Harvard Educational Review
  1. Spring 1977 Issue »

    Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Judgment

    A Constructive Critique

    John C. Gibbs
    Lawrence Kohlberg's work on moral judgment posits a typology of six hierarchical stages which form a Piagetian developmental sequence. The last two stages have occasioned widespread controversy in developmental psychology because of their rarity and the claim that they represent morally and structurally higher forms of reasoning. In this article, John Gibbs distinguishes between naturalistic and existential themes in modern psychology and outlines the empirical criteria that identify a naturalistic or Piagetian sequence. He then argues that the first four stages of Kohlberg's typology meet the criteria for a naturalistic developmental sequence but the higher stages instead appear to be existential or reflective extensions of earlier stages. The conclusions Gibbs reaches have considerable significance for clarifying the relationships between the highest forms of moral and social thought and development, experience, and education.

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