Lawrence Kohlberg was a 20th century psychologist known primarily for his research into moral psychology and development.
Lawrence Kohlberg was born in Bronxville, New York on October 25, 1927. Kohlberg enrolled in the University of Chicago, and with high examination scores, he was excused from many required courses and received his bachelor’s degree in just one year. He received his PhD in psychology from the University of Chicago in 1958. His dissertation was based on his research into the moral choices of adolescent boys and led to a life devoted to the exploration of moral and ethical development in young people.
In 1959, Kohlberg joined the staff of Yale University as an assistant professor of psychology. In 1962, he returned to the University of Chicago as an assistant professor. Over several years, he worked as an associate professor and director of Child Psychology Training Program at the university. The remainder of his career was spent as a professor of education and social psychology at Harvard University between 1968 and 1987.
Kohlberg married Lucy Stigberg in 1955, and the couple had two sons. Kohlberg died of an apparent suicide in 1987, after a long battle with depression coupled with painful symptoms from a tropical parasite he had contracted in Belize in 1971. He parked his car, leaving identifying documents behind, then walked into the frigidly cold Boston Harbor.
Kohlberg’s stages of moral development were influenced by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s stage-based theory of development. Kohlberg expanded on Piaget’s two stages, identifying six stages of moral development. He argued that correct moral reasoning was the most significant factor in moral decision-making, and that correct moral reasoning would lead to ethical behavior. Kohlberg believed that individuals progress through stages of moral development just as they progress through stages of cognitive development.
Kohlberg’s theory of moral development included three levels and six stages:
To determine which stage of moral development his subjects were in, Kohlberg presented them with invented moral dilemmas, such as the case of a man who stole medicine for his sick wife. According to Kohlberg, few people reach stages five and six; most tend to stay at stage four.
Kohlberg purported that women were often at a lower stage of moral development than men, but psychologist Carol Gilligan questioned his findings. Gilligan claims that women place a strong emphasis on caring and empathy, rather than on justice. She developed an alternative scale, heavily influenced by Kohlberg's scale, that showed that both men and women could reach advanced stages of moral development.
Books by Lawrence Kohlberg:
Last Update: 2013-07-25