order; both are conventional morality. The fifth stage is oriented towards the social contract in general and the sixth towards universal ethical principles; both of them are post-conventional morality and based on a principled conscience. As in Piaget’s developmental psychology, the stages are successive, each stage retains the previous and they become increasingly complex. At later stages, one tends to find the previous stages too simplistic and insufficient, if not flat out immoral.

Beginning in the 1970s and especially since the 1980s, developmental psychology has become an academic field of its own and it has become a useful tool in, among other things, developing school curricula, resocialization of prison inmates, and employee and leadership training. It is expensive when companies have CEOs, middle managers and other employees who are not up to their responsibilities. There are several schools of developmental psychology today, and many of them are speaking of three, four or more levels of personal development.

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