A Study on Moral Reasoning
LAWRENCE KOHLBERG
BY ALLIE LIEBENOW, JOEY
MARZUOLA, AND JORDAN
SCHNEPP
Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987)
 Born October 25, 1927 in Bronxville, NY to a wealthy
family
 Attended Andover Academy in Massachusetts, an
academically demanding private school
 Next he helped the Israeli cause as a second engineer
on a freighter
 In 1948, he began attending the University of
Chicago
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He scored so high on admissions tests that he did not have to
take many classes to graduate
 Stayed at Chicago to do graduate work
 First wanted to be a clinical psychologist but was
intrigued by Piaget’s work, and began
interviewing children and adolescents on moral
issues
 Doctoral dissertation in 1958 introduced his
stage theory based on these interviews
 Taught at University of Chicago from 1962 to
1968 & at Harvard from 1968-1987
 Kohlberg had a tropical disease and depression
during the last 20 years of his life. He
committed suicide in 1978 at the age of 59
Kohlberg’s 1958 Study
 Made up of 72 boys ages 10, 13, and 16 in Chicago,
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Illinois
Done for his doctoral dissertation
He later added to his sample younger children,
delinquents, and boys and girls from other American
cities and from other countries (1963, 1970)
He personally interviewed each child, often pushing
them to get deeper answers
This study helped Kohlberg formulate his six stages
of moral development
Moral Dilemmas
 A dilemma is a situation in which you must choose
between two undesirable outcomes
 Kohlberg gave children the Heinz Dilemma and
other dilemmas such as The Dad Dilemma, to get a
good sample of their moral reasoning
 Kohlberg came up with his stages by analyzing the
answers given to moral dilemmas
 What matters most is the reasoning behind the
answer, not necessarily whether the child says “yes”
or “no”
Terms
 Moral reasoning: individual or collective practical
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reasoning about what, morally, one ought to do.
Dilemma: a situation requiring a choice between two equally
undesirable alternatives; any difficult or perplexing situation
or problem
Rate: degree of speed or progress
Sequence: succession; continuous or connected series
Invariant sequence: always go from stage 1 to 2, 2 to 3; do
not skip stages or move through them randomly
Hierarchical integration: people integrate their
understandings from lower levels into broader frameworks as
they move through the stages
Interrater reliability: Kohlberg had several judges score
the dilemmas, and calculated the degree to which the judges
agreed in their ratings. This was to make sure that his way of
scoring was reliable.
More Terms
 These terms were guiding ideas to help understand the
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stages and how to place answers in them
Value: placing value upon people and things
Choice: identifying with the character in the dilemma and figures
out how to solve it; the outcome he chooses
Rule: using a taboo, rule or law to determine whether an act is right
or not (duty/moral compulsion)
Role: defining a “good person” or “good role”
Authority: respecting authority and status and the reasons for this
respect
Justice: seeing the relation of one act to another- i.e. by doing one
act, you deserve to have something happen to you. Standards of
exchange, reciprocity, contract, punishment, and reward
Social contract: voluntary agreement among individuals to create
an organized society that secures mutual protection and welfare for
and regulates relations between members
Egocentrism: having or regarding the self or the individual as the
center of all things
Kohlberg’s Three Basic Types of Moral Thought
 Pre-Conventional- Stages 1 & 2
 Common in younger children
 Judges action by its direct consequences
 Concerned with self (egocentric), does not know society’s
mores yet
 Conventional- Stages 3 & 4
 Typical of adolescents and adults
 Shows acceptance of society’s conceptions of right and wrong
 Holds fairly rigidly to these rules and does not question them
much; follows them even when there would be no
consequences for disobedience
 Post-Conventional- Stages 5 &6
 More individualistic; there is an understanding that
individuals are separate entities from society and may disobey
laws that are against their own principles
 These people live by their own abstract principles about right
and wrong-principles that typically include such basic human
rights as life, liberty, and justice
Kohlberg’s Stages
 Based on Piaget’s studies of moral judgment
 The studies showed that children under age 10-12 think differently
about morality than children above those ages.
