You will assess the moral development of a high school student to determine Kohlberg’s Stage of Moral Development, which are attached to this document.
Choose one high school student between the ages of 15 -18 to administer three of the moral dilemmas below (you may choose which 3 to present to the student, either verbally or in written text). In addition to recording the student’s answer, also pay close attention to and document the student’s rationales and reasoning behind each answer. These justifications will provide rich material to help you determine and support the Stage of Kohlberg’s Moral Development to which you assign your student.
Moral Dilemmas to Choose Among:
1. The Overcrowded Lifeboat
In 1842, a ship struck an iceberg and more than 30 survivors were crowded into a lifeboat intended to hold 7. As a storm threatened, it became obvious that the lifeboat would have to be lightened if anyone were to survive. The captain reasoned that the right thing to do in this situation was to force some individuals to go over the side and drown. Such an action, he reasoned, was not unjust to those thrown overboard, for they would have drowned anyway. If he did nothing, however, he would be responsible for the deaths of those whom he could have saved. Some people opposed the captain’s decision. They claimed that if nothing were done and everyone died as a result, no one would be responsible for these deaths. On the other hand, if the captain attempted to save some, he could do so only by killing others and their deaths would be his responsibility; this would be worse than doing nothing and letting all die. The captain rejected this reasoning. Since the only possibility for rescue required great efforts of rowing, the captain decided that the weakest would have to be sacrificed. In this situation it would be absurd, he thought, to decide by drawing lots who should be thrown overboard. As it turned out, after days of hard rowing, the survivors were rescued and the captain was tried for his action. If you had been on the jury, how would you have decided?
2. A Father’s Agonizing Choice
You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don’t he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don’t have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?
3. Sophie’s Choice
In the novel Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron (Vintage Books, 1976 — the 1982 movie starred Meryl Streep & Kevin Kline), a Polish woman, Sophie Zawistowska, is arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. On arrival, she is “honored” for not being a Jew by being allowed a choice: One of her children will be spared the gas chamber if she chooses which one. In an agony of indecision, as both children are being taken away, she suddenly does choose. They can take her daughter, who is younger and smaller. Sophie hopes that her older and stronger son will be better able to survive, but she loses track of him and never does learn of his fate. Did she do the right thing? Years later, haunted by the guilt of having chosen between her children, Sophie commits suicide. Should she have felt guilty?
4. Corrine’s Choice
On 7 January 2015 Corrine Rey, a cartoonist at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and known by the name “Coco,” returned from picking up her daughter from kindergarten. She was confronted by two French gunmen, who threatened to shoot her daughter unless she keyed in the entry code at the door for the magazine. She did; and the gunmen entered to murder twelve people, including two policemen, as well as shooting eleven others. During the attack, the shooters said that they would not kill women, but that they needed them to convert to Islam and wear a veil.
Should Corrine Rey have been willing to sacrifice her daughter and herself rather than allow obvious murderers to enter the magazine and possibly kill everyone? Can a mother be blamed for only thinking of protecting her child?
5. The Trolley Problem
A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?
Note to Interviewer (but do not show this to the high school student as it might influence the outcome): This is a classic “right vs. good” dilemma. By acting, one person dies instead of five. So the Utilitarian has no problem. However, by acting, that one person who is killed would not have died otherwise. That person is as innocent as the others, so by acting one is choosing to kill an innocent person. Their family is not going to be happy about your actions. In fact, any deaths will be morally due to the actions of the “mad philosopher.” Yet choosing to kill the one person, in isolation from the mitigating circumstances, clearly would be a wrongful homicide.
6. A Callous Passerby
Roger Smith, a quite competent swimmer, is out for a leisurely stroll. During
the course of his walk he passes by a deserted pier from which a teenage boy
who apparently cannot swim has fallen into the water. The boy is screaming for
help. Smith recognizes that there is absolutely no danger to himself if he jumps
in to save the boy; he could easily succeed if he tried. Nevertheless, he chooses
to ignore the boy’s cries. The water is cold and he is afraid of catching a cold –
he doesn’t want to get his good clothes wet either. “Why should I
inconvenience myself for this kid,” Smith says to himself, and passes on. Does
Smith have a moral obligation to save the boy? If so, should he have a legal
obligation [“Good Samaritan” laws] as well?
Write a Reflection that describes the student’s current Stage of Kohlberg’s Moral Development, providing supporting data and evidence for your position. Give implications for teaching and learning. Post Reflection as your Final Exam/Culmination Project on the Discussion Board.
A. PREMORAL OR PRECONVENTIONAL STAGES:
AGES: Up to 10-13 years of age, most prisoners
Behavior motivated by anticipation of pleasure or pain.
STAGE 1: PUNISHMENT AND OBEDIENCE: Might Makes Right
Avoidance of physical punishment and deference to power. Punishment is an automatic
response of physical retaliation. The immediate physical consequences of an action
determine its goodness or badness. The atrocities carried out by soldiers during the
holocaust who were simply “carrying out orders” under threat of punishment, illustrate that
adults as well as children may function at stage one level. “Might makes right.”
