12.2: ReasoningAbout Moral Issues
1. PIAGET’S VIEWS: How did Piaget describe growth in moral reasoning?
-Piaget’s theory of moral development includes three stages:
1.Age 2-4: children have no well-defined ideas about morality
2. Age 5-7: moral realism: stage where they believe that rules are created by wise adults and
therefore must be followed and cannot be charged.
-another characteristic of the stage of moral realism is that children believe in immanent
justice: the idea that breaking a rule always leads to punishment.
3.Age 8: moral relativism: the stage where the understanding that rules are created by people
to help them get along.
-children progress to this stage because advances in cognitive development allow them to
understand the reasons for rules.
-interactions with peers, children come to understand the need for rules and how they are
-also understand that because people agree to set rules, they can also change them if they see
Later research showed that children’s earlymoral reasoning does NOTconsider adult authority
final and absolute. instead, preschool children believe adult’s authority is limited.
-preschoolers believe that punishing a child or damaging another child’s possession is wrong
even when an adult says that it’s okay.
-Piaget’s idea that moral reasoning progresses through a sequence of stages set the stage for a
prominent theory of moral development proposed by Lawrence Kohlberg
2. KOHLBERG’S THEORY: What stages of moral reasoning did Kohlberg propose?
-created moral dilemmas in which any action involved some undesirable consequences and
asked children, adolescents, and adults what they would do in the situation.
-Kohlberg was not interested in the decision per se; instead the focused on the reasoning used
to justify a decision
-Kohlberg’s best-known moral dilemma is about Heinz, whose wife was dying of cancer 1
drug might save her but it was really expensive. Heinz went to borrow money from everyone
but didn’t have enough. Even the druggist said no after he pleaded. the husband got
desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife. moral dilemmas in
that the alternative course of action have desirable and undesirable features -Kohlberg analyzed children’s, adolescents’ and adults’ responses to a large number of
dilemmas and identified 3 levels of moral reasoning, each divided into 2 stages.
-across the 6 stages, the basis for moral reasoning shifts.
-in the earliest stages, moral reasoning is based on external forces, such as the promise of
reward or the threat of punishment.
-at the most advanced levels, moral reasoning is based on a personal, internal moral code and
is unaffected by others’views or society’s expectations.
-you can clearly see this gradual shift in the 3 levels:
1. preconventional level: for most children, many adolescents, and some adults, moral
reasoning is controlled primarily by obedience to authority and by rewards and punishments
-Stage 1: Obedience Orientation people believe that adults know what is right and wrong
-consequently, a person should do what adults say is right to avoid punishment
-a person at this stage might argue that Heinz should not steal the drug because it is against the
law (which was set by adults)
-Stage 2: Instrumental Orientation people look out for their own needs
-they often are nice to others because they expect the favor to be returned
-a person at this stage might say it was all right for Heinz to steal the drug because his wife
might do something nice for him in return (that is, she might reward him)
2. conventional level: for most adolescents and most adults, moral decision making is based
on social norms – what is expected by others.
-Stage 3: Interpersonal norms
-adolescents and adults believe they should act according to others’expectations
-they might argue that Heinz should not steal the drug because then others would see him as an
honest citizen who obeys the law
-Stage 4: Social System Morality
-adolescents and adults believe that social roles, expectations and laws exist to maintain order
within society and to promote the good of all people.
-An adolescent or adult in this stage might reason that Heinz should steal the drug because a
husband is obligated to do all that he possibly can to save his wife’s life
-or a person in this stage might reason that Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is
against the law and society must prohibit theft
3. post-conventional level: forsome adults (typicallyolderthan25),moral decisions are based
on personal, moral principles
-Stage 5: Social Contract Orientation -adults agree that members of cultural groups adhere to a “social contract” because a common
set of expectations and laws benefits all group members
-however, if these expectations and laws no longer promote the welfare of individuals, they
-consequently, an adult in this stage might reason that Heinz should steal the drug because
social rules about property rights are no longer benefiting individual’s welfare
Support for Kohlberg’s Theory
-Kohlberg proposed that individuals move through the six stages only in the order listed.
Consequently, older and more sophisticated thinkers should be more advanced in their moral
development, and they usually are
-longitudinal studies show that individuals progress through each stage in SEQUENCE, rarely
-less advanced moral reasoning reflects the influence of external forces such as rewards but
more advanced reasoning is based on personal moral code therefore, individual at the
preconventional and conventional levels would act morally when external forces so demand,
but not otherwise.
-individuals at the postconventional level, where reasoning is based on personal principles,
should be compelled to moral action even when external forces may not favor it
-consistent with this claim, adolescents who defend their principles in difficult situations tend
to bemoreadvanced in Kohlberg’s stages (ex: students likethosein thephotographwhoprotest
social conditions tend to have higher moral reasoning scores a sixth grader in the
preconventional or conventional level of moral reasoning would probably let the unpopular
student be punished unfairly)
-moral reasoning is not as consistent as would be expected from the theory.
-teenagers reasoning at the conventional level should always base their moral decisions on
others’ expectations but such consistency is not the norm. Moral reasoning may be advanced
for some problems but less sophisticated for others.