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Educational Learning Theories: Chapter 5 Introduction

Chapter 5 Introduction

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Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) 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. He received his Ph.D. 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 1962, he returned to the University of Chicago as an assistant professor. 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.

Kohlberg’s stages of moral development were influenced by the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s stage-based theory of cognitive development. Kohlberg expanded on Piaget’s cognitive development stages to form the 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 stronger emphasis on caring and empathy, rather than justice. She developed an alternative scale, heavily influenced by Kohlberg's scale, which showed that both men and women could reach advanced stages of moral development.