Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

The psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg created a model of “stages of moral development” that remains useful. He was later criticized as creating a model of specifically male moral development — which is probably true. It illustrates the thinking process of advanced (not all) males. Kohlberg found that no women advanced beyond the third “conventional” stage: it is OK if everyone else is doing it.

Wikipedia provides more detail on these different stages.

Pre-conventional

The pre-conventional level of moral reasoning is especially common in children and is expected to occur in animals, although adults can also exhibit this level of reasoning. Reasoners at this level judge the morality of an action by its direct consequences. The pre-conventional level consists of the first and second stages of moral development and is solely concerned with the self in an egocentric manner. A child with pre-conventional morality has not yet adopted or internalized society’s conventions regarding what is right or wrong but instead focuses largely on external consequences that certain actions may bring.

In Stage one (obedience and punishment driven), individuals focus on the direct consequences of their actions on themselves. For example, an action is perceived as morally wrong because the perpetrator is punished. “The last time I did that I got spanked, so I will not do it again.” The worse the punishment for the act is, the more “bad” the act is perceived to be. This can give rise to an inference that even innocent victims are guilty in proportion to their suffering. It is “egocentric”, lacking recognition that others’ points of view are different from one’s own. There is “deference to superior power or prestige”.

An example of obedience and punishment driven morality would be a child refusing to do something because it is wrong and that the consequences could result in punishment. For example, a child’s classmate tries to dare the child to skip school. The child would apply obedience and punishment driven morality by refusing to skip school because he would get punished.

Stage two (self-interest driven) expresses the “what’s in it for me” position, in which right behavior is defined by whatever the individual believes to be in their best interest, or whatever is “convenient,” but understood in a narrow way which does not consider one’s reputation or relationships to groups of people. Stage two reasoning shows a limited interest in the needs of others, but only to a point where it might further the individual’s own interests. As a result, concern for others is not based on loyalty or intrinsic respect, but rather a “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” mentality,[5] which is commonly described as quid pro quo, a Latin term that means doing or giving something in order to get something in return. The lack of a societal perspective in the pre-conventional level is quite different from the social contract (stage five), as all actions at this stage have the purpose of serving the individual’s own needs or interests. For the stage two theorist, the world’s perspective is often seen as morally relative. See also: reciprocal altruism.

Conventional

The conventional level of moral reasoning is typical of adolescents and adults. To reason in a conventional way is to judge the morality of actions by comparing them to society’s views and expectations. The conventional level consists of the third and fourth stages of moral development. Conventional morality is characterized by an acceptance of society’s conventions concerning right and wrong. At this level an individual obeys rules and follows society’s norms even when there are no consequences for obedience or disobedience. Adherence to rules and conventions is somewhat rigid, however, and a rule’s appropriateness or fairness is seldom questioned.

In Stage three (good intentions as determined by social consensus), the self enters society by conforming to social standards. Individuals are receptive to approval or disapproval from others as it reflects society’s views. They try to be a “good boy” or “good girl” to live up to these expectations, having learned that being regarded as good benefits the self. Stage three reasoning may judge the morality of an action by evaluating its consequences in terms of a person’s relationships, which now begin to include things like respect, gratitude, and the “golden rule“. “I want to be liked and thought well of; apparently, not being naughty makes people like me.” Conforming to the rules for one’s social role is not yet fully understood. The intentions of actors play a more significant role in reasoning at this stage; one may feel more forgiving if one thinks that “they mean well”.

In Stage four (authority and social order obedience driven), it is important to obey laws, dicta, and social conventions because of their importance in maintaining a functioning society. Moral reasoning in stage four is thus beyond the need for individual approval exhibited in stage three. A central ideal or ideals often prescribe what is right and wrong. If one person violates a law, perhaps everyone would—thus there is an obligation and a duty to uphold laws and rules. When someone does violate a law, it is morally wrong; culpability is thus a significant factor in this stage as it separates the bad domains from the good ones. Most active members of society remain at stage four, where morality is still predominantly dictated by an outside force.

Post-conventional

The post-conventional level, also known as the principled level, is marked by a growing realization that individuals are separate entities from society, and that the individual’s own perspective may take precedence over society’s view; individuals may disobey rules inconsistent with their own principles. Post-conventional moralists live by their own ethical principles—principles that typically include such basic human rights as life, liberty, and justice. People who exhibit post-conventional morality view rules as useful but changeable mechanisms—ideally rules can maintain the general social order and protect human rights. Rules are not absolute dictates that must be obeyed without question. Because post-conventional individuals elevate their own moral evaluation of a situation over social conventions, their behavior, especially at stage six, can be confused with that of those at the pre-conventional level.

Some theorists have speculated that many people may never reach this level of abstract moral reasoning.

