The Kohlberg stages of moral development are a political and philosophical theory based on a similar study by the psychologist Jean Piaget. The basics of the Kohlberg theory are the investigation of the effect of the moral calculations of individuals on their cultural sense of principled behavior. Six stages of moral development were devised to evaluate this link, each designed to elaborate on the findings of Jean Piaget.

The Six Stages

The Kohlberg moral development theory consists of six stages: the obedience and punishment orientation stage (the study of how an individual can avoid punishment for a particular action), the individualism and exchange stage (the consideration of the potential self-benefits for an action), the good interpersonal relationships stage (the consideration of acceptable social norms), the maintenance of the social order stage (the consideration of the moral order of society), the social contract and individual rights stage (the reflection of the differences in cultural opinions and values) and the universal principles stage (the reflection of norms based on universal justice).

Benefits to Education

The Kohlberg moral development theory has a positive effect on educational matters, especially the education of young adults and their sense of intellectual and moral development. Kohlberg’s intention was to enable individuals to understand advanced stages of moral thought, the principles of universal liberty and justice and the need for a sense of order in society. Kohlberg’s belief was that the development of moral thought would help individuals to develop a greater understanding of the norms of society.

Moral Principles

Despite Kohlberg’s intentions, critics have identified a few disadvantages of his moral development theory. One of these disadvantages is the fact that Kohlberg’s theory insinuates that people can place their own moral principles above the laws of the society they live in and the established laws of that country, i.e., it is a “lesser of two evils” theory. This is illustrated in his “Heinz steals the drug” example, i.e., “yes” or “no” isn’t of interest in this question. It is simply a matter of reasoning, i.e., a kind of justification of actions.

Cultural Bias

Another criticism of Kohlberg’s moral development theory is the cultural bias problem, i.e., the consideration of a set of cultural norms in one society without adequate consideration of how (or even if) the same norms can effectively be applied to a different culture. Kohlberg’s critics note the fact that his theory of moral development borrows heavily from moral theories from Western culture (e.g., the universality of rights and entitlements) without a clear explanation on how the theory can be applied to non-Western cultures.