Kohlberg developed a theory of moral reasoning where he studied the changes in moral reasoning as it grew. He used social dilemma questions to develop his theory. He divided the theory into three levels each with two sub-stages. These levels are pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. He posed questions to people and recorded their responses(Kohlberg, 1976). This essay is a summary of responses recorded from four respondents; A, B, C and D aged 12, 20, 34 and 50 respectively to a set of questions. It will also describe the relationship of their responses to the Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning.
When the respondent A was asked these questions, h felt the woman should not steal, and he would stop his friend from stealing. To the third and fourth questions, he would report the patient to the police, and he would tell they would return the money to the owner respectively. These responses portly the second stage of the pre-conventional morality level. The child believes stealing is a vice and thus punishable. So is killing. I attempt to avoid the punishment, the respondent chose the acceptable behavior that would avert a punishment.
The second respondent was aged 20 year. Likewise, he felt that stealing was the wrong thing and thus could not advise the woman to teal to feed her children. He wouldn’t bother with his friend who was shoplifting but would implore his friend they return the money to the owner instead of keeping it. However, he would report the patient to the police. The decision taken by this respondent is informed by his maturity level and stage of development. According to Kohlberg’s theory, this respondent was in the second level of moral reasoning where actions are advised by their effect on the relationship and what is acceptable in the society(Kohlberg, 1976). Possibly, this respondent would not allow the mother to steal in bid to uphold the societal rules. However, the decision to return the money could be informed by ulterior motives of avoiding the feeling of guilt and to sound better before the friend.
The third respondent was a female aged 30 years. She would not advise the woman to steal but would try to help her with anything she had to feed the children. She would, however, deter her friend from shoplifting and dissuade the patient from committing the murder. To the last question, she would take the money to the old lady. As seen, her responses are similar to the second respondent other than would not let her friend shoplift. The decisions taken by both the second and third respondent are informed by the conventional morality level of reasoning. At this stage, one wants to uphold the societal rules or even appear good before the others. This level has stages three and four of Kohlberg’s theory which are maintenance of good interpersonal relationship and social rules respectively(Kohlberg, 1976).
The last respondent was aged 50 years. He felt the woman was justified to steal if that was the only alternative she had to feed the children. He, however, wouldn’t let his friend shoplift, report to the police or even let his friend keep the lady’s lost money. According Kohlberg, at this age an adult could either fall in the conventional level or post-conventional level. There are few adults who attain the post-conventional level though as it demands one to make decisions according to one’s conviction even if they are against the expected societal rules (Kohlberg, 1976). In this case, the respondent is convinced that stealing to feed the crying children may be more morally upright than letting the children die because you don’t have food.
The differences found between the four respondents are because of age and gender. While young children like the first respondent make the decision to avoid punishment, the adults seek to take actions out of personal conviction or to uphold social expectations. Gender may also contribute to the variation as women make decisions out of kindness while men want to satisfy the ego.
In conclusion, Kohlberg’s theory of moral reasoning offers an explanation to the factors underlying decision making. It, however, fails to provide the exact differences between the various ages and gender differences have all is respondents were males. This has been one of the reasons it has been criticized as deficient.
Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. Moral development and behavior: Theory, research, and social issues, 31-53.
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