Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development
Discussion Activity

1. Have students form groups of three or four, and assign them the Moral Reasoning Activity. Printed copies of the four dilemmas as well as the activity instructions should be provided to each group. Allow about 30 minutes to complete the activity.

2. Have group spokespersons report their three preferred solutions for dilemma 1 (Vehicles of Destruction).

3. Write the solution numbers on the board, keeping tabs of how many times particular solutions are chosen.

4. Repeat this procedure with each of the other dilemmas.

5. Explain that this activity is designed to elicit responses based on the Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning. Ask if students have studied Kohlberg's stages before. Have students describe what (if anything) they know about Kohlberg's stages.

6. Before providing descriptions of Kohlberg's stages, present the following:

A. There are 3 levels and 6 stages.

B. The sequence of the stages is fixed.

C. Progression through the stages is dependent on cognitive development. A person cannot progress to Level II until s/he reaches the stage of Concrete Operations and cannot progress to Level III until s/he reaches Formal Operations. (It is assumed that students are familiar with Jean Piaget's theory of cognitive development.)

 D. However, higher cognitive development does not insure a higher level of moral development.

 E. Individuals understand (but don’t accept) moral reasoning at stages below their own.

 F. Individuals understand (and are drawn to) moral reasoning one stage above their own.

G. Individuals at different stages may come to the same moral decisions, but their reasons will differ.

H. A person’s actions are not always consistent with his/her moral reasoning.

6. Describe Kohlberg's six stages (See stage descriptions). As each stage is presented, ask students for examples of reasoning at that stage from those provided in the discussion activity.

7. After all six stages are presented, ask students to determine the stages of the three solutions they chose for each of the four dilemmas.

8. In conclusion, teachers may wish to present Carol Gilligan's alternative perspective on moral development:

    A. Ask if there were gender differences in the solutions to the dilemmas. If so, have students describe these differences.

    B. Explain that Carol Gilligan suggests that girls and women often score lower on Kohlberg’s moral dilemmas because they use different criteria
    in making moral decisions:

       Males base their decisions based on abstract justice.

       Females are more likely to base theirs on caring for others and building relationships. 

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Last updated 9-14-2017
Edmund J. Sass, Ed.D.