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Thread: Kohlberg’s Moral Stages

  1. #1

    Kohlberg’s Moral Stages

    For those of us interested in moral development and a good theory (or map) on how humans develop in moral thought and behavior, along with implications for animal rights, Lawrence Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development is excellent. Below is a link to learn more. There are criticisms noted at the bottom of the page, but the criticisms are pretty minor, leaving Kohlberg’s theory strong and intact. To my knowledge, nothing of much significance has been levied against Kohlberg’s theory since these criticisms were made by the mid-1980s, and Kohlberg’s theory is still an excellent way of thinking about moral development.

    Unfortunately, most people in society remain in Kohlberg’s “Conventional Stages”, which at least partially explains why it is so difficult to get people to think for themselves when it comes to animals and society’s horrific treatment of them.

    http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm

    Your thoughts?
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  2. #2
    half a block from Normal Emiloid's Avatar
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    I learned about Kohlberg in an Educational Psych class and thought it was really interesting.
    wocka wocka wocka

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    Plant-Based Person butterfly's Avatar
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    that was a great article, I'm definately a stage 6er
    i see lots of stage 4's around.......now i need a bumper sticker that says "evolve to a stage 6"
    ---
    "They understand that Heinz had good motives for stealing, but they point out that if we all stole whenever we had a good motive, the social structure would break down. Thus stage 4 subordinates a concern for motives to a wider concern for the society as a whole."

    "At stage 6, in contrast, a commitment to justice makes the rationale for civil disobedience stronger and broader. Martin Luther King, for example, argued that laws are only valid insofar as they are grounded in justice, and that a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws. King also recognized, of course, the general need for laws and democratic processes (stages 4 and 5), and he was therefore willing to accept the penalities for his actions. Nevertheless, he believed that the higher principle of justice required civil disobedience"
    ---
    i think alfers are at stage 6, possibly beyond
    Last edited by butterfly; 06-21-2006 at 05:03 PM.

  4. #4
    tiny careful adventure fire bluedawg's Avatar
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    thanks for the link, mountainvegan! i am really looking forward to reading it.

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    we are borg grog's Avatar
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    it makes sense to me.
    Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? - Gandalf the Grey

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    an open book Miso Vegan's Avatar
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    I'm so thoroughly Stage 7.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by bluedawg
    thanks for the link, mountainvegan! i am really looking forward to reading it.
    I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on it.

    BTW, I’m still on stage 1. I’m only vegan because I’ll get a nasty asswhoopin’ if I’m not.

    Seriously though, I think ethical vegans are generally on stage 5 or 6; the exceptions being vegan children and young people who hang out with a vegan crowd and are therefore vegan, but wouldn’t be vegan if it weren’t for their vegan peer group. Older adults who are somewhat alone in their vegan beliefs in our society are always on stage 5 or 6, assuming they are fairly consistent in their ideal of universal justice and compassion.
    Stop vegan welfarist advocacy. The abolitionist approach is the only road to justice.

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    Plant-Based Person Nanashi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Miso Vegan
    I'm so thoroughly Stage 7.
    If Ghandi and Martin Luther King jr. are examples of Stage 6, your peer group at Stage 7 would include Anakin Skywalker.

  9. #9
    an open book Miso Vegan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nanashi
    If Ghandi and Martin Luther King jr. are examples of Stage 6, your peer group at Stage 7 would include Anakin Skywalker.
    Then kill me now.

  10. #10
    a wealth of stillness hazelfaern's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mountainvegan
    I'm looking forward to reading your thoughts on it.

    BTW, I’m still on stage 1. I’m only vegan because I’ll get a nasty asswhoopin’ if I’m not.

    Seriously though, I think ethical vegans are generally on stage 5 or 6; the exceptions being vegan children and young people who hang out with a vegan crowd and are therefore vegan, but wouldn’t be vegan if it weren’t for their vegan peer group. Older adults who are somewhat alone in their vegan beliefs in our society are always on stage 5 or 6, assuming they are fairly consistent in their ideal of universal justice and compassion.
    But I think it would be worthwhile to point out that Kohlberg's progressions only measure modes of thinking and the ability to grapple with complex reasoning skills, particularly where moral decisions challenge an individul's relationship with society. In that sense, an individual's ability to express a well-crafted view of complex relationships has little to do with the way that that individual will later behave.

    It would be perfectly feasible for an individual with a level 1 sense of moral judgement to become vegetarian or vegan.

    At first, at stage 1, children hardly seem to recognize that viewpoints differ. They assume that there is only one right view, that of authorities.
    My perception is that such a line of reasoning would go: "Killing is wrong. Meat is murder. We should not eat meat."

    The idea that very young children believe viewpoints are all homogoneous would not necessarily rule out the idea that young children may see certain authority figures and especially peers as confused in their understanding of certain rules, or deliberately acting outside of what they see as acceptable behaviour. Young children might believe that eating meat is wrong and place the authority of that statement on an abstract or removed authority, holding forth the view that if only certain individuals were informed (especially where consequences handed down by a higher authority are viewed as a kind of communication) those individuals would change their behaviour.

    In that sense, it doesn't look as though Kohlberg's assesment of level 1 necessarily implies an inability to act outside of one's peer group, but, rather, would imply an inability to express moral judgements outside of the context of a statement as simple as "This is wrong" or "This is right".

