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Stages of Moral Development by Kohlberg

Last updated on October 27th, 2020 at 07:55 am

Impact of Stages of Moral Development on Law Enforcement Investigations Moral Judgement, Character and Leadership

Lawrence Kohlberg was inspired by Jean Piaget’s work on moral judgment to create a stage theory of moral development in childhood. The theory includes three levels and six stages of moral development and thinking.

Each level includes two stages.

The levels are called pre-conventional morality, conventional morality, and post-conventional morality.

perfect way to incorporate Kohlberg stages of moral development into the justice system

3 Stages of Moral Development and Thinking

Level 1: Pre-Conventional

Stage 1. Obedience and punishment orientation
The child/individual is good in order to avoid being punished. If a person is punished, they must have done wrong.
Stage 2. Self-interest orientation
Children/individuals recognize that there is not just one right view that is handed down by the authorities. Different individuals have different viewpoints. Decisions are made on the principle, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘What will be my reward?’ ‘Will I benefit?’

Level 2 Conventional

Stage 3. Interpersonal accord and conformity
(Social norms)
(The good boy/girl attitude)
Stage 4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
(Law and order morality)

Level 3: Post-Conventional

Stage 5. Social contract orientation
Stage 6. Universal ethical principles (principled conscience)

According to Wikipedia.

Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are based on the assumption that humans are inherently communicative, capable of reason, and possess a desire to understand others and the world around them.

The stages of this model relate to the qualitative moral reasonings adopted by individuals, and so do not translate directly into praise or blame of any individual’s actions or character.

3 levels of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development in police department of investigations

Evaluation of 3 Types of Criminals At Different Stages of Moral Development

The best known of Kohlberg’s (1958) stories concerns a man called Heinz who lived somewhere in Europe.

Heinz’s wife was dying from a particular type of cancer. Doctors said a new drug might save her. The drug had been discovered by a local chemist. Heinz tried desperately to buy some, but the chemist was charging ten times the money it cost to make the drug. This was much more than the Heinz could afford.

Heinz could only raise half the money, even after help from family and friends. He explained to the chemist that his wife was dying and asked if he could have the drug cheaper or pay the rest of the money later.

The chemist refuse. He told Heinz that he had discovered the drug and was going to make money from it. The husband was desperate to save his wife, so later that night he broke into the chemist’s and stole the drug.

Kohlberg hoped to discover how moral reasoning changed as people grew older with answers of the following questions from children of different ages

Should Heinz have stolen the drug?

Would it change anything if Heinz did not love his wife?

What if the person dying was a stranger, would it make any difference?

Should the police arrest the chemist for murder if the woman died?

Post -Conventional Stage of Moral Development and Law Enforcement Officers

Juvenile Delinquency

The police force has a lot of juvenile delinquency cases.

These are usually teenagers with an impaired moral development at the third stage of interpersonal and accorded conformity as well as authority and social order maintaining the law.

They do not

  • Recognize the authority of the legally appointed leaders as well as that of their parents (Well, 2017).
  • Respect social norms and the laws that have been instituted by the authorities.

Counsel and punishment is the answer.

Insurance Fraud Perpetrators

Individuals that have not adequately developed at stage two, which is driven by self-interest, are insurance fraud perpetrators as discussed by Jabbour and Abdel-Kader (2016).  Their choice to benefit even as others lose is prevalent. Insurance fraud perpetrators are careful to avoid detection as they know there are repercussions to their actions.

Punishment like incarceration deters them.

Serial Killers

Police officers also handle serial killers who are aware that what they are doing is wrong.  Despite the attitudes held by society, they continue to commit crimes. As far as universal ethical principles are concerned (Bermann, 2017), the y are underdeveloped.

For serial killers, incarceration punishments are supposed to keep them from committing crimes.

