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Lawrence Kohlberg

Lawrence Kohlberg
Born (1927-10-25)October 25, 1927
Bronxville, New York
Died January 19, 1987(1987-01-19) (aged 59)
Winthrop, Massachusetts
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Chicago (earned bachelor's degree in one year)
Known for Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development

Lawrence Kohlberg (; October 25, 1927 – January 19, 1987) was an American James Mark Baldwin.[3] At the same time he was creating a new field within psychology: "moral development". Scholars such as Elliot Turiel and James Rest have responded to Kohlberg's work with their own significant contributions. In an empirical study by Haggbloom et al. using six criteria, such as citations and recognition, Kohlberg was found to be the 30th most eminent psychologist of the 20th century.[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Stages of Moral Development 2.1
    • Writing 2.2
  • Critiques 3
  • Death 4
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7

Early life

Lawrence Kohlberg was born in Bronxville, New York.[5] He was the youngest of four children of Alfred Kohlberg,[6] a Jewish man, and of his second wife, Charlotte Albrecht, a Protestant woman. His parents separated when he was four years old and divorced finally when he was fourteen. Kohlberg attended high school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and then served in the Merchant Marine at the end of World War II.[7] He worked for a time with the Haganah on a ship smuggling Jewish refugees from Romania through the British Blockade, into Palestine.[8][9] Captured by the British and held at an internment camp on Cyprus, Kohlberg escaped with fellow crew members and returned to the U.S., enrolling in the College at the University of Chicago. At this time at Chicago it was possible to gain credit for courses by examination, and Kohlberg earned his bachelor's degree in one year, 1948. He then began study for his doctoral degree in psychology, which he completed at Chicago in 1958. In those early years he read Piaget's work. Kohlberg found a scholarly approach that gave a central place to the individual's reasoning in moral decision making. At the time this contrasted with the current psychological approaches to morality which down-played an individual's deliberate struggle and that explained the development of morals.[10]


Kohlberg's first academic appointment was at Yale University, as an assistant professor of psychology, 1958-1961. In 1955 while beginning his dissertation, he had married Lucille Stigberg, and the couple had two sons, David and Steven. Kohlberg spent a year at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, in Palo Alto, California, 1961-1962, and then joined the Psychology Department of the University of Chicago as assistant, then associate professor of psychology and human development, 1962-1967. He held a visiting appointment at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 1967–68, and then was appointed Professor of Education and Social Psychology there, beginning 1968, where he remained until his death.

Stages of Moral Development

In his 1958 dissertation, Kohlberg wrote what are now known as Kohlberg's stages of moral development.[11] These stages are planes of moral adequacy conceived to explain the development of moral reasoning. Created while studying psychology at the University of Chicago, the theory was inspired by the work of Jean Piaget and a fascination with children's reactions to moral dilemmas.[12] Kohlberg proposed a form of “Socratic” moral education and reaffirmed John Dewey’s idea that development should be the aim of education. He also outlined how educators can influence moral development without indoctrination and how public school can be engaged in moral education consistent with the Constitution.[13]

Kohlberg's approach begins with the assumption that humans are intrinsically motivated to explore, and become competent at functioning in, their environments. In social development, this leads us to imitate role models we perceive as competent and to look to them for validation.[14] Thus our earliest childhood references on the rightness of our and others' actions are adult role models with whom we are in regular contact. Kohlberg also held that there are common patterns of social life, observed in universally occurring social institutions, such as families, peer groups, structures and procedures for clan or society decision-making, and cooperative work for mutual defense and sustenance. Endeavoring to become competent participants in such institutions, humans in all cultures exhibit similar patterns of action and thought concerning the relations of self, others, and social world. Furthermore, the more one is prompted to imagine how others experience things and imaginatively to take their roles, the more quickly one learns to function well in cooperative human interactions.

