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What Can Psychologists Teach Us About Morality? 27 May, 2022   

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

The study of moral psychology is the study of moral identity formation, or the integration of moral principles with the development of one's personality.

It is the study of how we make decisions, rather than what moral decisions we should make, that distinguishes moral psychology from moral philosophy. There are numerous related fields in philosophy and psychology that connect with the study of moral judgment, moral reasoning, and personal integrity.

As moral psychologists, we are interested in a variety of problems such as: "What patterns of thinking give birth to moral judgment, and how did they develop? " Where do children and animals differ when it comes to their moral development? as well as "What role do moral norms play in moral assessment and decision-making?

Philosophers have pondered fundamental questions like "What does it mean to be a 'good' person?' for ages without coming up with a satisfactory solution. We may be able to shed more light on these perplexing issues if we combine the methods of psychology with those of philosophy. For more information of the ways psychology and morality overlap, visit this page

A good example of this is Kohlberg's theory of moral development, which examines how children come to develop morality and moral judgment. According to Kohlberg's thesis, there are six phases of moral development. Also, according to the theory, moral reasoning is essentially concerned with ensuring and preserving fairness.

Early Stages

This is the first stage of moral development, known as preconventional morality. For most children, it lasts until the age of 9. Adults' expectations and punishments for disobeying the rules influence children's choices at this age. In this level, there are two stages:

  • In the early phases of moral development, obedience and punishment are particularly common in young children, but adults can also display this form of reasoning. At this point, Kohlberg claims, people regard rules as set and absolute.   It's critical to follow the rules in order to stay out of trouble.

  • In the second stage of moral development, known as "Individualism and Exchange," children learn to value their own unique perspectives and values, as well as to weigh the consequences of their actions in light of the greater good. A child's perspective on the Heinz issue was that the best option was the one that best serviced Heinz's requirements. Only if it promotes one's own interests can one practice reciprocity at this stage of moral development.

Stages 3 and 4

Acceptance of authority and adherence to social standards are also major themes throughout this time period. Morality can be broken down into two distinct categories at this level:

  • This stage of moral development is often referred to as the "good boy-good girl" perspective, which emphasizes conforming to social expectations and roles.  Conformity, being "kind," and awareness of how one's actions affect one's relationships are emphasized.

  • As the name suggests, this stage is all on keeping the social order in tact. Society as a whole begins to be taken into account at this point in a moral person's development. Following the rules, doing one's duty, and respecting authority are the key points of emphasis.

Stages 5 and 6

At this point in their moral growth, humans begin to grasp the concept of abstract moral principles. At this level, there are two stages:

  • At this point, people are more likely to take into account the diverse viewpoints of others because of the concepts of a social contract and individual rights. Members of a society must agree on the rules of the game in order to maintain order.

  • Using universal ethical principles and abstract reasoning, Kohlberg's last degree of moral reasoning is based. Even if it means breaking the law, people still adhere to their internalized notions of fairness at this point.

Criticisms Of Kohlberg’s Theory

There is a considerable gap between understanding what we should do and really doing, and Kohlberg's approach focuses on moral thought. As a result, moral reasoning may not result in moral behavior.

Some have argued that Kohlberg's theory of moral growth places too much emphasis on the concept of justice when making moral decisions. Compassion, caring, and other human emotions may play a significant role in moral decision making. Individualist cultures stress the value of individual rights, while collectivist cultures highlight the role of society and the community. Kohlberg's thesis can not account for the diverse moral perspectives that Eastern, collectivist civilizations may have.

Additionally, opponents like Carol Gilligan have argued that because all of Kohlberg's participants were male, his theory was skewed. Because of their focus on interpersonal relationships and the well-being of others, Kohlberg thought that women remain largely at the third level of moral development.


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