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Lawrence Kohlberg (October 25, 1927 January 19, 1987) was a psychologist best known for his theory

y of stages of moral development. He served as a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Chicago and at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University. Even though it was considered unusual in his era, he decided to study the topic of moral judgment, extending Jean Piaget's account of children's moral development from twenty-five years earlier.[1] In fact, it took Kohlberg five years before he was able to publish an article based on his views.[2] Kohlberg's work reflected and extended not only Piaget's findings but also the theories of philosophers G.H. Mead and James Mark Baldwin.[3] At the same time he was creating a new field within psychology: "moral development". Scholars such as Elliot Turiel and James Rest have responded to Kohlberg's work with their own significant contributions. In an empirical study by Haggbloom et al. using six criteria, such as citations and recognition, Kohlberg was found to be the 30th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.[4]

Contents [hide] 1 Early life 2 Career 2.1 Stages of Moral Development 2.2 Writing 3 Death 4 See also 5 Notes 6 References Early life[edit]

Lawrence Kohlberg was born in Bronxville, New York.[5] He was the youngest of four children of Alfred Kohlberg,[6] a Jewish man, and of his second wife, Charlotte Albrecht, a Protestant woman. His parents separated when he was four years old and divorced finally when he was fourteen. Kohlberg attended high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and then served in the Merchant Marine at the end of World War II.[7] He worked for a time with the Haganah on a ship smuggling Jewish refugees from Romania through the British Blockade, into Palestine.[8][9] Captured by the British and interned in a concentration camp on Cyprus, Kohlberg escaped with fellow crew members and returned to the U.S., enrolling in the College at the University of Chicago. At this time at Chicago it was possible to gain credit for courses by examination, and Kohlberg earned his bachelor's degree in one year, 1948. He then began study for his doctoral degree in psychology, which he completed at Chicago in 1958. In those early years he read Piaget's work. Kohlberg found a scholarly approach that gave a central place to the individual's reasoning in moral decision making. At the time this contrasted with the current psychological approaches to morality which down-played an individual's deliberate struggle and that explained the development of morals.[10]


Kohlberg's first academic appointment was at Yale University, as an assistant professor of psychology, 1958-1961. In 1955 while beginning his dissertation, he had married Lucille Stigberg, and the couple had two sons, David and Steven. Kohlberg spent a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, in Palo Alto, California, 1961-1962, and then joined the Psychology Department of the University of Chicago as assistant, then associate professor of psychology and human development, 1962-1967. He held a visiting appointment at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 196768, and then was appointed Professor of Education and Social Psychology there, beginning 1968, where he remained until his death.

Stages of Moral Development[edit]

Main article: Kohlberg's stages of moral development In his 1958 dissertation, Kohlberg wrote what are now known as Kohlberg's stages of moral development.[11] These stages are planes of moral adequacy conceived to explain the development of moral reasoning. Created while studying psychology at the University of Chicago, the theory was inspired by the work of Jean Piaget and a fascination with children's reactions to moral dilemmas.[12] Kohlberg proposed a form of Socratic moral education and reaffirmed Deweys idea that development should be the aim of education. He also outlined how educators can influence moral development without indoctrination and how public school can be engaged in moral education consistent with the Constitution.[13]

Kohlberg's approach begins with the assumption that humans are intrinsically motivated to explore, and become competent at functioning in, their environments. In social development, this leads us to imitate role models we perceive as competent and to look to them for validation.[14] Thus our earliest childhood references on the rightness of our and others' actions are adult role models with whom we are in regular contact. Kohlberg also held that there are common patterns of social life, observed in universally occurring social institutions, such as families, peer groups, structures and procedures for clan or society decision-making, and cooperative work for mutual defense and sustenance. Endeavoring to become competent participants in such institutions, humans in all cultures exhibit similar patterns of action and thought concerning the relations of self, others, and social world. Furthermore, the more one is prompted to imagine how others experience things and imaginatively to take their roles, the more quickly one learns to function well in cooperative human interactions.

The sequence of stages of moral development thus corresponds to a sequence of progressively more inclusive social circles (family, peers, community, etc.), within which humans seek to operate competently. When those groups function well, oriented by reciprocity and mutual care and respect, growing humans adapt to larger and larger circles of justice, care, and respect. Each stage of moral cognitive development is the realization in conscious thought of the relations of justice, care, and respect exhibited in a wider circle of social relations, including narrower circles within the wider.

Kohlberg's theory holds that moral reasoning, which is the basis for ethical behavior, has six identifiable developmental constructive stages - each more adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than the last.[15] Lawrence Kohlberg suggested that the higher stages of moral development provide the person with greater capacities/abilities in terms of decision making and so these stages allow people to handle more complex dilemmas.[16] In studying these, Kohlberg followed the development of moral judgment that is far beyond the ages originally studied earlier by Piaget,[17] who also claimed that logic and morality develop through constructive stages.[15] Expanding considerably upon this groundwork, it was determined that the process of moral development was principally concerned with justice and that its development continued throughout the life span,[11] even spawning dialogue of philosophical implications of such research.[18][19]His model "is based on the assumption of co-operative social organization on the basis of justice and fairness."[20]

Kohlberg studied moral reasoning by presenting subjects with moral dilemmas. He would then categorize and classify the reasoning used in the responses, into one of six distinct stages, grouped into three levels: pre-conventional, conventional and postconventional.[21][22][23] Each level contains two stages. These stages heavily influenced others and have been utilized by others like James Rest in making the Defining Issues Test in 1979.[24]

Writing[edit] Some of Kohlberg's most important publications were collected in his Essays on Moral Development, Vols. I and II, The Philosophy of Moral Development (1981) and The Psychology of Moral Development (1984), published by Harper & Row. Other works published by Kohlberg or about Kohlberg's theories and research include Consensus and Controversy, The Meaning and Measurement of Moral Development, Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education and Child Psychology and Childhood Education: A Cognitive Developmental View.[25]


While doing cross-cultural research in Belize in 1971, Kohlberg contracted a parasitic infection. Due to this, he suffered from extreme abdominal pain. The long term effects of the infection and the medications took their toll, and Kohlberg's health declined during the very years when he was engaging in increasingly demanding professional work, including innovative work in "Just Community" prison and school moral education programs.[26] It all added up, and Kohlberg sometimes experienced depression.

On January 19, 1987, Kohlberg parked at the end of a dead end street in Winthrop, Massachusetts, across from Boston's Logan Airport. Leaving his wallet with identification on the front seat of his unlocked car, he walked into the icy Boston Harbor. His car and wallet were found within a couple of weeks, but his body was recovered some time later, with the late winter thaw, in a tidal marsh across the Harbor near the end of a Logan Airport runway.[27]

After Kohlberg's body was recovered and his death confirmed, former students and colleagues published special issues of scholarly journals to commemorate his contribution to developmental psychology.[28]

See also[edit]

Kohlberg's stages of moral development Moral reasoning Just Community Schools Carol Gilligan Jean Piaget Notes[edit]

Crain, William C. (1985). Theories of Development (2Rev ed.). Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-913617-7. Reconstructing Larry: Assessing the Legacy of Lawrence Kohlberg PSYography: Lawrence Kohlberg BookRags Biography Munsey, Brenda ed. (1980). Moral Development, Moral Education, and Kohlberg. Religious Education Press. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/0-8193-5020-9|0-8193-5020-9[[Category:Articles with invalid ISBNs]]]] Check |isbn= value (help). "Kohlberg, Lawrence: Biography." Psychologists and Their Theories for Students. Ed. Kristine Krapp. Gale Group, Inc., 2005. 2006. 28 Oct, 2007