Lawrance Kohlbergs theory - The Stages of Moral Development, was inspired by the work of Jean Piaget (Education and the Develpoment of Morality). It also came from an interest in moral dilemas that children, adolescents and adults face, and constucted a series of stages and development.
The Stages of Moral Development
Kohlberg constructed six stages which coinsided with three levels, these being Preconventional, conventional and post conventional.
Preconventional Level (up to age nine):
~Self Focused Morality~
1. Morality is defined as obeying rules and avoiding negative consequences. Children in this stage see rules set, typically by parents, as defining moral law.
2. That which satisfies the child’s needs is seen as good and moral.
Conventional Level (age nine to adolescence):
~Other Focused Morality~
3. Children begin to understand what is expected of them by their parents, teacher, etc. Morality is seen as achieving these expectations.
4. Fulfilling obligations as well as following expectations are seen as moral law for children in this stage.
Postconventional Level (adulthood):
~Higher Focused Morality~
5. As adults, we begin to understand that people have different opinions about morality and that rules and laws vary from group to group and culture to culture. Morality is seen as upholding the values of your group or culture.
6. Understanding your own personal beliefs allow adults to judge themselves and others based upon higher levels of morality. In this stage what is right and wrong is based upon the circumstances surrounding an action. Basics of morality are the foundation with independent thought playing an important role.
Participants (only males) were told stories, depending on their answer depended on which stage the subjects were at. Lots of different dilemas were given. One particular study focused on the Heinz Dilema - known as the Druggist Dilema.
The Druggist Dilema: Heinz steals the Drug 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 produce. 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.
The question to the paricipants was:
Should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why or why not?
From a theoretical point of view, it is not important what the participant thinks that Heinz should do. Kohlberg's theory holds that the justification the participant offers is what is significant, the form of their response. Below are some of many examples of possible arguments that belong to the six stages:
Stage one (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he will consequently be put in prison which will mean he is a bad person. Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it is only worth $200 and not how much the druggist wanted for it; Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else.
Stage two (self-interest): Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he will have to serve a prison sentence. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would probably languish over a jail cell more than his wife's death.
Stage three (conformity): Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband. Or: Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he tried to do everything he could without breaking the law, you cannot blame him.
Stage four (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal. Or: Heinz should steal the drug for his wife but also take the prescribed punishment for the crime as well as paying the druggist what he is owed. Criminals cannot just run around without regard for the law; actions have consequences.
Stage five (human rights): Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick, it does not make his actions right.
Stage six (universal human ethics): Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person. Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.
According to the theory, it is unlikely that a person regresses backwards in the stages.
Websites that may be of interest:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Kohlberg (Although this site should not be quoted, I believe that it is beneficial as it gives a good insight).