May 30, 2002
Human Development I
HONORS OBSERVATION Essay
This paper investigates the nature of moral dilemma using Lawrence
Kohlberg’s cognitive developmental theory of moralization (Reimer, Joseph)
applied to a field observation that I conducted with an eleven-year-old
girl and a twenty-seven year old man. I begin by considering the
inspiration of Kohlberg’s theory; Swiss cognitive theorist Jean Piaget.
Then, I examine Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development. Following, I
classify my findings with the two subjects I interviewed in accordance with
Jean Piaget is a recognized pioneer in the research of moral
development in children (Dunlop, Ronald).
“Piaget saw children as moving
through two broad stages of moral understanding” (Text p.394). “The first
stage is heteronomous morality, which extends from about five to ten years
of age” (Text p.396). Heteronomous means that an individual is subject to
the external authority of another; not autonomous. Children at this stage
view the consequence of an act to be of greater value than the intention of
Respect for parental and adult authority and the rules imposed by
them, prevail as the child’s working model of morality (Dunlop, Ronald).
The second stage is autonomous morality, which manifest around the age
of ten years. At this time, a transition from concrete thinking (that
moral perspective is fixed according to adult authority) moves to a more
advanced level of internal moral thinking. The individual at this stage
realizes “that people can have different perspectives on moral matters and
that intentions, not just outcomes, should serve as the basis for judging
behavior” (Text p. 396).
Piaget’s theory of moral development describes a general direction
that children tend to follow in the course of maturity.
underestimated the capacity of moral elasticity a child may have in moral
reasoning with his accounts of children being rigid and fixed. His
groundbreaking work has been replaced by a more sophisticated theory of
moral development that surpasses the child into adolescence and following
moral progress into adulthood by Kohlberg’s comprehensive theory of a six
stage sequence (Text p396).
Kohlberg believed that people progress in their moral reasoning and
that this could be charted through six identifiable stages, which can be
more generally classified into three levels (Barger, Robert).
The first is called the Pre-Conventional Level. This level is
similar to Piaget’s heteronomous stage, in which the individual is
externally controlled. “This first level of moral thinking is generally
found at the elementary school level” (Barger, Robert).
Within this level
is stage one and stage two. Stage one is obedience and punishment
orientation. “Children at this stage find it difficult to consider two
points of view in moral dilemma” (Text p397). They ignore the intentions
of people, and obedience is compelled out of a fear of punishment.
The second stage, instrumental purpose orientation, emphasizes self-
interest. Children at this stage begin to realize that people may have
different perspectives in a moral dilemma, but their thinking is still very
The satisfaction of personal needs coincides with right action;
they believe that others also act out of self-interest.
The second level of moral development is the Conventional Level. This
moral thinking is generally found in society. Individuals at this level
still value social rules, but not for reasons of self-interest, rather they
have a concern for the social system in which they live. They want to
ensure harmonious human relationships and social order.
The first stage of this level (stage three) is the “good boy-good
girl” orientation or the morality of interpersonal cooperation.
third stage…is characterized by an attitude which seeks to do what will
gain the approval of others” (Barger, Robert). These individuals want to
be considered trustworthy, loyal, supportive, and nice. There are
considerations of the reciprocal relationship in terms of the “Golden
Stage four at this level is the social-order-maintaining orientation.
At this stage, “…the individual takes into account a larger perspective-
that of societal laws” (Text p.398).
This individual believes in the order
that laws bring to society and these laws are vital to ensure social order.
The third level is the postconventional or Principled level. “This
level of moral thinking is one that Kohlberg felt is not reached by the
majority of adults” (Barger, Robert). Individuals at this level move
beyond the absolute righteousness of societal law and “…
in terms of abstract principles and values that apply to all situations and
societies” (Text p398).
Social contract orientation (stage five) is the first stage of the
third level. At this stage individuals regard laws and