Moral Development Theory


When it comes to moral development, no one has been more influential than Lawrence Kohlberg. As you learn about moral development, you will find that Kohlberg is spoken about frequently. His theory is taught in universities around the world.

Obedience and Punishment

  • Individuals in Kohlberg's first stage will make moral decisions because they don't want a tangible punishment for breaking the rules.

Individualism and Exchange

  • In Kohlberg's second stage, moral decisions are based on moral reciprocity. An "I'll scratch your back, if you scratch mine" attitude characterizes this stage.

Good Interpersonal Relationships

  • The expectations of others and personal relationships govern moral development in Kohlberg's third stage. Individuals in this stage believe that you should live up to the expectations of the community.

Maintaining Social Order

  • Similar to stage three, stage four of Kohlberg's theory is governed by other people. Those who are in this stage feel that society has rules and order for a reason. For these individuals, breaking that order would be against the greater good of society.

Social Contract and Individual Rights

  • Individuals in Kohlberg's fifth stage of moral development hold individual rights in high regard. In this stage, individuals believe that a good society is best seen as a social contract. When you freely enter this contract to work for the benefit of all, you are making a good society.

Universal Principles

  • Principles of justice define Kohlberg's last stage. In this stage, justice for all is the deciding factor of morality.


  • Photo Credit Marcelo Gerpe:
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