Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development
Kia Dorsey, Demetrius T. Robertson
May 28, 2012
Dr. Melissa Venezia
Lawrence Kohlberg (1981), studied the development of moral reasoning by presenting children and adolescents in eight societies progressed through six stages of moral awareness, from fear of punishment to an inner sense of justice. He believed that moral understanding is promoted by the same factors Piaget thought were important for cognitive development: actively grappling with moral issues and noticing weaknesses in one’s current reasoning, and gains in perspective taking, which permit individuals to resolve moral conflicts in more effective ways (Berk, 2010). This paper will summarize Kohlberg’s theory of moral development, explain atleast three contributions that Kohlberg made to our understanding of moral development, along with three limitations of his theory and finally, introduce Carol Gilligan and what her research say about possible gender differences in moral reasoning.
Carol Gilligan (1982) is the best-known of those who have argued that Kohlberg’s theory, originally formulated on the basis of interviews with males, does not adequately represent the morality of girls and women. Gilligan believes that feminine morality emphasizes an “ethic of care” that Kohlberg’s system devalues (Berk, 2010). According to Gilligan, a concern for others is a different but no less valid basis for moral judgment than a focus on impersonal rights. She contends that there are sex differences in moral reasoning. Men typically define moral problems in terms of rights and rules, the “justice approach.” In contrast, women often perceive morality as an obligation to exercise care and to avoid hurt, the “responsibility approach.” Whereas men deem autonomy and competition to be central to life, women tend to view life as a web of human relationships with obligations and privileges. Many studies have tested Gilligan’s claim...