Piaget's theories and research, Lawrence Kohlberg
studied the development of moral reasoning by
presenting children, adolescents, and adults with
a set of hypothetical stories that pose ethical
dilemmas. The most famous of these is the story
A woman was near death from
cancer. One drug might save her, a form of
radium that a druggist in the same town had
recently discovered. The druggist was
charging $2,000.00, ten times what the drug
cost him to make. The sick woman's husband,
Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the
money, but he could only get together about
half of what it cost. He told the druggist
that his wife was dying and asked him to sell
it cheaper or let him pay later. But the
druggist said "no." The husband got
desperate and broke into the man's store to
steal the drug for his wife. Should the
husband have done that? .... Why do you think
Kohlberg examined the responses
to such dilemmas and found three levels of moral
reasoning: preconventional, conventional, and
post conventional - with two stages at each
||Emphasis on avoiding punishments and
||Might makes right
(punishment and obedience orientation).
At this stage the most important value is
obedience to authority in order to avoid
||Look out for number one - "Self-needs"
(instrumental and relativist orientation).
Each person tries to take care of his or her
own needs. The reason to be nice to other
people is so they will be nice to you. In
other words, you scratch my back and I'll
||Emphasis on social rules
||"Good girl" and
"Nice boy" orientation.
Good behavior is considered behavior that
pleases other people and wins their praise.
Approval is more important than any specific
||"Law and order"
Right behavior means being a dutiful citizen
and obeying the laws set down by those in
power. It is ones duty to contribute to
social order by abiding by the laws.
||Emphasis on moral principles.
The rules of society exist for the benefit of
all, and are established by mutual agreement.
If the rules become destructive, or if one
party doesn't live up to the agreement, the
contract is no longer binding.
||Universal ethical principles orientation.
General universal principles determine right
and wrong. These values (such as "Do
unto others as you would have others do unto
you," or "Life is sacred") are
established by individual reflection and
meditation, and may contradict the egocentric
or legal principles of earlier reasoning.
|According to Kohlberg's longitudinal
research, people advance up this moral
hierarchy as they become more mature. For
example, 10-year-old Tommy argued that Heinz
should not steal the medicine because he
could be put in jail, a stage 1 answer. Three
years later, Tommy reasoned at stage 2,
saying that Heinz should steal the medicine
because he needed his wife to help care for
him (Kohlberg, 1971).
|The issue here is not whether Heinz
should steal the drug or not... the issue is
how the person answers the question "Why
do you think so?" The reasoning behind
the answer reflects the type of moral
orientation, and the level of moral
"Heinz should steal the
drug. He wouldn't be a very nice husband if
he let his wife die. A good husband would do
all he could to save his wife."
or .... "Heinz should not
steal the drug. It isn't his fault
his wife has cancer. Stealing is still
stealing and Heinz should not be stealing. He
still loves his wife and did all he could do
for her. It is that selfish druggist who is
the bad person here. He sure isn't very
In one first grade classroom (6-7
year-olds), virtually all of the children
said that Heinz should not steal the drug.
The reason they gave.... "Drugs are bad
and you should not be using drugs."
These children had been taught this social
slogan and could not focus on other issues of
the story. Once the word "drug" was
changed to "medicine" another first
grade class was able to discuss the issue of
this dilemma without being distracted by the
See Data chart on stage movement for