QUESTIONS: What must I do to avoid punishment? What can I do to force my will upon
STAGE 2: INSTRUMENTAL EXCHANGE: The Egoist
Marketplace exchange of favors or blows. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”
Justice is: “Do unto others as they do unto you.” Individual does what is necessary,
makes concessions only as necessary to satisfy his own desires. Right action consists
of what instrumentally satisfies one’s own needs. Vengeance is considered a moral
duty. People are valued in terms of their utility. “An eye for an eye.”
QUESTIONS: What’s in it for me? What must I do to avoid pain, gain pleasure?
B. CONVENTIONAL MORALITY:
FOCUS: Significant Others, “Tyranny of the They” (They say….)
AGES: Beginning in middle school, up to middle age – most people end up here
Acceptance of the rules and standards of one’s group.
STAGE 3: INTERPERSONAL (TRIBAL) CONFORMITY: Good Boy/Good Girl
Right is conformity to the stereotypical behavioral, values expectations of one’s society or
peers. Individual acts to gain approval of others. Good behavior is that which pleases or
helps others within the group. Everybody is doing it.” Majority understanding (“common
sense”) is seen as “natural.” One earns approval by being conventionally “respectable” and
“nice.” Peer pressure makes being different the unforgivable sin. Self sacrifice to group
demands is expected. Values based in conformity, loyalty to group. Sin is a breach of the
expectations of one’s immediate social order (confuses sin with group, class norms).
Retribution, however, at this stage is collective. Individual vengeance is not allowed.
Forgiveness is preferable to revenge. Punishment is mainly for deterrence. Failure to
punish is “unfair.” “If he can get away with it, why can’t I?” Many religious people end up
QUESTION: What must I do to be seen as a good boy/girl (socially acceptable)?
STAGE 4: LAW AND ORDER (SOCIETAL CONFORMITY): The Good Citizen
Respect for fixed rules, laws and properly constituted authority. Defense of the given social
and institutional order for its own sake. Responsibility toward the welfare of others in the
society. “Justice” normally refers to criminal justice. Justice demands that the wrongdoer
be punished, that he “pay his debt to society,” and that law abiders be rewarded. “A good
day’s pay for a good day’s work.” Injustice is failing to reward work or punish demerit. Right
behavior consists of maintaining the social order for its own sake. Self-sacrifice to larger
social order is expected. Authority figures are seldom questioned. “He must be right. He’s
the Pope (or the President, or the Judge, or God).” Consistency and precedent must be
maintained. For most adults, this is the highest stage they will attain.
QUESTION: What if everyone did that?
STAGE 4 ½: The Cynic
Between the conventional stages and the post-conventional Levels 5 and 6, there is a
transitional stage. Some college-age students who come to see conventional morality as
socially constructed, thus, relative and arbitrary, but have not yet discovered universal
ethical principles, may drop into a hedonistic ethic of “do your own thing.” This was well
noted in the hippie culture of the l960’s. Disrespect for conventional morality was especially
infuriating to the Stage 4 mentality, and indeed was calculated to be so. Kohlberg found
that some people get “stuck” in this in-between stage marked by egoism and skepticism,
never able to completely leave behind conventional reasoning even after recognizing its
inadequacies. Such people are often marked by uncritical cynicism (“All politicians are
crooks…nothing really matters anyway”), disillusionment and alienation.
QUESTION: Why should I believe anything?
C. POSTCONVENTIONAL OR PRINCIPLED MORALITY:
FOCUS: Justice, Dignity for all life, Common Good
AGES: Few reach this stage, most not prior to middle age
STAGE 5: PRIOR RIGHTS AND SOCIAL CONTRACT: The Philosopher/King
Moral action in a specific situation is not defined by reference to a checklist of rules, but
from logical application of universal, abstract, moral principles. Individuals have natural or
inalienable rights and liberties that are prior to society and must be protected by society.
Retributive justice is repudiated as counterproductive, violative of notions of human rights.
Justice distributed proportionate to circumstances and need. “Situation ethics.” The
statement, “Justice demands punishment,” which is a self-evident truism to the Stage 4
mind, is just as self-evidently nonsense at Stage 5. Retributive punishment is neither
rational nor just, because it does not promote the rights and welfare of the individual and
inflicts further violence upon society. Only legal sanctions that fulfill that purpose are
imposed– protection of future victims, deterrence, and rehabilitation. Individual acts out of
mutual obligation and a sense of public good. Right action tends to be defined in terms of
general individual rights, and in terms of standards that have been critically examined and
agreed upon by the whole society–e.g. the Constitution. The freedom of the individual
should be limited by society only when it infringes upon someone else’s freedom.
Conventional authorities are increasingly rejected in favor of critical reasoning. Laws are
challenged by questions of justice.
QUESTIONS: What is the just thing to do given all the circumstances? What will bring the
most good to the largest number of people?
