Theories On How Morals Developed

  • Freud's morality and the superego: Sigmund Freud suggested people developed morally when they set aside their selfish needs for the values of important socialising agents (e.g. parents)
  • Piaget's theory of moral development: Jean Piaget theorised that moral development unfolds over certain stages as children learn to adopt moral behaviours for their own sake.
  • B.F. Skinner's behavioural theory focused on the power of external forces, such as praise and the desire for positive attention.
  • Lawrence Kohlberg's moral reasoning consisted of six stages of moral development.
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Problem Solving


Describing Morality

Morality is a set of standards that help people to live cooperatively in groups. Morality is not fixed. What is acceptable in one culture might not be admissible in another culture.

Sometimes, acting in a moral manner means individuals must sacrifice their short-term interests to benefit society. Individuals who don't do this may be considered immoral.

Some people believe morality is personal, while ethics refer to the standards of a community.

Both laws and morals regulate behaviour in a community. Both have firm foundations in the idea that everyone should have autonomy and have respect for others. Some argue that laws and morality are independent, while others believe they are interdependent.

Morals usually shift over time, for example, pre-marital sex was once viewed as wrong, but many now find this acceptable. In some regions, cultures and religions, contraception is considered immoral, while other people consider contraception moral.

There are seven universal morals: be brave, be fair, defer to authority, help your group, love your family, return favours, and respect others' property.

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Stages of moral development

Lawrence Kohlberg questioned why children differed in their ethical judgements. They think more in terms of black and white, or egocentric, or rational.

In an experiment, Kohlberg gave children open-ended questions to explain their answers. From this, he identified three stages of moral development:

  • Pre-conventional stage. This ego-centric stage seeks pleasure and wants to avoid pain. "Good" is defined as whatever is beneficial to oneself, and "bad" is anything that will cause punishment.
  • Conventional stage. A sense of social belonging marks this stage. Approval is seen as a reward, and behaviour is adjusted to please others. The desire to fit in is motivating good behaviour.
  • Post-conventional stage. There is more self-reflection and moral reasoning. Principled behaviour is more important than blind obedience.



Leaders understand the complexity of making decisions. Their decisions must always align with these three dimensions:

  1. Ethics
  2. Morals
  3. Responsibilities of their role

To no one's surprise, these elements come into dispute from time to time. When this occurs, there are no simple answers but by closely considering these three aspects, leaders will go on confidently that the choices they make represent the best possible compromise between their values.

One of the reasons why Stoicis...
One of the reasons why Stoicism is enjoying a revival today is that it gives concrete answers to moral questions.

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