6 Stages of Moral Reasoning

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Find out what stage of moral development your child is in.

Click on an item in the set below to see more info.

1. Preconventional Morality: Punishment-Avoidance and Obedience

Who: Preschool children, most elementary school students, some junior high school students, and a few high school students.

What to Expect: Bases decisions on self-interests. Follows rules to not get caught and to avoid punishment. Ensures that own needs are satisfied before helping others.

2. Preconventional Morality: Exchange of Favors

Who: Preschool children, most elementary school students, some junior high school students, and a few high school students.

What to Expect: Embraces the motto "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Determines right and wrong based on how it affects themselves. Makes decisions based on how it pleases authority figures such as teachers, parents, and popular peers.

3. Conventional Morality: Good Boy/Girl

Who: A few older elementary school students, some junior high school students, and many high school students.

What to Expect: Considers other people's views and intentions when making decisions. Relationships based on sharing, trust, and loyalty.

4. Conventional Morality: Law and Order

Who: A few older elementary school students, some junior high school students, and many high school students.

What to Expect: Defines right and wrong based on society's expectations. Follows rules based on obligation and duty. Perceives rules as inflexible. Recognizes that rules are needed for order, but does not understand that rules can change.

5. Postconventional Morality: Social Contract

Who: Rarely seen before college.

What to Expect: Understands that rules are agreements between individuals about appropriate social behavior. Recognizes that rules are not absolute. Knows that rules protect individual rights and provide social order. Realizes that rules should be changed when they no longer serve society's needs.

6. Postconventional Morality: Universal Ethical Principle

Who: Rarely seen before college. Some adults never reach this stage.

What to Expect: An ideal, hypothetical stage reached by few. Promotes universal principles that surpass norms and laws: equality for all people, respect for human dignity, and commitment to social justice. Looks to inner conscience rather than established rules. Disregards laws that violate own ethical principles.

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