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Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

The following constitute Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development and its rules.

1. The levels are usually associated with age (but not always).

2. Individuals usually operate from one level most of the time.

3. From the level an individual is at, he/she can understand behavior at all levels below but only two levels above. Level 0: The Pre-Moral Stage ages 0-2 * Doesn’t know right from wrong.

* Usually very selfish.

* Most often taught through the use of punishment.

* This person is NOT necessarily bad, just lacking in understanding.

* They take what is pleasant, avoid the unpleasant, and are guided by what they can, are able to, or want to do.

* Older people show this behavior in a “If it feels good, do it” attitude.

* Students at this stage are problems in class. Common statements include “Why are you picking on me?”, “They were doing it, too” and “You just don’t like me”, avoiding responsibility.

Sounds perfectly reasonable. Infants are not aware of very much of the world outside of themselves–that’s something that must be learned through experience.

Level 1: I Am The Authority ages 4-12

* Obeys the rules only when punishment is sensed.

* The physical outcome determines whether an action is good or bad.

* They respond to rules in the classroom only when shown that the teacher has more authority.

* Students at this stage see themselves as the authority and rule maker. As a result, the teacher must become a Level 1 to control a Level 1 student.

* If a teacher has and shows superior authority, the student will usually rise to a higher level.

* Intelligent and charismatic Level 1’s can be the most dangerous people in the world. Again, this sounds perfectly reasonable. I’m sure everyone had at least one class in school as a child that had such a problem student.

Level 2: The Survivalist ages 4-12

* Typical little brother or sister who will do anything to survive.

* They are selfish and self-centered, usually wanting to satisfy their own desires.

* They will band together to keep from getting in trouble, but will tell on a friend if it will help them.

* This person can be easily bribed or threatened into doing what others want.

* They often brag and exaggerate to make themselves look good.

* Often “An eye for an eye” behavior can be seen in Level 2 people.

* In the classroom they will misbehave more and more until they are told to stop. 3 or 4 minutes later they will begin misbehaving again.

* These are not extremely bad people, they just don’t get the big picture (the world beyond themselves).

I’d call this “The Bully Syndrome”–those who band together out of fear and uncertainty and ensure their own superiority by bullying anyone who seems more sophisticated and thus is a direct threat to the bullies’ way of life. Schools are full of this sort of person. Unfortunately, not all of them ever move beyond this stage, and they tend to reside equally in prisons and in the military. Whereas most companies tend to operate at a Level 3 (see below) there is one prominent company which operates at a Level 2–Microsoft. The “If I can’t have it, no one can” attitude they often present is very self-centered and spoiled. They misbehave and stretch/break laws until they feel punishment coming, then they make some token changes to their tactics to demonstrate their willingness to play by the rules, then turn around and stretch/break more laws.

Level 3: Typical Teenager ages 12-adult

* This person considers the opinions of the group first.

* They must conform to the accepted behavior of the group. No teen wants to be known as a nerd.

* People at this stage get into gangs (both good, as in sports teams, and bad).

* They usually feel the need to copy the styles and fashions of the majority (clothes, hair, vocabulary, etc).

* To Level 3 people, intentions are important and they often want credit for good intentions (the homework left at home).

* Most companies and athletic teams operate at this level because the team comes first.

* Implication–the choice of friends must be made with great care. The decision of who you will “hang around with” can cause long-lasting suffering. How well equipped is the average teen to make a psychological examination of their peers in order to choose friends that best suit their needs? This is one of life’s most important decisions. Almost any clique group is a Level 3–regardless of age. A great many people in the US today are in fact Level 3 in morality. Too afraid to be different even if shown a superior way of living, too concerned with their looks and how the crowd will perceive them. In many cases this can be considered as the 120 pound woman who believes she’s fat and needs to lose 20 pounds in order to be attractive–either a Level 3 or a nut-case. Indeed, most companies do operate at a Level 3 of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development — they do as little as possible to demonstrate their good intentions while behind the scenes they operate solely to make money for themselves.

Level 4: Law and Order ages teen-adult

* This level is the goal for student behavior in the classroom.

* These people believe in authority to maintain social order. * They do not like rapid changes or instability, they want order.

* They feel they perform best when they know what is expected of them and what the limits of behavior are.

* They respect authority and majority rule.

