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Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


Kohlberg observed that growing children advance through definite stages of moral develo­pment in a manner similar to their progre­ssion through Piaget's well-known stages of cognitive develo­pment. His observ­ations and testing of children and adults, led him to theorize that human beings progress consec­utively from one stage to the next in an invariant sequence, not skipping any stage or going back to any previous stage.
These are stages of thought proces­sing, implying qualit­atively different modes of thinking and of problem solving at each stage.

Stage 1: Punishment & Obedience - Focus: Self

Avoidance of physical punishment and deference to power. Punishment is an automatic response of physical retali­ation. The immediate physical conseq­uences of an action determine its goodness or badness. The atrocities carried out by soldiers during the holocaust who were simply "­car­rying out orders­" under threat of punish­ment, illustrate that adults as well as children may function at stage one level.
Might Makes Right: Questions: What must I do to avoid punish­ment? What can I do to force my will upon others?
Most Prisoners remain at this level.

Stage 2: Instru­mental Exchange: The Egoist

Market­place exchange of favors or blows. "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."­ Justice is: "Do unto others as they do unto you." Individual does what is necessary, makes conces­sions only as necessary to satisfy his own desires. Right action consists of what instru­men­tally satisfies one's own needs. Vengeance is considered a moral duty. People are valued in terms of their utility.
"An eye for an eye." Questions: What's in it for me? What must I do to avoid pain, gain pleasure?

Stage 3: Interp­ersonal Confor­mity: Good Boy/Girl

Right is conformity to the stereo­typical behavi­oral, values expect­ations of one's society or peers. Individual acts to gain approval of others. Good behavior is that which pleases or helps others within the group. Everybody is doing it." Majority unders­tanding ("common sense") is seen as "­nat­ura­l." One earns approval by being conven­tio­nally "­res­pec­tab­le" and "­nic­e." Peer pressure makes being different the unforg­ivable sin. Self sacrifice to group demands is expected. Values based in confor­mity, loyalty to group. Sin is a breach of the expect­ations of one's immediate social order (confuses sin with group, class norms). Retrib­ution, however, at this stage is collec­tive. Individual vengeance is not allowed.

Forgiv­eness is preferable to revenge. Punishment is mainly for deterr­ence. Failure to punish is "­unf­air." "If he can get away with it, why can't I?" Many religious people end up here.
"­Tyranny of the They" (They say….). Question: What must I do to be seen as a good boy/girl (socially accept­able)?

Stage 4: Law & Order: The Good Citizen

Respect for fixed rules, laws and properly consti­tuted authority. Defense of the given social and instit­utional order for its own sake. Respon­sib­ility toward the welfare of others in the society. "­Jus­tic­e" normally refers to criminal justice. Justice demands that the wrongdoer be punished, that he "pay his debt to societ­y," and that law abiders be rewarded. "A good day's pay for a good day's work." Injustice is failing to reward work or punish demerit. Right behavior consists of mainta­ining the social order for its own sake. Self-s­acr­ifice to larger social order is expected. Authority figures are seldom questi­oned. "He must be right. He's the Pope (or the President, or the Judge, or God)." Consis­tency and precedent must be mainta­ined. For most adults, this is the highest stage they will attain.
Societal Confor­mity. Question: What if everyone did that?

Stage 4 ½: The Cynic

Between the conven­tional stages and the post-c­onv­ent­ional Levels 5 and 6, there is a transi­tional stage. Some colleg­e-age students who come to see conven­tional morality as socially constr­ucted, thus, relative and arbitrary, but have not yet discovered universal ethical princi­ples, may drop into a hedonistic ethic of "do your own thing."­ This was well noted in the hippie culture of the l960's. Disrespect for conven­tional morality was especially infuri­ating to the Stage 4 mentality, and indeed was calculated to be so. Kohlberg found that some people get "­stu­ck" in this in-between stage marked by egoism and skepti­cism, never able to completely leave behind conven­tional reasoning even after recogn­izing its inadeq­uacies. Such people are often marked by uncritical cynicism ("All politi­cians are crooks­…no­thing really matters anyway­"), disill­usi­onment and aliena­tion.
Question: Why should I believe anything?

Stage 5: Rights & Social Contract: The Philos­opher

Moral action in a specific situation is not defined by reference to a checklist of rules, but from logical applic­ation of universal, abstract, moral princi­ples. Indivi­duals have natural or inalie­nable rights and liberties that are prior to society and must be protected by society.

Retrib­utive justice is repudiated as counte­rpr­odu­ctive, violative of notions of human rights. Justice distri­buted propor­tionate to circum­stances and need. "­Sit­uation ethics." The statement, "­Justice demands punish­men­t," which is a self-e­vident truism to the Stage 4 mind, is just as self-e­vid­ently nonsense at Stage 5. Retrib­utive punishment is neither rational nor just, because it does not promote the rights and welfare of the individual and inflicts further violence upon society. Only legal sanctions that fulfill that purpose are imposed-- protection of future victims, deterr­ence, and rehabi­lit­ation. Individual acts out of mutual obligation and a sense of public good. Right action tends to be defined in terms of general individual rights, and in terms of standards that have been critically examined and agreed upon by the whole societ­y--e.g. the Consti­tution. The freedom of the individual should be limited by society only when it infringes upon someone else's freedom.

Conven­tional author­ities are increa­singly rejected in favor of critical reasoning. Laws are challenged by questions of justice.
Prior Rights & Social Contract: The Philos­oph­er/King
Question: What is the just thing to do given all the circum­sta­nces? What will bring the most good to the largest number of people?

Stage 6: Universal Ethical Princi­ples: The Prophet

An individual who reaches this stage acts out of universal principles based upon the equality and worth of all living beings. Persons are never means to an end, but are ends in themse­lves. Having rights means more than individual liberties. It means that every individual is due consid­eration of his dignity interests in every situation, those interests being of equal importance with one's own. This is the "­Golden Rule" model. A list of rules inscribed in stone is no longer necessary. At this level, God is understood to say what is right because it is right; His sayings are not right, just because it is God who said them.

Abstract principles are the basis for moral decision making, not concrete rules. Stage 6 indivi­duals are rare, often value their principles more than their own life, often seen as incarn­ating the highest human potential. Thus they are often martyred by those of lower stages shamed by seeing realized human potential compared with their own partially realized levels of develo­pment. (Stoning the prophets, killing the messen­ger). Examples:
Mohandas Gandhi, Jesus of Nazareth, Gautamo Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dag Hamers­kjold
The Prophe­t/M­essiah
Questions: What will foster life in its fullest for all living beings? What is justice for all?