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Lawrence Kohlberg and his moral development theory

Lawrence Kohlberg was an American psychologist and a Professor of psychology at Chicago University. His field of study was moral development. He is best known for the theory of moral development which is a continuation of the work of Jean Piaget, noted french psychologist whose work with children and the reform of the french penal systems changed the face of learning and moral conduct of his generation and shaped the standards we have today.

Lawrence Kohlbert
Lawrence Kohlbert
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Six stages of moral development

Kohlberg’s theory maintains that there are six stages to moral development. Thus morality goes beyond what is right or what is wrong. He went beyond the stages purported by Piaget and purported that moral judgement was linked to justice as the basis of ethical concerns.

Kohlberg maintains that we are social animals and that we must work well within our society. We get our first cue for moral development from our family, teachers, and friends. As we grow we begin to look outside ourselves and learn to feel what other people may feel in a given situation. This social conscience is what makes a good society.

We start with what works well in our personal circle of family, friends, and mentors. We then progress to what will benefit our society as whole, such as justice, care, and respect for all human beings.

The Heinz dilemmaFor his experiment he used the Heinz dilemma. This moral experiment is widely used in universities today. It amply responds to the stage of moral development each individual is functioning at depending upon the answers they give for the Heinz dilemma. The experiment is very popular and very well received.

Here is the moral issue:

Heinz is a husband who is caring for his dying wife who has cancer. There is a drug which which could save her life. Only one druggist in has it and he owns the patent. This druggist found the radium cure and development the vaccine. He is overcharging his clients for the drug. The drug cost $200.00 to make but he charges $2000 for a small dosage.

Heinz is desperate he needs that drug for his dying wife. He doesn’t have the money so he goes to all his friends to borrow money. Unfortunately, he can only give $1000 because that is all he managed to borrow.

Heinz goes to the druggist, explains that his wife is dying, and needs this drug to keep her alive. He asks the druggist if he would sell him the drug for a $1,000.00 or let the $1,000.00 be a down payment and he would pay the rest as soon as he could get it.

The druggist refuses even knowing Heinz’s wife is dying. Heinz is desperate. Heinz waited until after dark and broke into the druggist’s store to steal the drug so that his wife could live.

Should Heinz have broken into the druggist store and steal his drug?

Why or why not?

The answers that are given are categorized into the different levels of moral judgement. The actual answer is not important only the justification for the answer is. Here are some answers that can be categorized under the six stages of moral development.

Stage one moral reasoning answers (obedience)

1. Heinz should not have broken the law, he stole something that did not belong to him and he should go to prison.

2. Yes, Heinz is right in stealing that drug, it was the druggist who was the thief. It only cost $200 dollars to make and the crook was selling it for $2,000. Heinz even wanted to pay for it and the druggist refused to take his money.

Stage two moral reasoning answers (self-interest)

1. Heinz was right to steal the drug, he would be happier because he saved his wife. Even if he goes to prison

2. Heinz should not steal the drug because he will go to prison and that might be worse than knowing his wife is dying.

Stage three moral reasoning answers (conformity)

1. Heinz should steal the drug because his wife expects him to and he wants to be a good husband.

2. Heinz should not steal the drug because it against the law and good people don’t steal regardless of the situation.

Stage four moral reasoning answers (law and order)

1. Heinz should not steal the drug it is illegal and he will go to prison

2. He did the crime so he will have to pay for his actions

Stage five moral reasoning answers (human rights)

1. Everyone has a right to life and so Heinz should steal the drug to help his wife live.

2. Heinz should not steal the drug because it is not his. The druggist has a right to his money even though Heinz’s wife is dying.

Stage six moral reasoning answers (universal human ethics)

1. Yes Heinz should steal the drug, a human life is far more important than property value

2. Heinz should not steal the drug because other people may need this medication as well and their lives are just as important and Heinz’s wife.

The end of the career of Lawrence Kohlberg and his life

Lawrence Kolhberg stopped his work due to illness. Unfortunately, Lawrence Kohlberg caught a parasite in Belize, in 1971, when he was working on a cross-cultural study. The parasite caused him extreme abdominal pain.

He could not endure the pain Lawrence Kolhberg made the decision to take his own life in 1987. He parked his car at the end of a dead end street in Winthrop, Massachusetts. He left his wallet and identification in the car while he walked to the icy Boston Harbor on a cold January morning.

His body was found in the water after the late winter thaw.