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Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Critique of the theory of moral development

            Kohlberg believed and demonstrated that people progress in their moral reasoning through a series of stages. The theory holds that moral reasoning, as the basis for ethical behavior, has six developmental stages in which each subsequent stage offers a better method of responding to moral dilemmas than the former (Gibbs, 2013). The six stages are categorized into pre-conventional morality, conventional morality, and post-conventional morality. Stage 1 focuses on punishment-obedience orientation and entails the use of punishment for a person to stop doing an action and also continue to obey the rules. Stage 2 focuses on instrumental relativist orientation where an individual evaluates the morality of an action due to its satisfaction on their needs. Stages 3 and 4 include the societal roles in deciding the morality of an action. Stages 5 and six are concerned with the universal principles relating to the action performed. There have been various criticisms of the theory as discussed in the essay.   

            Kohlberg explained that morality starts from an early childhood level and is affected by several factors either negatively or positively. However, other researchers argue that moral development may not automatically occur in stages as argued by Kohlberg. The development may have a relationship to rewarding or punishing a child for a particular conduct. Some psychologists argue that the home environment may have a close relationship to moral development other than the natural progression of stages. Moral reasoning is not the same as moral behavior since people say that they will do certain things in a moral dilemma situation, but do contrary if subjected to a real life situation dilemma (Peters, 2015). The reliability of Kohlberg’s testing is questionable since the moral levels of assessment of behavior vary from one researcher to another. Critics question the assumption by Kohlberg that whatever a solution made by a person is okay as long as they can base it on reasons. It may not be adequate to base the solution on particular reasons since answers given may be related to a stage of development and not only reasoning (Vine, 2012). Kohlberg’s theory seems to be biased against women and does not account for the differences between men and women. Men are more probable to base their arguments in moral dilemmas on justice and equity that falls under stage 5 or 6, but women base them on caring and personal relationships which fall under stage 3.

            The theory also emphasizes on justice by excluding other moral values like caring making it inadequate in addressing the arguments of people with other moral aspects of the action. A close examination of the theory also reveals that there is an overlap between stages that ought to be regarded as separate issues. The stages involved in moral development are not culturally neutral despite applying to different cultures. Individuals in diverse cultures appear to progress at different rates (Kurtines, Gewirtz, & Lamb, 2014). 

            The evaluations applied in the reasons for moral choices are rationalizations of both the decision-makers and psychologists who study them. The theory was developed based on empirical research and used male participants only and did not discuss the concerns of women. According to Kohlberg, women tend to remain stuck at level by focusing on how to maintain relationships and promote the welfare of other close people. Men tend to focus on abstract issues and are less concerned with the details of the people involved.            

             Despite the issues raised about Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, it provides a framework for discussing the basis of ethical behavior as moral reasoning.


Gibbs, J. C. (2013). Moral development and reality: Beyond the theories of Kohlberg, Hoffman, and Haidt. Oxford University Press

Kurtines, W. M., Gewirtz, J., & Lamb, J. L. (2014). Handbook of Moral Behavior and Development: Volume 1: Theory. Psychology Press

Peters, R. S. (2015). Moral Development and Moral Education (Routledge Revivals): Routledge

Vine, I. (2012). 27. Moral Maturity in Socio-Cultural Perspective: Are Kohlberg’s Stages. Lawrence Kohlberg, 431

Sherry Roberts is the author of this paper. A senior editor at MeldaResearch.Com in online nursing papers if you need a similar paper you can place your order from medical essay writing service online.

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