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Moral Development

Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg, a Harvard psychologist, has pinpointed six plateaus of moral development. Let's venture a guess as to where we're located.

Stage one: obedience and punishment. Right is what authorities command. The underlying motive is fear of punishment, not respect for authority or values.

Stage two: back-scratching. When people begin to seek a return for their favors. It's the "I'll-do-for-you-but-only-if-you-reciprocate? mentality. Kohlberg terms it 'the morality of the marketplace.'

Stage three: conformity. Good behavior is that which pleases or helps others, and is approved by them. The evaluations and expectations of peers are particularly strong.

Stage four: law-and-order. What is right is doing one's duty, showing respect for authority and maintaining the given social order. What the law commands transcends all other considerations.

Stage five: social contract. Right is defined in terms of the general rights of individuals, as agreed upon by the whole society (e.g., U.S. Constitution).

Stage six: universal principles. Morality is based on decisions of conscience made in accordance with self-chosen principles of 'right"?principles which are universal and consistent.

Courage: You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, Jon Johnston, 1990, SP Publications, p. 89