Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter K - KOHLBERG, LAWRENCE

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics


The Harvard Stage

Kohlberg joined the faculty of Harvard University as a full professor within the Graduate School of Education in 1968. In 1974, he founded the Center for Moral Education and Development, which became a hub of research, training, and educational activities. As the Center's influence widened, a constant stream of scholars came from across the nation and around the world, seeking Kohlberg's advice and enjoying his kindness. His ideas, enthusiasm, and energy inspired many of these new colleagues, whom he challenged to develop the field he had founded in their unique way. The 1980s were unusually generative years, as Kohlberg brought major projects to completion and reaped the rewards of his labor. In 1981, the first volume of his collected essays on moral development, The Philosophy of Moral Development, was published. In 1983, the empirical findings from his 20-year longitudinal study were published as a Society for Research on Child Development Monograph. The next year the second volume of his collected essays, The Psychology of Moral Development, was published. Also in 1984, with Ann Colby and several other colleagues, he published the long-awaited two-volume moral stage-scoring manual, The Measurement of Moral Judgment. With Clark Power and Ann Higgins, he completed the work for their volume on moral education, which was published in 1989 as Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education.

While his publishing successes soared, however, his physical health was declining. During a trip to Central America in late 1973, Kohlberg had contracted a particularly severe and painful form of giardiasis (a disease of the digestive system caused by the parasite, Giardia lamblia). The parasitic infection slowly weakened him physically over the next 13 years. His physical energy and emotional serenity were nourished, however, by the mystical perspective he derived from the experiences he had on Cape Cod during his summers. From his concurrent experiences of his own limits and his oneness with something more, Kohlberg became increasingly open to religious-like perspectives. Nearly all of his religious writings, which will be reviewed in the next section, date from this period (1974-1986). Suffering much physical pain and mental depression, Lawrence Kohlberg surrendered his life to the waters of the Atlantic on January 17, 1987.


Lawrence Kohlberg saw children and adolescents as moral philosophers, capable of forming their own moral judgments. As a developmental psychologist strongly influenced by Jean Piaget, Kohlberg delineated six stages of moral development from childhood through adulthood. He also recognized children and adolescents as being natural theologians, even if only tacitly. He viewed an individual's religion as his or her way of expressing and responding to the question of ultimate meaning in moral judgment and action. He did not advocate any particular faith tradition but, nevertheless, his search for universal morality and his articulation of moral stages depended on his belief in the existence of universal principles of moral justice- what some theologians call "natural law." Kohlberg believed that an ethic of justice was more mature within the natural order of things. He believed that the central function of religion was to affirm morality as being related to a transcendent being or infinite sense of the whole. In this way, moral and religious reflections were separable but related. These views allowed him to explore religion in relation to moral development, moral education, and moral behavior.


Kohlberg's theory of moral development followed the characteristics of a Piagetian stage model. He claimed that stages of social moral reasoning are based on evolving mental structures or cognitive schemata within the developing brain. Each stage represents a qualitatively different way people resolve moral dilemmas. The six stages formed an invariant sequence-people do not skip stages or reverse their order. Similarly, Kohlberg theorized that the six stages were hierarchically integrated-higher stages are better in the sense that a person using a higher stage of reasoning can understand the moral reasoning used by lower stages, but the converse would not be true. Kohlberg also hypothesized that these six stages were universal-that they apply to all human beings at all times, even though many individuals do not progress through all of the stages.

Kohlberg and colleague Clark Power also theorized that social reasoning and religious moral reasoning have parallel structures. After a new stage or cognitive structure develops in the way a person thinks about social moral dilemmas, the person begins to generalize the changes to other areas, including religion. Thus, religious moral reasoning follows and parallels the six social moral reasoning stages.