 Younger children see rules as more absolute and focus on physical
consequences. Older ones see rules as relativistic & based on social
contract, and focus on intentions of action
 Qualitatively different from one another
 Show general patterns of thought that are used to deal with
many types of situations
 Invariant sequence: children do not skip stages or move
through them in random order.
 Not everyone makes it through all 6 stages
 Kohlberg later stopped using stage 6, because he did not
think his dilemmas properly distinguished between stage 5
reasoning and stage 6 reasoning
 Hierarchically integrated: people integrate their understandings
from lower levels into broader frameworks as they move through the
stages
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Stage 1 very egocentric
Stage 2 begins to include others
Stage 3 starts to reason about roles
Stage 4 considers the good of society
Stage 5 challenges the order of stage 4, saying that law should be changed if it’s
not protecting inherent rights
Stage 6 looks at all angles and is based on abstract moral principles
 Younger children tend to be in lower stages and older children tend
to be in higher stages.
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Cross-sectional studies, where children of mixed ages are studied, show this.
However, they cannot prove that a child in stage 3 has gone through 1 and 2 before
it.
You need longitudinal studies to actually show the progression of stages
 Hold true universally; though people in different cultures seem to
move through the sequences at different rates and end up in different
stages, they do follow the same order
 Do not necessarily predict how a person will act. They are stages of
moral reasoning, and not action. There’s not a high connection
between the stage a person is in and how they act in a certain
situation
Stage 1: Obedience and
Punishment Orientation
Punishment means what you did
was wrong, sees rules as fixed and
unchanging
“No, because he could go to jail”
Stage 2: Individualism and
Exchange
Action is judged right if it helps in
satisfying one's needs or involves
a fair exchange.
“If he does not do it, then his
wife may die and he will not
have her anymore”?
Stage 3: Interpersonal
Relationships
Characterizations of a “nice” or
“mean” person (roles) are made,
recognize motives and human
needs
“A good person would do it”
“The druggist was being greedy”
Stage 4: Maintaining a Social
Order
Something that breaks a rule and
does harm to others is always
wrong, no matter motives or
circumstances.
“I would try a different way like
ask for help from the
government or a policeman”
Stage 5: Social Contract and
Individual Rights
The concern is social utility or
public interest. While rules are
needed to maintain social order,
they should not be blindly obeyed
but should be set up (even
changed) by social contract for the
greater good of society.
Sees all perspectives of situation and
shows abstract moral concepts
“It is not right to do, but he loves
his wife and should save her
life”
Stage 6: Universal Principles
“The best thing is to die
peacefully,” Golden Rule
Our Problem/Question and Hypothesis
 Based on Kohlberg’s studies and his stages, we
wanted to know how education would have an effect
on children’s responses to the Heinz dilemma.
 We predict that students who attend private school
(specifically St. Mark’s Preparatory School) will be in
higher stages than students who attend public school
(Highland Park).
Our Study
 Performed at St. Mark’s Preparatory School of Texas, in Dallas,
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TX and Joey’s wrestling practice at Highland Park public
school.
At St. Marks Preparatory we studied 14 fifth-grade boys (ages
11-12). There was also one boy from the wrestling team who
went to a private school.
At Highland Park public school there were 7 boys, ranging
from ages 10-14
We gave each child a survey (Heinz dilemma)
Based on whether their initial answer was “yes” or “no,” we
split them into groups for follow-up questions
For the boys at St. Mark’s (our first data collection), we
skipped #2 of the “Yes” follow-up questions
Our method vs. Kohlberg’s- Kohlberg’s stages were a result of
an analysis of his research whereas ours was based on our own
research combined with Kohlberg’s stages.
Heinz Dilemma
 In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of
cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might
save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the
same town had recently discovered. The drug was
expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times
what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the
radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug.
The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he
knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together
about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the
druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it
cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I
discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.”
So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to
steal the drug for his wife.
Should the husband have done that?
Why or why not?