STAGE 6: UNIVERSAL ETHICAL PRINCIPLES: The Prophet/Messiah
An individual who reaches this stage acts out of universal principles based upon the
equality and worth of all living beings. Persons are never means to an end, but are ends in
themselves. Having rights means more than individual liberties. It means that every
individual is due consideration of his dignity interests in every situation, those interests
being of equal importance with one’s own. This is the “Golden Rule” model. A list of rules
inscribed in stone is no longer necessary. At this level, God is understood to say what is
right because it is right; His sayings are not right, just because it is God who said them.
Abstract principles are the basis for moral decision making, not concrete rules. Stage
6 individuals are rare, often value their principles more than their own life, often seen as
incarnating the highest human potential. Thus they are often martyred by those of lower
stages shamed by seeing realized human potential compared with their own partially
realized levels of development. (Stoning the prophets, killing the messenger). Examples:
Mohandas Gandhi, Jesus of Nazareth, Gautamo Buddha, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dag
QUESTIONS: What will foster life in its fullest for all living beings? What is justice for all?
THE FOLLOWING ARE OBSERVATIONS THAT WERE MADE BY KOHLBERG FURTHER EXPLAINING HUMAN DEVELOPMENT IN STAGES.
1. STAGE DEVELOPMENT IS INVARIANT AND SEQUENTIAL.
One must progress through the stages in order, and one cannot get to a higher stage without passing through the stage immediately preceding it. Higher stages incorporate the thinking and experience of all lower stages of reasoning into current levels of reasoning but transcends them for higher levels. (e.g, Stage Four reasoning will understand the reasoning of Stages 1-3 but will reason at a higher level) A belief that a leap into moral maturity is possible is in sharp contrast to the facts of developmental research. Moral development is growth, and like all growth, takes place according to a pre-determined sequence. To expect someone to grow into high moral maturity overnight would be like expecting someone to walk before he crawls.
2. IN STAGE DEVELOPMENT, SUBJECTS CANNOT COMPREHEND MORAL REASONING AT A STAGE MORE THAN ONE STAGE BEYOND THEIR OWN.
If Johnny is oriented to see good almost exclusively as that which brings him satisfaction, how will he understand a concept of good in which the “good” may bring him no tangible pleasure at all. The moral maxim “It is better to give than to receive” reflects a high level of development. The child who honestly asks you why it is better to give than to receive, does so because he does not and cannot understand such thinking. To him, “better” means better for him. And how can it be better for him to give, than to get. Thus, higher stages can comprehend lower stages of reasoning though they find it less compelling. But lower stages cannot comprehend higher stages of reasoning.
3. IN STAGE DEVELOPMENT INDIVIDUALS ARE COGNITIVELY ATTRACTED TO REASONING ONE LEVEL ABOVE THEIR OWN PRESENT PREDOMINANT LEVEL.
The person has questions and problems the solutions for which are less satisfying at his present level. Since reasoning at one stage higher is intelligible and since it makes more sense and resolves more difficulties, it is more attractive. For example, two brothers both want the last piece of pie. The bigger, stronger brother will probably get it. The little brother suggests they share it. He is thinking at level two, rather than at level one. The solution for him is more attractive: getting some rather than none. An adult who functions at level one consistently will end up in prison or dead.
4. IN STAGE DEVELOPMENT, MOVEMENT THROUGH THE STAGES IS EFFECTED WHEN COGNITIVE DISEQUILIBRIUM IS CREATED, THAT IS, WHEN A PERSON’S COGNITIVE OUTLOOK IS NOT ADEQUATE TO COPE WITH A GIVEN MORAL DILEMMA.
The person who is growing, will look for more and more adequate ways of solving problems. If he has no problems, no dilemmas, he is not likely to look for solutions. He will not grow morally. (The Hero, prior to his calling, lives in comfortable stagnation. Small towns are notorious for their low level “provincial” reasoning). In the apple pie example. The big brother, who can just take the pie and get away with it, is less likely to look for a better solution than the younger brother who will get none and probably a beating in the struggle. Life crises often present opportunities for moral development. These include loss of one’s job, moving to another location, death of a significant other, unforeseen tragedies and disasters.
5. IT IS QUITE POSSIBLE FOR A HUMAN BEING TO BE PHYSICALLY MATURE BUT NOT
Development of moral reasoning is not automatic. It does not simply occur in tandem with chronological aging. If a child is spoiled, never having to accommodate for others needs, if he is raised in an environment where level two thinking by others gets the job done, he may never generate enough questions to propel him to a higher level of moral reasoning. People who live in small towns or enclaves within larger cities and never encounter those outside their tribal boundaries are unlikely to have cause to develop morally. One key factor in development of moral reasoning is the regularity with which one encounters moral dilemmas, even if only hypothetically. Kohlberg found that the vast majority of adults never develop past conventional moral reasoning, the bulk of them coming to rest in either Stage 3 Tribal or Stage 4 Social Conventional stages. This is partly because the reinforcement mechanisms of the “common sense” of everyday life provided little reason or opportunity to confront moral dilemmas and thus one’s own moral reasoning.