Stages of moral development - how to address self-interest and pursuit of pleasure to prevent police corruption

Addressing self-interest and pursuit of pleasure to prevent police corruption


Internal crimes involving police corruption, misconduct, and police deviance are evident within the police force as stipulated by Harris (2016).  The goals of the police force in this jurisdiction will include prevention of engagement in acts of bribery, acts of excessive force, civil rights violations, racial discrimination, criminal activities, receiving gratuities in exchange for favors, and committing murder.


Braswell et al. (2017) points out the use of valid and reliable methods of psychological testing to screen police recruits for conscientiousness and anti-social personality traits. More to this is establishing minimum requirements for higher education levels of officers. Hireing those with four-year degrees.

Off-Duty Policies

What appropriate policies for off-duty misconduct are paramount?

For example, assistance programs for officers who misuse alcohol, and the training of supervisors and superiors on recognizing these issues in their officers (Lickona et al., 2016).  Moreover, misconduct would be addressed and prevented by having training methods and stipulated organizational goals.

Community Partnership

Further, the pursuit of trust enhancement with the community through partnerships with other agencies that implement relevant policies will simultaneously create a culture of more professional and morale-driven officers.  In the case of officers that use their positions of authority to participate in corruption, cause harm, and violate civil rights, there is a stipulation of consequences.

stages of moral development - 3 Prima Facie Duties that all law enforcement officers

Three (3) Prima Facie Duties For All Law enforcement officers

Prima Facie functions, or conditional duties, should be followed in most circumstances, but they can be overridden in some cases (Bradford et al., 2017).

  1. Some of the prima facie duties that all law enforcement officers should fulfill include the obligation of justice where the officers should always seek the best outcome.
  2. Duties of beneficence are paramount for officers to engage in doing good deeds for others. Officers are perceived to be on a higher pedestal, and should always act in a way that is helpful to others and promote kindness with compassion for citizens.
  3. A third prima facie duty all law enforcement officers should follow is non-malfeasance to prevent injury to others. This function is meant to avoid any harm to others and the officers, in addition to refraining from cruelty.  Self-education and education of others to avoid harming and hurting others is the duty of any law enforcement officer.


  • Arvanitis, A. (2017). Autonomy and morality: A Self-Determination Theory discussion of ethics. New Ideas in Psychology, 47, 57-61.
  • Bermann, K. M. (2017). Evidence for Endorsement of a Trait-oriented Approach to the Examination of Psychopathy.
  • Boundless. “Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development.” Boundless Psychology Boundless, 20 Sep. 2016. Retrieved 18 Aug 2017 from https://www.boundless.com/ psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/human-development-14/theories-of-human-development-70/kohlberg-s-stages-of-moral-development-268-12803/
  • Bradford, B., Milani, J., & Jackson, J. (2017). Identity, legitimacy and “making sense” of police use of force. Policing: An International Journal, 40(3), 614-627.
  • Braswell, M. C., McCarthy, B. R., & McCarthy, B. J. (2017). Justice, crime, and ethics. Taylor & Francis.
  • Ellemers, N. (2017). Morality and the Regulation of Social Behavior: Groups as Moral Anchors. Psychology Press.
  • Harris, C. J. (2016). Towards a career view of police misconduct. Aggression and violent behavior, 31, 219-228.
  • Jabbour, M., & Abdel-Kader, M. (2016). ERM adoption in the insurance sector: Is it a regulatory imperative or business value-driven?. Qualitative Research in Accounting & Management, 13(4), 472-510.
  • Lickona, T., Schaps, E., Lewis, C., O’Shea, W. J., Condly, S., & Hackett, J. (2016). Developing the Character of Trusted Army Professionals: A Review of the Relevant Literature.
  • Smith, M. C., & DeFrates-Densch, N. (Eds.). (2016). Challenges and Innovations in Educational Psychology Teaching and Learning. IAP.
  • Wells, K. (2017). What does a republican government with Donald Trump as President of the USA mean for children, youth and families?. Children’s Geographies, 15(4), 491-497.

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