law and a sense of obligation to live by the rules, as long as they were
established in a fair manner and fulfill an ethical purpose. Only about
20-25% of today's adults ever reach this stage and most of those that
do supposedly only get there after their mid-twenties. Motto: "I'll live
by the rules or try to change them."
Stage 6: Deciding on basic moral principles by which you will
live your life and relate to everyone fairly.
These rather rare people have considered many values and have
decided on a philosophy of life that truly guides their life. They do not
automatically conform to tradition or others' beliefs or even to their
own emotions, intuition, or impulsive notions about right and wrong.
Stage 6 people carefully choose basic principles to follow, such as
caring for and respecting every living thing, feeling that we are all
equal and deserve equal opportunities, or, stated differently, the
Golden Rule. They are strong enough to act on their values even if
others may think they are odd or if their beliefs are against the law,
such as refusing to fight in a war. Motto: "I'm true to my values."
General criticism of Kohlberg's Stages
Kohlberg's conception of moral development is based on thinking
and logic, not on feelings for others. Surely feelings can not be
neglected. Likewise, Kohlberg believed that morals were based on age
and "wisdom," rather than real life experience and empathic
identification with others. The truth is that children of 3 or 4 can and
do empathize with others and try to help. Caring doesn't require Ph.
D.-level, middle-aged reasoning! It requires feelings. Coles (1986)
describes some impressively moral children and teenagers. Some
children have stood up to mobs of unfair adults. Lastly, Kohlberg's
focus is on the individual, not on what makes for a moral community.
Thus, he doesn't balance a self-orientation as opposed to a group-
orientation. He doesn't ask, as the Greeks did, the question "what
would accomplish the greatest good for the greatest number of
people?" And, he doesn't question, as do the Quakers, the morality of
settling issues by voting (resulting in as few as 51% imposing--often
with glee--their preferences on the remaining 49%) rather than by
consensus (everyone agreeing to a carefully considered compromise).
Yet, these stages can be a useful way to begin assessing one's own
Discussion of Kohlberg's Stages 5 & 6
Kohlberg's evaluation of moral decisions was based on the quality
of the reasoning behind a person's decision, rather than whether or
not some specific behavioral decision was made. The thinking process
used by some in stage 6 to decide what is fair and reasonable in a
moral dilemma is called "second-order Golden Rule role taking"
(Kohlberg, 1984). There are two steps: (1) Understanding how each
person involved sees the situation and (2) imagining how each person
would feel if placed in each other person's situation. The aim of this