In Stage five (social contract driven), the world is viewed as holding different opinions, rights, and values. Such perspectives should be mutually respected as unique to each person or community. Laws are regarded as social contracts rather than rigid edicts. Those that do not promote the general welfare should be changed when necessary to/that meet “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”. This is achieved through majority decision and inevitable compromiseDemocratic government is ostensibly based on stage five reasoning.

In Stage six (universal ethical principles driven), moral reasoning is based on abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only insofar as they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. Legal rights are unnecessary, as social contracts are not essential for deontic moral action. Decisions are not reached hypothetically in a conditional way but rather categorically in an absolute way, as in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.[21] This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes, if they believed what that other person imagines to be true.[22] The resulting consensus is the action taken. In this way action is never a means but always an end in itself; the individual acts because it is right, and not because it avoids punishment, is in their best interest, expected, legal, or previously agreed upon. Although Kohlberg insisted that stage six exists, he found it difficult to identify individuals who consistently operated at that level. Touro College Researcher Arthur P. Sullivan helped support the accuracy of Kohlberg’s first five stages through data analysis, but could not provide statistical evidence for the existence of Kohlberg’s sixth stage. Therefore, it is difficult to define/recognize as a concrete stage in moral development.

Further stages

In his empirical studies of individuals throughout their life, Kohlberg observed that some had apparently undergone moral stage regression. This could be resolved either by allowing for moral regression or by extending the theory. Kohlberg chose the latter, postulating the existence of sub-stages in which the emerging stage has not yet been fully integrated into the personality.[10] In particular Kohlberg noted a stage 4½ or 4+, a transition from stage four to five, that shared characteristics of both.[10] In this stage the individual is disaffected with the arbitrary nature of law and order reasoning; culpability is frequently turned from being defined by society to viewing society itself as culpable. This stage is often mistaken for the moral relativism of stage two, as the individual views those interests of society that conflict with their own as being relatively and morally wrong.[10] Kohlberg noted that this was often observed in students entering college.[10][17]

Kohlberg suggested that there may be a seventh stage—Transcendental Morality, or Morality of Cosmic Orientation—which linked religion with moral reasoning. Kohlberg’s difficulties in obtaining empirical evidence for even a sixth stage, however, led him to emphasize the speculative nature of his seventh stage.

***

It is interesting to me in particular that the specifically Masculine Stages (Stage 4 and later) are systems-based thinking. What are the consequences to the system of this and that. Here again is the description:

In Stage four (authority and social order obedience driven), it is important to obey laws, dicta, and social conventions because of their importance in maintaining a functioning society. Moral reasoning in stage four is thus beyond the need for individual approval exhibited in stage three. A central ideal or ideals often prescribe what is right and wrong. If one person violates a law, perhaps everyone would—thus there is an obligation and a duty to uphold laws and rules. When someone does violate a law, it is morally wrong; culpability is thus a significant factor in this stage as it separates the bad domains from the good ones. Most active members of society remain at stage four, where morality is still predominantly dictated by an outside force.

In short, it is Frame. It is the building of civilization. The organization of systems. Law and order. Women, apparently, cannot do it.

For example, women apparently cannot figure out, no matter how many years and decades pass, that 80% of the women can’t marry 10% of the men (without polygamy). Even if you explain it to them, it makes no mental impression. You might as well be describing the airflow dynamics of helicopters. They go back to their regular default, which is: conforming to the norms of their social group.

Women are able to choose their social group — and may do so for reasons even of self-preservation. They choose which Frame to participate in.

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Typically, being otherwise lost, they will choose some kind of Frame to participate in, no matter how destructive.

Women’s morality typically involves Mercy as opposed to Justice. Justice would say: If you steal, you must be punished — even if it is “for a good reason.” If we allow people to steal, the consequences to the system would be catastrophic. And, any fool would soon figure out that if we allowed stealing “for a good reason,” then everyone would have a good reason. Mercy would say: But, this child must not be allowed to go hungry. It is not a systems-based approach of general principles, but a specific case-by-case approach of real-world situations in personal interactions. You could say that the two complement each other nicely. Perhaps there is a valid hierarchy of Mercy-oriented moral development appropriate for women, beyond the adolescent Stage 3 of Kohlberg.

Mercy can operate because of the Frame of Justice. It provides the exceptions to the Rule. But, if there are no rules, and only exceptions, then there is anarchic chaos. Everyone is stealing from everyone else, and everybody goes hungry. Eventually, you would have to rebuild Justice again, probably beginning with the extended family.

The natural conclusion here is that men must fix everything. Women can’t fix anything. Haven’t you noticed that? Women can maintain and preserve things, just as women today have been the chief maintainers and preservers of most Christian congregations. Women can be told how to fix things, by men. But, they can’t fix anything themselves.

In other words, Matriarchy does not exist.

Published by proprietor

Happily married, with children.

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