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Kohlberg`s Theory of Moral Development

Moral Development

This research paper aims to analyze Lawrence Kohlbergs theory of moral development. In particular, we need to discuss its application to the so-called Heinz or druggist dilemma, which exemplifies the choice between two limited options, either duty to the law or a dear person. First, it is necessary to point out that in part, Kohlberg relied on the ideas, expressed by a famous French psychologist Jean Piaget, who explored mental evolution of a human being. Yet, Kohlberg elaborated his theory and proposed more complicated approach to the ethical growth of an individual (Puka, 1994, p 245). Now, we should give a general overview of Kohlbergs hypothesis and analyze it in connection with the Heinz dilemma. In brief, it tells the story of a person, who steals a very expensive drug in order to save his wife, dying from cancer.

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First, in Kohlbergs opinion, every person can pass through six stages of moral development; they are as follows: 1) avoidance of the punishment, in other words, a person does not break the rules, established in the society lest he or she should be punished (Blasi et al, 2004). In the vast majority of cases, such individual would not steal this drug, because he is too much afraid of possible adverse consequences, like for instance being put to jail, and in terms of law, this act is impermissible. For him, the apprehension of punishment is a restrictive factor that prevents him from committing crime. 2) The second stage is characterized by self-interest orientation, which means that an individual complies with the norms in order to gain certain benefits (Fritzsche, 2004). Heinz may weigh the advantages and disadvantages of his theft. On the one hand, he may be concerned with the life of his spouse, and on the other, he may remember the outcomes of his behavior, which can result from jail sentence, thus, it is very difficult to predict his actions.

3) The following stage is often identified as “good boys attitude”; it can be interpreted as an attempt to become a full member of the community, which requires adherence to certain principles or tenets (Blasi et al,2004, p 14 ). To a certain degree, this is a form of conformity. Under such circumstances, Heinz is also torn between two extremes, either law-obedience, which makes him a good citizen, or we should not forget about his obligations to his wife, and he may easily choose this option, trying to be an exemplar husband. The fourth stage is identified as law and order morality (Puka, 1994). A person, who has reached this level of morality, understands that every type of society is based on some principles, and if everyone starts to break them, the world will collapse into chaos. Subsequently, there is very little likelihood that this person will venture on such an act, because for him compliance with the norms is not an imposed necessity but an inner duty.

According to Kohlberg, there are two additional levels: social contract orientation and universally accepted ethical principles (Blasi, et al 2004). A human being, who is at the fifth or sixth stage of moral development, attaches primary importance to the greater good, like for instance, the life of another person, and he would be more inclined to take the remedy even despite the fact that it is forbidden by the law. Nonetheless, he may look from a different perspective at this problem, because there are other patients, who may as well need this drug and the theft will be very dishonest to them and the druggist.

Kohlbergs theory seems to be well-grounded, yet, there are several controversies. First, every person can move from one stage or level to another, much depends upon the circumstances, and there is such process as moral degradation. Secondly, in my view, the scholar pays too much attention to justice and permissibility of one’s behavior and the fear of punishment. His approach does not take into account very important human feelings such as love. While speaking about Heinz’s dilemma, Kohlberg focuses on conjugal duties of this man but not on his feelings.

It is very difficult for me to determine whether husbands were morally and ethically justifiable because I have never been put in such a position, and hopefully, will never be. Still, for me, the life of a human being (especially, it is my wife) would have been much more vital than existing legislation. To some extent, I am a supporter of Utilitarian ethics, according to with an individual can commit a crime, if this act will bring more benefit to other people. Of course, we should not forget about the druggist, who also requires payment for his work, and I would, surely pay, if have such an opportunity. From my standpoint, the law, rule, or norm may be violated or evaded, if this will help someone to survive.

To conclude, in this paper, we have tried to show the applicability of Kohlbergs theory of moral development. The scholar describes the stages of mental evolution, and shows mental evolution of a person and his reactions to everyday situations. This theory does not consider the fact that an individual can move from one stage to another, and his conduct is immensely influenced by the circumstances. Additionally, this hypothesis emphasizes justice and fear of punishment, but not feelings or emotions of the person.

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  1. Blasi. A. Lapsley. D (2004). Moral development, self, and identity. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  2. Fritzsche. D (2004). Business ethics: a global and managerial perspective. McGraw-Hill.
  3. Puka. B (1994). New Research in Moral Development. Taylor & Francis.

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