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Kohlberg’s Developmental Theory

Kohlberg’s Developmental Theory

Moral development theory has been a significant trend for study in both education and psychology with Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg as the psychologists, who had created incredible theories. Lawrence Kohlberg is a developmental theorist, who has suggested a theory of moral development among children (Hunt & Mullins, 2005). With the support of the contemporary research, the moral developmental theory continues to influence people’s lives today. Kohlberg based his findings on Piaget’s stages of moral development (Slavin, 2012). The stages of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development include obedience and punishment, individualism and exchange, interpersonal normative morality, maintaining social order, social contract, and principled conscience (Hunt & Mullins, 2005). These stages belong to pre-conventional morality, conventional morality, and post-conventional morality. This paper will consider a general overview of Kohlberg’s theory moral development, as well as the application of the stages of Kohlberg’s theory moral development to a learner.

Stages of Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Pre-conventional morality constitutes of obedience and punishment, and individualism and exchange as the two stages of moral development (Utley, 2011). The first stage of development is most common in children. Children perceive rules as the ideal and fixed type of behavior, which makes them obeying the rules with the aim of avoiding punishment. Individualism and exchange is the second stage of moral development that enables children to account for search for personal points of view. Children can be able to judge actions by virtue of how the actions fulfill their own needs (Hunt & Mullins, 2005). They may recognize the needs of other individuals once their own needs have been satisfied. The first two stages of moral development are common among the preschool children, elementary school children, some children in junior high school, and few students attending high school.

Conventional morality is the second level of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, constituting of interpersonal normative morality and maintaining social order (Hunt & Mullins, 2005). The elementary school children, junior high school children, and high school children are undergoing this stage. Interpersonal normative morality is the third stage of moral development that enables children and adults to behave according to the social expectations. Children emphasize on conformity so that they fit in groups of other people, who share common characteristics. Adults also portray the characteristic of conformity to discussion groups to fulfill the need for academic recognition. Maintaining social order is the fourth stage of moral development that enables children and adults to consider the needs of other people when making judgments. The individuals follow rules to maintain the law and order within a society (Utley, 2011). However, the rules are inflexible because they fail to recognize the dynamic change of societal needs, which may require new ways to fulfill them.

Post-conventional morality is the third level of Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. It constitutes of the social contract and principled conscience as the stages of moral development (Hunt & Mullins, 2005). Social contract is the fifth stage of moral development that enables individuals to start accounting for the differences that occur among people regarding values, beliefs, and opinions. People should respect the law fin order to maintain their society, because without the regulations the individuals will act by virtue of their own values, beliefs, and opinions. Principled conscience is the sixth stage of moral development that enables people to follow internalized principles of justice. The internalized principles of justice may conflict with rules and laws but individuals should follow them accurately (Utley, 2011). For instance, African-American men and women believed that they had human right to segregate themselves from the Whites. This was against American culture and American laws, but the African-Americans continued to use civil disobedience, which finally lead to changes in the American culture and the American law. Currently, America is a just society where individuals experience equal and just treatment due to the observation of human rights.

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Application of the Stages of Kohlberg’s Theory Moral Development

The stages of Kohlberg’s theory of development can be applicable to a formal or informal educational settings. The teachers should consider the level of development among their pupils for effective acquisition of learning materials (Slavin, 2012). Anthony is a five-year-old boy, who has attained the first two stages of development, will start learning obeying the rules to avoid punishment, as well as recognizing other people’s needs and fulfilling them. The child will consider teachers and parents as the powerful authority figures, who can punish any person that violates the rules. When Anthony returns from school in a dirty school uniform, I will threaten him against dirtying the school uniform. He will learn that dirtying the school uniform is not the right type of behavior and can lead to punishment. Individualism and exchange is a stage of moral development that will enable the child to recognize other people’s needs. This stage of moral development enables children to differerntiate the right from wrong because of the consequences they encounter. Therefore, I will apply the first two stages of moral development in insuring that the five-year-old child understands the right and wrong behaviors.

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Interpersonal normative morality and maintaining social order are the third and fourth stages of moral development respectively (Utley, 2011). Anthony will attain these stages fully after reaching about ten years. I will apply the concept of interpersonal normative morality to ensure that the Anthony learns how to please other people in the society. I will tell Anthony that the behaviors and activities that I do not like can result in negative consequences of engaging in the behaviors, such as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes, which will deteriorate the user’s health. Anthony will make moral decisions based on whether he will win my approval. For instance, Anthony will not accept a cigarette or alcohol from a friend after undergoing a thinking process concerning my disapproval of such behaviors, as well as the negative consequences that the behavior will have on his health. The concept of maintaining social order will be helpful in ensuring that Anthony considers the needs of other people in the society when making judgment. I will inform Anthony that behaviors, such as drug abuse, are illegal and punishable. Therefore, Anthony may make a decision against using drugs because of the belief that the use and abuse of drugs will call for a punishment due to violation of the law. Anthony understands that the law intends to protect him and the entire society, because the addiction of young people will pose costs and health risks to others. Therefore, the most significant thing is to inform an individual about the immoral activities and the consequences of the activities (Utley, 2011).

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Social contract and principled conscience are the fifth and sixth stages of moral development respectively. Anthony will attain the stages fully when reaching about fifteen years of age. I will apply the concept of social-contract orientation to ensure that Anthony understands the possibility of altering the rules and the laws to suit the moral needs of individuals. Anthony should understand that laws and rules are tools for creating social justice and promoting the well-being among people within a society. Therefore, the only significant things are the values of humanitarian concern and social justice, but not a law or a rule (Utley, 2011). Anthony will recognize that laws and rules may require flexibility and interpretation. Laws and rules require undergoing re-evaluation within a short time interval to preserve the intended purpose. I will let Anthony understand that the school administration have moral obligations to design and implement laws and rules in a way that balances the freedom of individuals. Therefore, Anthony should understand that he requires to discuss issues with the authority in case the laws and rules fail to be favorable. For instance, Anthony will inform the school administration about the health problems, such as headache and nose bleeding that he has been experiencing when waking up at four in the morning, which is the administration requirement. Administration will allow Anthony to wake up later to avoid the health problems of waking up early.

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The concept of principled conscience, which is the sixth stage of moral development, will enable Anthony to understand that abstract and universal values such as equality, dignity, justice, and respect, guide the development for ethical principles. Anthony should understand his personal rights as a student at high school. He should stand firm for his rights when a person wants to violate them. For instance, a teacher does not have a right to send Anthony to fetch water during a lesson because he has the right to be in class. Anthony should not accept to go even when the school rules indicate that students should obey their teachers. This will force the school administration to change some laws and rules to allow for students’ rights. A just and equal society result from the ability to recognize personal rights and standing firm for the rights without allowing other people to violate them (Utley, 2011).


Kohlberg’s theory of moral development is a significant theory that provides an understanding on how an individual can go through various stages of moral development (Slavin, 2012). People continue to develop advanced perspective of the world as they interact with others overtime. Each person must go through the pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional levels of moral development since childhood to adulthood. A person can apply the stages of moral development to a learner by ensuring that the learner acquires the necessary information during each stage of moral development (Utley, 2011).