The sequence of stages of moral development thus corresponds to a sequence of progressively more inclusive social circles (family, peers, community, etc.), within which humans seek to operate competently. When those groups function well, oriented by reciprocity and mutual care and respect, growing humans adapt to larger and larger circles of justice, care, and respect. Each stage of moral cognitive development is the realization in conscious thought of the relations of justice, care, and respect exhibited in a wider circle of social relations, including narrower circles within the wider.

Kohlberg's [20]

Kohlberg studied moral reasoning by presenting subjects with moral dilemmas. He would then categorize and classify the reasoning used in the responses, into one of six distinct stages, grouped into three levels: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional.[21][22][23] Each level contains two stages. These stages heavily influenced others and have been utilized by others like James Rest in making the Defining Issues Test in 1979.[24]


Some of Kohlberg's most important publications were collected in his Essays on Moral Development, Vols. I and II, The Philosophy of Moral Development (1981) and The Psychology of Moral Development (1984), published by Harper & Row. Other works published by Kohlberg or about Kohlberg's theories and research include Consensus and Controversy, The Meaning and Measurement of Moral Development, Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education and Child Psychology and Childhood Education: A Cognitive Developmental View.[25]


Carol Gilligan, a fellow researcher of Kohlberg's in the studies of moral reasoning that led to Kohlberg's developmental stage theory, suggested that to make moral judgments based on optimizing concrete human relations is not necessarily a lower stage of moral judgment than to consider objective principles. Postulating that women may develop an empathy-based ethic with a different, but not lower structure than that Kohlberg had described, Gilligan wrote In a Different Voice, a book that founded a new movement of care-based ethics that initially found strong resonance among feminists and later achieved wider recognition.


While doing cross-cultural research in Belize in 1971, Kohlberg contracted a parasitic infection. Due to this, he suffered from extreme abdominal pain. The long-term effects of the infection and the medications took their toll, and Kohlberg's health declined as he also engaged in increasingly demanding professional work, including "Just Community" prison and school moral education programs.[26] Kohlberg sometimes experienced depression as well.

On January 19, 1987, Kohlberg parked at the end of a dead end street in Winthrop, Massachusetts, across from Boston's Logan Airport. He left his wallet with identification on the front seat of his unlocked car and walked into the icy Boston Harbor. His car and wallet were found within a couple of weeks, and his body was recovered some time later, with the late winter thaw, in a tidal marsh across the harbor near the end of a Logan Airport runway.[27]

After Kohlberg's body was recovered and his death confirmed, former students and colleagues published special issues of scholarly journals to commemorate his contribution to developmental psychology.[28]

See also


  • Crain, William C. (1985). Theories of Development (2Rev ed.). Prentice-Hall.  
  • Reconstructing Larry: Assessing the Legacy of Lawrence Kohlberg
  • PSYography: Lawrence Kohlberg
  • BookRags Biography
  • Munsey, Brenda ed. (1980). Moral Development, Moral Education, and Kohlberg. Religious Education Press.  
  • "Kohlberg, Lawrence: Biography." Psychologists and Their Theories for Students. Ed. Kristine Krapp. Gale Group, Inc., 2005. 2006. 28 Oct, 2007


