My Personal Stages of Moral Development

by PammyMcB

Pre-conventional level ~ The pre-conventional level of moral reasoning is especially common in children, although adults can also exhibit this level of reasoning. Reasoners at this level judge the morality of an action by its direct consequences. The pre-conventional level consists of the first and second stages of moral development, and is solely concerned with the self in an egocentric manner. A child with preconventional morality has not yet adopted or internalized society’s conventions regarding what is right or wrong, but instead focuses largely on external consequences that certain actions may bring.

Stage One – At preschool age, I thought that everything I did was morally wrong. In essence, I felt I was a morally bad person because I was punished for everything. I did know that some things were worse than others because I did get punished more severely for some things than others. For example, talking above a quiet whisper was a stronger punishment than other actions, so I knew it must have been bad to talk to people unless I was spoken to first. Therefore, I would not initiate conversation with people.

Stage Two – My siblings and I would take up for each other. We knew if we did not, the punishment would be worse. We would lie for one another and keep secrets for one another. What I got out of this was they would give protect me if I would protect them.

Conventional level ~ The conventional level of moral reasoning is typical of adolescents and adults. Those who reason in a conventional way judge the morality of actions by comparing them to society’s views and expectations. The conventional level consists of the third and fourth stages of moral development. Conventional morality is characterized by an acceptance of society’s conventions concerning right and wrong. At this level an individual obeys rules and follows society’s norms even when there are no consequences for obedience or disobedience. Adherence to rules and conventions is somewhat rigid, however, and a rule’s appropriateness or fairness is seldom questioned.

Stage Three – I reached this stage of moral development when I began elementary school. I liked the positive attention I received from the teachers at the school and did everything I could to get positive feedback. I was a straight A student because I liked feeling as if I were a “good girl.” I began to act like a perfect little angel because I wanted to be accepted by the church. Everything I did had to be perfect.

Stage Four – I reached this stage in middle school or high school. I strove to uphold the law. However, since I got arrested for doing things I did not feel was wrong (running away); I decided there no matter what I did, I would end up in jail anyway. Therefore, I began doing things to break the law (drinking, drugs). I still made excellent grades in school and went to church, but I led a double life.

Post-conventional level ~ The post-conventional level, also known as the principled level, is marked by a growing realization that individuals are separate entities from society, and that the individual’s own perspective may take precedence over society’s view; individuals may disobey rules inconsistent with their own principles. Post-conventional moralists live by their own ethical principles—principles that typically include such basic human rights as life, liberty, and justice. People who exhibit post-conventional morality view rules as useful but changeable mechanisms—ideally rules can maintain the general social order and protect human rights. Rules are not absolute dictates that must be obeyed without question. Because post-conventional individuals elevate their own moral evaluation of a situation over social conventions, their behavior, especially at stage six, can be confused with that of those at the pre-conventional level.

Stage Five – I did begin to feel that others opinions were important while I was in my late teens, early twenties. I believe it was around the time I moved out on my own. I bypassed Utilitarianism and Relativism fairly quickly.

Stage Six – I do not believe in Utilitarianism or Relativism. I am more of an Absolutist and always have been. I do not believe that laws should be adjusted for the person or the greater good. I feel that each person should obey the same laws and get the same punishment for their crimes. I feel I am in this stage as we speak.

I do believe that women go through the three stages that Gilligan described. However, when young, all children (even rich white males) are selfish. Because of this, I don’t think that is enough to consider this a stage of moral development. I know that women give up a lot when they have families of their own. They do not give things up because they have to, but because they want to. However, in my experience, this is not a stage of moral development either. We do things to please our families not because we think it is morally right, but because we love them. I think most women balance what makes them happy with what makes their families happy, but men do the same thing. I think Kolberg’s sixth stage of moral development is the same stage as Gilligan’s third. It is about balance. I know that women and men are different, but most of us learn right in wrong in the same way. I do not think there is enough evidence or depth to Gilligan’s theory. I also do not feel her theory has anything to do with morals.

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