Stages of moral development

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.



How morally developed are you?


Lawrence Kohlberg's three stages of developmental progression from early infancy to adulthood maps almost perfectly onto Jean Piaget's psychology of child development.

What is important to note is that these stages also describe adults. Some people never get mature and may have no real moral compass (sometimes associated with psychopathy.) Then we all know people who are bound to the conventional stage where their image is most important. Those who don't develop past this stage are rigid in following the rules or the law.


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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.



What Does Morality Really Mean?

First mentioned in the 18th century by Scottish philosopher David Hume, utilitarianism is a moral doctrine that is increasingly influential in recent times.

  • Utilitarianism is not based on utility, but the intrinsic value of something based on pleasure or happiness, or both.
  • A screwdriver has an instrumental value, as it is useful while doing carpentry or repair work, but it does not provide any pleasure or happiness.
  • A red rose provides both pleasure and happiness, which is why it has an intrinsic value.


What Are the Three Basic Principles of Utilitarianism?

The double standard

The double standard is a principle or policy that is applied in a different way to similar things, with no legitimate explanation. Thus, a double standard happens when two or more individuals or groups, are handled differently, when they should be handled the same way.

We can encounter double standards in many ares of our lives: in the actions of individuals and groups that apply different forms of favoritism and discrimination, such as sexism or racism.


Double Standards: What They Are and How to Respond to Them