* Approximately 85% of the people in the United States are at this level which is why the Constitution (written at Level 5) works.

* Students at this level do their work because they know they should, not because of threats. * When students are Level 4 the teacher can be Level 5.

I would contend this claim that 85% of Americans are Level 4’s. The very fact that we need so many laws is because people do not do what they should because they know they should–they only do so because if they don’t they will be punished. The lack of sufficient punishment for serious crimes (murder, rape, destruction of property) as the population rises has led to an increase in crime rate, thus proving my point. If the criminal does not see that they will be harshly punished, they commit the crime because they can. At best I would say that the majority of Americans are somewhere between Level 3 and Level 4.

Level 5: Individuals are More Important Than Laws ages teen-adult

* This person has a strong belief in laws but will change the law for the good of the people.

* They have a high regard for the personal values of others. Officially this is the level of the United States government.

* The stage 5 teacher values each individual student. When the class is at Level 4, the teacher can be Level 5 and more learning takes place. The classroom is also a more pleasant place to be.

Unfortunately “officially” doesn’t cut it. The US government tends to act more as a Level 3–full of good intentions but really not willing to make any drastic changes for fear of falling out of favor with the public (and not being re-elected). Few people seem to ever attain a Level 5 status in morality for it requires that one think more about others than about themselves–that means no greed, no selfishness, no concern for what the group thinks of them, and so forth. The capitalist business machine thrives upon the greed of its members. Cosmetics companies flourish on vast numbers of people who feel they have to present themselves to the world as something they are not. Level 5 of Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development is beyond the comprehension of many people.

Level 6: Ethical, Honorable, Principled Person ages teen-adult

* This person is willing to die for a belief/cause other than their family.

* These people believe in a universal logic. They believe that there are reasonable solutions to all problems.

* They have the “Jiminey Cricket Syndrome”, their conscience is their guide.

* Often these people are called dreamers by those of lower levels.

* The Level 6 person sees the need for laws but will break a law for a good cause (eg. whales, abortion, war).

* A student at this level is not a problem in class but will ask many questions about moral and ethical issues.

* Examples of Level 6 behavior can be seen in Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.

Abraham Lincoln? What did he do that put him at Level 6? Oh, he started a war in order to maintain the law when the south seceded from the union–that would be a Level 4, not 6. Freed the slaves? Well it’s clear from looking at history that this was not a prime factor in the American Civil War–it was more of a side-effect. However, I agree fully with placing Martin Luther King here. A Level 6 will often fight physical violence with mental prowess to demonstrate the futility of the opposition’s position on the subject. I would also place Ghandi as a Level 6 person.

Level 7: Imperical Beings

* These people are unique. They are in the world but not of it. They have risen morally and ethically above the level of all other humans in thought and deed. Kohlberg lists just two people at this stage: Jesus and Mohammed.

This simply does not belong. To base Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development morality on the supposed actions of mythical people is laughable at best. Besides, if we’re to discuss the most moral mythical people, why leave out the Buddha? This (as the level is worded) seems terribly judao-christian centric (yes, Islam is an off-shoot of sorts of Christianity). As worded, this level is little more than a suck-up to the church by placing their mythical hero above all other real-life heroes. A good friend asked me to clarify this statement about mythical people, and this is how I did so–mythical does not inherently mean “false” or “non-existent”. Mythical can be just as easily defined as being a larger-than-life view of a reality. While I’ve seen no solid proof that Jesus (for example) actually lived, he may have. However if he did, he was most likely nothing more than a Jewish teacher who inspired a great following in the dark times of Roman oppression. He may have been idolized/symbolized as a highly moral person to provide people with a compass by which to live and to assess the morality of others–where he was truly so moral or not. Over the centuries the story of his great morality was evolved into that of a divine being with superhuman powers–powers which, conveniently, no one since has been able to demonstrate. He became a well loved character (we know this to be true for he appears in his divine form in many stories throughout the past two thousand years) and was continually used as that moral compass by which people should base their own lives. Coming into modern day, what we believe we know of Jesus is based entirely on these larger-than-life accounts of his deeds and this makes him just as much a mythical person as Odysseus or the Buddha. This would be true whether the man known as Jesus lived or not, for no history in any society is every 100% accurate and so there is no perfect record by which to judge the claims made of Jesus.


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