Follow-up Questions
A. If should steal:
1. Was he right to do it or does he have a right to do it?
2. If not right, would a really good person do it?
3. Is it a husband’s duty to steal the drug (or does it depend on how much he
likes his wife)?
4. Suppose it wasn’t Heinz’s wife who was dying but it was Heinz’s best
friend who had cancer and who needed the drug. His friend’s family didn’t
have enough money and wouldn’t steal the drug for Heinz’s friend.
Should Heinz steal the drug to save his friend’s life?
5. Suppose the drug was really worth $2,000 that the druggist wanted to
charge Heinz. Would it still be all right for Heinz to steal it?
B. If should not steal:
1. Was it wrong to do or was it up to how he felt about it?
2. Would a good person do it?
Can something be wrong which everyone should do?
3. Is it a husband’s duty to steal the drug?
4. Suppose it wasn’t Heinz’s wife but Heinz himself. In that case, should he
steal the drug so as not to die himself?
C. Both:
1. Did the druggist have the right to charge that much?
a) If mention a law: There was no law saying how much he could charge
b) Was Heinz going against the druggist’s rights in stealing the drug?
(We assumed children knew that stealing is against the law)
Our scoring method
 Qualitative
 Collaborated grading; group discussion
 First we looked at the initial answers and then
looked at the probing questions
 We assigned a stage for each response
 Certain principles of thought were seen in patterns
that helped us identify the stage a child fell into
 Charles, age 14
Private
School
Boys
Name
Sam
Spencer
Jake
Daniyaal
Drew T.
Drew B.
Stephen
Al
Bill
Ansh
Roby
Kevin
Phillip
Blair
Public School
Boys
Age
12
11
11
11
11
11
11
11
12
11
12
12
12
10
Stage
4
2
4
4
4
5
5
5
4
5
5
4
4
5
Name
Age
Stage
Drew
10
2
Truett
13
5
Charles
14
5
Ryan
14
5
Campbell
13
3
Spencer
11
4/5
Valef
11
4
Private versus public
100%
90%
80%
70%
Percentage of 60%
students
in each stage
50%
Private
school
Public
school
40%
30%
20%
10%
0%
1
2
3
4
Stage
4.5
5
6
Our Results
 The data was not the most conclusive, but private school
boys came out slightly “ahead”: the average stage for a
private school boy was 4.28 and the average stage for a
public school boy was 4.07. So even though we had older
children in the public school sample, they still came out
as lower.
 But, the sample size is very small for public school so it is
hard to say if this means a whole lot.
 50% of the private schooled students were in stage 4 and
42.86% were in stage 5
 42.86% of the public schooled students were in stage 5
Two Interesting Cases
 Jack, age 9, St. Mark’s Prep.
 Connor, age 10, Highland Park
 These could not be turned into conclusive data
 Answer #4 an example of need for greater clarification in
probing questions
Our Terms
 “Super 3”: Above stage 3, being the exact opposite of
stage three by not caring about what others will
think; more individualistic
 Duty
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“Civic Duty”- duty towards country or law
Duty towards another human being
Things we would do differently next time
 Have a larger sample group for public school boys
 Give the dilemma to boys of the same ages in private and
in public school, to aid in comparison
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For example, 11 and 12 year olds only from both types of schools
 Add on to the follow up questions to help in cases where
the stage still seems ambiguous
 Have the children define terms such as duty, a good
person, and what it means to ¨have a right to¨do
something
 Maybe interviewed in person instead of using a paper
survey, so that we could follow up with extra questions if
stage seemed uncertain
Further Questions
 Would private school still come out ahead if we had a
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larger sample group?
Would there be differences in results if we
interviewed girls as well as boys?
How does education impact moral reasoning
development?
Is the development of moral reasoning more based
on environment or on cognitive development?
How do children´s language skills impact their
abilities to answer moral dilemmas and show their
reasoning?
Nature vs. Nurture
Rousseau
Kohlberg Locke
___________________________________________________________________________________________________
Nature
Nurture
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A Study on Moral Reasoning