    I did find myself mulling over the idea, as I read through the Kohlberg material and as I wrote the above, that there are a lot of pro-veg*n campaigns which aim at precisely that level of moral reasoning. That's not to say that those campaigns are poorly designed or lacking in moral substance, just that they seem to target that same simple level of moral reasoning which we all experience -- that there are some things which have fundamental qualities of acceptability or inacceptability.

    The Kohlberg material talks a little bit about regressions and I found myself wondering how depression, failure, rage, exhaustion, lethargy, ennui, etc, would affect his stages of development. For instance, the section on Level 6 lists Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. as examples -- yet they're succcessful examples. They're examples of individuals who made great use of their reasoning skills through public speaking, debating, lecturing, etc, found some measures of success and continued to apply themselves to achieving greater and greater levels of success. Yet I wonder how Trotsky would have tested in certain dark moments after he had left Russia, when he was being hunted by Stalin's hit men. I wonder if there aren't moments in which any of us might feel doubtful of our own complex reasoning skills, wish to pull back into simpler levels of experience, etc.

    And the irreverent side of me wonders if there was ever a respondent who took one of these tests in a bad mood and answered sarcastically?

    Really interesting material, Mountain Vegan. Thanks for sharing
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  11. #11
    Anti-anti-vacccine Dandelion's Avatar
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    I have yet to read this but i'm looking forward to it. thanks mountainvegan!

  12. #12
    Hazelfaern – Yes, Kohlberg’s theory deals with moral psychology, not moral philosophy, per se, or the content of the results at the lower stages (stages 1-4). One example I’ve read compares a stage 4 Canadian in a liberal democracy with a stage 4 German during the Nazi era. Obviously, the moral content is completely different (the Canadian having much higher moral ideals), but the psychology is the exactly the same. If the stage 4 Canadian was raised in Nazi Germany, he or she would believe what the Nazis believed (as a result of the stage 4 mode of thinking). A stage 4 person looks solely to society and law for the answers to moral questions.

    One of Kohlberg’s main points is that stages 1-4 are inadequate for thinking about morality (despite the vast majority who live in those stages). Stage 5 is where independent thought and behavior begin. A stage 5 German during the Nazi era would have strongly disagreed with the Nazis and his/her society. A stage 6 German during the Nazi era would have been a resister or would have left the country, perhaps even risking her or his life to resist or leave.

    A stage 1 person can’t think about morality at all; it is moral “ground zero”. Stage 1 is pure egoism. All the stage 1 person knows is that doing what is “wrong” means getting punished in some way. Other than that, wrong means absolutely nothing to a stage 1 person.

    Dandy - Enjoy.
    Stop vegan welfarist advocacy. The abolitionist approach is the only road to justice.

  13. #13
    Anti-anti-vacccine Dandelion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mountainvegan
    Dandy - Enjoy.
    i'm burning this one to paper.

  14. #14
    Plant-Based Person nauthiz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hazelfaern
    The Kohlberg material talks a little bit about regressions and I found myself wondering how depression, failure, rage, exhaustion, lethargy, ennui, etc, would affect his stages of development. For instance, the section on Level 6 lists Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. as examples -- yet they're succcessful examples. They're examples of individuals who made great use of their reasoning skills through public speaking, debating, lecturing, etc, found some measures of success and continued to apply themselves to achieving greater and greater levels of success. Yet I wonder how Trotsky would have tested in certain dark moments after he had left Russia, when he was being hunted by Stalin's hit men. I wonder if there aren't moments in which any of us might feel doubtful of our own complex reasoning skills, wish to pull back into simpler levels of experience, etc.
    That rather reminds of where Aristotle argued that the philosophical study of ethics is something that can only be undertaken by people who have achieved a certain measure of comfort and security. It's an interesting approach to things when contrasted with some more modern attempts at ethics which aim to construct a system which can apply to every situation, anywhere. Sort of an ethics-as-guidelines vs. ethics-as-insanely-complicated-equation type of thing.

  15. #15
    Plant-Based Person nauthiz's Avatar
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    Thinking a bit more on the subject, I'm not sure I agree with the idea of categorizing a person as being at a particular stage within this system. The six categories make some sense to me, but only when applied to a thought process.

    In my experience, it seems like most people use a variety of levels of reasoning for particular topics. Sometimes people think more carefully about topics they find more interesting on some personal level, other times they think in much more simplistic terms when dealing with a subject that is very emotionally-charged. For example, I've seen people who are normally very comfortable dealing with complicated subjects in the abstract drop to very solidly stage 4 type reasoning when abortion comes up. (I'm not making any veiled criticisms of a view on this; I see it on both sides of the debate.)

    I also don't think that this system gives proper due to the influence that peer pressure can have on a person's reasoning. Possibly that's encompassed in the conventional category, but if so then I think this system can be regressive. In college it seemed like it was a common thing for people to come to some abstract conclusion about how a society should be structured and then get involved in a community based around that idea. It also seemed like it was a common thing for these political epiphanies to be followed by a period - sometimes short, sometimes long - of "ethical normalization" where the details of that person's views would then start to come in line with what the rest of the group thought about them, and when asked to explain the reasoning behind these details the person would usually respond with some form of party-line rhetoric. I know I've done that. Anyway, I'm thinking this is an example of a person using a combination of stages to get to a particular moral conclusion.

    I think that these experiments might also be an example of a situation where the very act of measuring a variable changes it. It's easy to keep a level head and think on a higher level when you're in a laboratory and you know that your reasoning techniques are being measured. It's a lot harder to do that while you're caught up in everyday life.

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