Key words, phrases, names and terms:


  1. Moral
  2. Development
  3. Moral development
  4. Stages
  5. Level
  6. Lawrence Kohlberg
  7. Jean Piaget
  8. Theory
  9. Age
  10. Conventional
  11. Convention


So, who is this person, Lawrence Kohlberg?

Lawrence is…or was an actual human being who lived in this world from 1927 to 1987, in America

And was a psychologist, serving as a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago and at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University.

He is best known for this very important contribution to the theory on the “stages of moral development” that was already set in motion by another psychologist, Jean Piaget.

(Just for today, we will not go into details of what Jean Piaget set in motion. We will talk about it later, though.)


Photo credit: Owlcation


Now, morals are one very conflicting subject to talk about….

Depending on a number of factors but mostly, those to do with you directly, as an individual.

How these morals get to grow and develop over time is what Lawrence here tried to share with the world and is what we are going to talk about today.


Photo credit: First Discoverers


According to Lawrence, “moral reasoning happens at three levels

With each of these three levels split into two stages of development, which in total, make six stages of development.

The three levels we are talking about are pre-conventional moral reasoning, conventional moral reasoning, and post-conventional moral reasoning.


Photo credit: Verywell Mind


Remember when we mentioned earlier about Jean Piaget’s earlier contribution to building this theory?

Well, Jean in his work, studied and linked moral development or reasoning to particular ages and age groups. For example, Level One was solely dedicated to little ones from the time they are born into this world to the time they are 2 years old and they behaved in particular ways like sucking their thumb or love picking up objects to play with or express themselves at you!

Lawrence took all that knowledge on and added some ka flesh unto it by taking a very keen interest in how individuals would justify their actions if placed in similar moral dilemmas. He analyzed the form of moral reasoning displayed, rather than its conclusion and classified it into one of six stages that we are talking about below.


Photo credit: Verywell Mind


Level One or what he called the “Pre-conventional” has two stages in it.

Many times, this level of moral reasoning, according to Lawrence occurs in children and adults too, on so many occasions. The human being in question largely focuses on satisfying their self and their ego and giving very little thought to the general society’s ways of doing things.


Stage one is what he termed as the “Obedience and Punishment Driven” stage.

In here, every individual focuses on the direct consequences of their actions and ways unto themselves. For example, someone is asked to hand in an item they have which does not belong to them. Failure to do so will warrant an expulsion from the community.


And Stage two is what he termed as the “self-interest” stage.

This stage is what many people know as “what is in it for me” way of living. For me to give you something, you have to give me something first! For example, for you to get this bag from me, you must first give me your pair of shoes.


Level Two or what he called the “Conventional” has two stages in it as well.

The conventional level is typically made of teenagers or adolescents and adults. It is said that to reason in a conventional way is to judge the morality of actions by comparing them to society’s views and expectations. Is that right?

The Wikipedia on Lawrence states it that, “Conventional morality is characterized by an acceptance of society’s conventions concerning right and wrong. At this level, an individual obeys rules and follows society’s norms even when there are no consequences for obedience or disobedience. Following these rules and conventions is somewhat rigid, however, and a rule’s appropriateness or fairness is rarely questioned”.


Stage Three is what he termed as the “good intentions as determined by social consensus” stage.

In this stage, the human being in questions ushers themselves into society by following their set standards. They can do this by becoming what is commonly known as “seeking approval of others” or “good boys” or “good girls” to live up to the expectations of the other members of the society they are in now.

For example, the particular human being in question may begin expressing their gratitude towards every member of society they meet or even help the elderly with their duties like lifting for them their groceries.

Ps. There is one major trick here; accepting to live by these standards in order to be assigned a role in society is not fully understood by the human being in question.


Stage Four is what he termed as the “authority and social order obedience driven” stage.

In here, moral reasoning is based on the understanding that it is important to obey laws and other social conventions because doing so helps maintain a well-functioning society. Many times, there is a centrally positioned “ideal” or set of “ideals” that is used as a yardstick to determine what is “right” and “wrong”.

In case someone breaks an ideal or a set of ideals, then they have done wrong and therefore, the law must take it’s due course to punish the culprit.

This course of action is used henceforth, to show other members of society what is right from what is wrong and therefore, everyone gets to know what awaits them when they do what

Ps. Many people agree that most people on earth are within this particular stage where morality is largely determined by an external force.


Level Three or what he called the “Post-Conventional” has two stages in it, too.

Many times, this level is what a number of people call the “principled” level of somebody’s life. In here, many people start to separate themselves from society, the entity and discover that their view of morality may actually differ from what society says they are and should be.

Additionally, individuals in question may most likely “rebel” from rules that are not in line with their own set principles of life.

People who live in line with level three view rules as volatile; meaning that they can change them as they deem fit and therefore, many times their behaviour is misplaced for someone that are living at level one of moral reasoning!


Stage Five is what he termed as the “social contract driven” stage.

In stage five, the human being in question views the world as “different” in the values, opinions and rights that they hold dear. Laws here are viewed as contracts in that they can be negotiated to satisfy the needs of everyone at bay.

Compromise and the rule of the majority is relied upon a lot here rather than the rule of the powerful. For example, this kind of moral reasoning is attributed to the creation and sustenance of democratic governments in the world today.


Stage Six is what he termed as the “universal ethical principles driven” stage.

In the final stage, abstract reasoning comes into play only with the presence of universal ethical principles. Laws are only “acceptable” if they are truly grounded in justice. Anything below that, comes with disobedience to those laws. Decisions here are reached categorically in an absolute way.

This involves an individual imagining what they would do in another’s shoes, if they believed what that other person imagines to be true. What is agreed upon in the end is the course of action taken!

Very many scholars don’t agree with this school of thought due to inaccuracy in analysis of data gathered from the initial five stages we have looked at.


Now, there is a common agreement that the knowledge and understanding got in each of these six stages is kept in later stages as the human being lives their life but may be considered “simplistic” or generalized as a result of lacking sufficient attention to detail.


Also, no stage of all these we have talked about can be skipped. (At least, that is according to Lawrence Kohlberg and his theory)


~ In a brief, for today at least, this is what moral development is according to Lawrence Kohlberg. Where do you think you lie and why? Do you even agree with Lawrence? ~