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The Six Stages of Moral Judgment

Movement through the Stages

Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning is a stage
theory. In other words, everyone goes through
the stages sequentially without skipping any
stage. However, movement through these
stages are not natural, that is people do
not automatically move from one stage to the
next as they mature. In stage development,
movement is effected when a person notices
inadequacies in his or her present way
of coping with a given moral dilemma.

The stages include growth from

self-centeredness to



The Heinz Dilemma

Scenario 1

A woman was near death from a unique kind

of cancer. There is a drug that might save her.
The drug costs $4,000 per dosage. The sick
woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he
knew to borrow the money and tried every legal
means, but he could only get together about
$2,000. He asked the doctor scientist who
discovered the drug for a discount or let him
pay later. But the doctor scientist refused.

Should Heinz break into the

laboratory to steal the drug for
his wife? Why or why not?

Scenario 2
Heinz broke into the laboratory and stole
the drug. The next day, the newspapers
reported the break-in and theft. Brown, a
police officer and a friend of Heinz
remembered seeing Heinz last evening,
behaving suspiciously near the laboratory.
Later that night, he saw Heinz was
running away from the laboratory.

Should Brown report what he

saw? Why or why not?

Scenario 3
Officer Brown reported what he saw. Heinz was
arrested and brought to court. If convicted, he
faces up to two years' jail. Heinz was found

Should the judge sentence

Heinz to prison? Why or why

Level One:

Stage 1: Punishment-Obedience
Persons in this stage obey rules to
avoid punishment. A good or bad
action is determined by its physical

At this stage, the individual:


rules in order to avoid

Determines a sense of right and
wrong by what is punished and what
is not punished
Obeys superior authority and allows
that authority to make the rules,
especially if that authority has the
power to inflict pain
Is responsive to rules that will affect
his/her physical well-being

Possible Stage 1
responses to Heinz

should not steal the drug because

he might be caught and sent to jail.


should steal the drug because if

he doesn't then his wife might scold him.

Stage 2: Instrumental Relativist

In this stage, personal needs
determine right or wrong. Favors are
returned along the lines of you
scratch my back, Ill scratch yours.

At this stage, the individual:


motivated by vengeance or an eye

for an eye philosophy
Is self-absorbed while assuming that
he/she is generous
Believes in equal sharing in that
everyone gets the same, regardless of
Believes that the end justifies the
Will do a favor only to get a favor
Expects to be rewarded for every nonselfish deed he/she does

Possible Stage 2 responses to

Heinz Dilemma:

is right for Heinz to steal the drug

because it can cure his wife and then
she can cook for him.


doctor scientist had spent lots of

money and many years of his life to
develop the cure so its not fair to him
if Heinz stole the drug.

Level Two:
Conventional Morality

Stage 3: Good Boy-Nice Girl


To a person in this stage, good

means nice. Ones behavior
Is determined by what pleases and
is approved by others.

At this stage, the individual:

Finds peer approval very important
Makes moral decisions on the basis

what will please a limited group and
make the person feel included
Thus models behavior on that of the
majority which is the behavior of
the in crowd or peer group
Feels that intensions are as important
as deeds and expects others to
accept intentions or promises in place
of deeds
Begins to put himself/herself in
anothers shoes and think from
another perspective

Possible Stage 3 responses to

Heinz Dilemma :

Heinz should steal the drug. He probably will

go to jail for a short time for stealing but his in-laws
will think he is a good husband.
Brown, the police officer should report that he saw
Heinz behaving suspiciously and running away
from the laboratory because his boss would be
Officer Brown should not report what he saw
because his friend Heinz would be pleased.
The judge should not sentence Heinz to jail for
stealing the drug because he meant well ... he stole
it to cure his wife.

Stage 4: Law and Order Orientation

When deciding the punishment for a

given wrongdoing, laws are
In all cases, authority must be
respected and the social order

At this stage, the individual:


past actions and

behaviors in tradition since the
maintenance of law and order is
supremely important
Is a duty doer who believes in rigid
rules that should not be changed
Respects authority and obeys it
without question
Supports the rights of the majority or
majority rule without concern for
those in the minority

Possible Stage 4 responses to

Heinz Dilemma:

her husband, Heinz has a duty to save

his wifes life so he should steal the drug.
But its wrong to steal, so Heinz should be
prepared to accept the penalty for breaking
the law.
The judge should sentence Heinz to jail.
Stealing is against the law. He should not
make any exceptions even though Heinz
wife is dying. If the judge does not sentence
Heinz to jail then others may think its right
to steal and there will be chaos in the

Level Three:

Stage 5: Social Contract

Good is determined by socially
agreed upon standard of individual
right.It is an understanding of social
mutuality and a genuine interest in
the welfare of others.

At this stage, the individual:


motivated by the belief in the greatest

amount of good for the greatest number of
Believes in contracts in which both parties
compromise and yet both receive benefits
Believes in consensus (everyone agrees),
rather than in majority rule
Respects the rights of the minority
especially the rights of the individual
Believes that change in the law is possible
but only through the system
Has reached the same stage as the official
morality of the nation

Possible Stage 5 responses

Heinz should steal the drug because
the right to life regardless of

the law against stealing. Should Heinz be

caught and prosecuted for stealing then the
law needs to be reinterpreted because a
persons life is at stake.
The doctor scientists decision is despicable
but his right to fair compensation (for his
discovery) must be maintained. Therefore,
Heinz should not steal the drug.

Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principle

What is good and right are matters
individual conscience and involve
abstract concepts of justice, human
dignity, and equality. In this stage,
persons believe there are universal
point of view on which all societies
should agree.

At this stage, the individual:


the ability to compromise high principles

and thus may forfeit his/her life in order to
uphold them
Believes that there are high moral principles
than those represented by social rules and
Obeys these self-chosen high moral principles
Is willing to accept the consequences for
disobedience of the social rule he/she has
Uses only passive resistance and has no use for
violence in any form
Believes in granting justice and dignity to all
human beings as inalienable human rights
Respects justice for its moral nature and its
legal nature
Believes that the dignity of humanity is sacred
and that all humans have value

Possible Stage 6 response to Heinz


should steal the drug to save his

wife because preserving human life is a
higher moral obligation than preserving


on all you have learned about Kohlbergs Moral

Development Theory



events and decisions you have made in your own


yourself within one of Kohlbergs Moral Development



a two-page paper about the stage you believe you

are currently in and why. Use situations and evidence from
your experience to support your claim.


your paper to your teacher (jsetubal@brent.edu.ph)