Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

What criticisms have been leveled at Kohlberg’s theory?

Kohlberg’s great contribution was to say that moral development is dependent on cognitive development. A certain level of abstract thinking is necessary for mature moral reasoning. However, Kohlberg has been criticized for his overemphasis on intellectual development, as if intellect alone could account for moral maturity. Specifically, he failed to recognize the importance of context. Moral reasoning reflects what is relevant to people in their own circumstances. For example, people in urban environments tend to score at stage 4, with an appreciation of the importance of impersonal rules that all people need to follow. In contrast, people from rural areas tend to score at stage 3, where moral judgments are based on consideration of interpersonal relationships. In urban areas, where personal ties are eroded, behavior is regulated by impersonal and formal laws. In small villages where everyone knows one another, behavior is regulated by the web of personal relationships.


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