  1. ^ Rest, James; Clark Power; Mary Brabeck (May 1988). "Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987)" (PDF). American Psychologist. 5 43: 399–400.  
  2. ^ Rest, James; Clark Power; Mary Brabeck (May 1988). "Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987)" (PDF). American Psychologist. 5 43: 399–400.  
  3. ^ See Kohlberg, L. (1982), "Moral development," in J.M. Broughton & D.J. Freeman-Moir (Eds.), The Cognitive Developmental Psychology of James Mark Baldwin: Current Theory and Research in Genetic Epistemology, Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corp.
  4. ^ Haggbloom, S.J. et al. (2002). The 100 Most Eminent Psychologists of the 20th Century. Review of General Psychology. Vol. 6, No. 2, 139–15. Haggbloom et al. combined three quantitative variables: citations in professional journals, citations in textbooks, and nominations in a survey given to members of the Association for Psychological Science, with three qualitative variables (converted to quantitative scores): National Academy of Science (NAS) membership, American Psychological Association (APA) President and/or recipient of the APA Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award, and surname used as an eponym. Then the list was rank ordered.
  5. ^ See Fowler, J.W., Snarey, J., and DeNicola, K. (1988), Remembrances of Lawrence Kohlberg: A compilation of the presentations given at the Service of Remembrance for Lawrence Kohlberg, at Memorial Church, Harvard University, on May 20, 1987, Atlanta, GA: Center for Research in Faith and Moral Development.
  6. ^ Keeley, J. (1969), The China Lobby Man: The Story of Alfred Kohlberg, New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House.
  7. ^ See Kohlberg, L. (1991), "My Personal Search for Universal Morality," in L. Kuhmerker (Ed.), The Kohlberg Legacy for the Helping Professions, Birmingham, AL: R.E.P. Books.
  8. ^ Kohlberg, Laurence, "Beds for Bananas," The Menorah Journal, Autumn 1948, pp. 385-399.
  9. ^ Rudolph W. Patzert, Running the Palestine Blockade, Airlife Publishing: Shrewsbury, England, 1994.
  10. ^ Rest, James; Power, Clark; Brabeck, Mary (May 1988). "Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987).". American Psychologist 43 (5): 399–400.  
  11. ^ a b Kohlberg, Lawrence (1958). "The Development of Modes of Thinking and Choices in Years 10 to 16". Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Chicago. 
  12. ^ Crain, William C. (1985). Theories of Development (2Rev ed.). Prentice-Hall.  
  13. ^ Rest, James (1988). Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987). 
  14. ^ "Kohlberg, L. (1969), "Stage and sequence," Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research, McGraw Hill: New York.
  15. ^ a b Kohlberg, Lawrence (1973). "The Claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest Stage of Moral Judgment". Journal of Philosophy (The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 70, No. 18) 70 (18): 630–646.  
  16. ^ Rest J, et al. (1988). "Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987)". American Psychologist. 43(5): 399-400
  17. ^ Piaget, Jean (1932). The Moral Judgment of the Child. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co.  
  18. ^ Kohlberg, Lawrence (1981). Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I: The Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.  
  19. ^ Kohlberg, Lawrence; Charles Levine; Alexandra Hewer (1983). Moral stages : a current formulation and a response to critics. Basel, NY: Karger.  
  20. ^ Tsui, Judy; Carolyn Windsor (May 2001). "Some Cross-Cultural Evidence on Ethical Reasoning". Journal of Business Ethics 31 (2): 143–150. 
  21. ^ Kohlberg, Lawrence (1971). From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development. New York: Academic Press. 
  22. ^ Kohlberg, Lawrence (1976). "Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach". In T. Lickona. Moral Development and Behavior: Theory, Research and Social Issues. Holt, NY: Rinehart and Winston. 
  23. ^ Colby, Anne; Kohlberg, L. (1987). The Measurement of Moral Judgment Vol. 2: Standard Issue Scoring Manual. Cambridge University Press.  
  24. ^  
  25. ^ "Lawrence Kohlberg: books by Lawrence Kohlberg @". Retrieved 2012-08-06. 
  26. ^ Power, F.C., Higgins, A., and Kohlberg, L, Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education, New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  27. ^ Catherine Walsh, "The Life and Legacy of Lawrence Kohlberg", Harvard Education Bulletin, January 2000
  28. ^ See, for instance, Boyd, D. (Ed.) (October, 1988), "Special Issue in Honour of Lawrence Kohlberg," Journal of Moral Education Vol. 17, #3; Rest, J. (Ed.) (April, 1988), "Special Issue, The Legacy of Lawrence Kohlberg," Counseling and Values Vol. 32, #3; Schrader, D. (Ed.) (Spring, 1990), "The Legacy of Lawrence Kohlberg, New Directions for Child Development, #47.
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