Stages 1 and 2 are called the preconventional stages because people pass through them before entering the socially customary or conventional stages of moral reasoning. In Stage 1, which Kohlberg like Piaget called heteronymous morality, a child unquestioningly obeys authority figures. Children at Stage 1 avoid breaking rules set by parents, for instance, because they are afraid of punishment or external physical consequences. At this stage, God is understood in vague anthropomorphic terms, as being larger and more powerful than even adults. Young children are not yet able to ascribe intentionality to either adults or to God.
At Stage 2, termed individualism, instrumental purpose, and exchange, school-aged children follow rules only when it is in their immediate interest to do so. They assume others will also only follow rules when it is in their self-interest. What is moral is a reciprocal type of concrete exchange ("You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours"). Similarly, they appreciate that God, the rule giver, is also bound by quid pro quo reciprocity. If you give to God, through rituals or keeping your promises to him, you will receive what you pray for.
Stages 3 and 4 are known as the conventional stages because they are the stages in which most people spend most of their lives. People usually enter Stage 3, mutual interpersonal expectations and conformity, during preadolescence and adolescence. People at Stage 3 equate what is morally right with what is perceived to be "good" and "nice" by others; they conform to the rules and expectations of others so that others will like or approve of them. Similarly, God is now conceived of as a personal deity, and his moral expectations are understood as those of a caring friend or good parent. Not following God's moral guidelines can create a sense of personal shame.
Stage 4 is called social system and conscience maintenance because at Stage 4, people have a strong desire to maintain and be loyal to a social system within society such as a church, legal system, corporation, or educational institution. They determine what is morally right based on their allegiance to a particular social system and its policies. Stage 4 moral reasoning, for example, equates morality with what a legal system says is right or wrong, or with the moral rules of a religious institution such as a church, mosque, or synagogue. God is the supreme lawgiver and worship is a way of showing respect for God's preordained moral order.
Stages 5 and 6 are called postconventional because moral reasoning at these stages goes beyond the moral reasoning used by most people. Stage 5 is characterized by a focus on the prior rights, human rights, and the social contract. Moral reasoning at Stage 5 is motivated by the kind of thinking John Locke used to describe his contract theory of government. In Locke's theory and at Stage 5, people are viewed as having certain basic rights, such as rights to life and to property ownership, which are prior to society. Society was created to protect individuals' rights and to promote communal welfare. At Stage 5, God is viewed as promoting autonomous moral decisions and as a partner in human efforts to create a just society.
The hallmark of Stage 6 moral reasoning is the use of universal ethical principles to resolve moral dilemmas. Universal ethical principles differ from a rights perspective by viewing people as ends in themselves, as illustrated by Immanuel Kant's moral imperative, "Act in such a way that you treat humanity as an end and never only as a means." Justice at Stage 6 is understood as a universal ethical principle that views all human beings as free and autonomous. Persons at Stage 6 place themselves in the position of others who are being oppressed and aim to ensure their fair and principled treatment. To this end, Kohlberg suggested that Stage 6 religious moral reasoning generally adopts a cosmic, universal perspective. This perspective may include either a theistic or pantheistic conception of the ultimate order. Kohlberg considered Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi as exemplars of the theistic version, and Spinoza and Marcus Aurelius to be examples of the pantheistic version.
RELIGION AND MORAL EDUCATION
Kohlberg saw religion and morality as separable and, thus, felt comfortable promoting moral education in public schools without engaging in religious education, which many saw as threatening the separation of church and state. Nevertheless, his methods of moral education had religious-like roots.
Kohlberg's approach to moral education included (1) moral dilemma discussions, (2) just community schools, and (3) public moral leadership. He credited his former student, Moshe Blatt, with conducting the first empirical study of a genuinely developmental moral education intervention. In Blatt's initial pilot study, he attempted to promote moral stage development among sixth-grade students in a Jewish Sunday School through weekly discussion of hypothetical moral dilemmas. He found that most of his students advanced in stage of moral development during the 3-month intervention. Encouraged by these findings and subsequent research, Kohlberg implemented this dilemma discussion model of moral education by integrating dilemma discussions into the curriculum of school classes in the humanities and social studies. Kohlberg then broadened this view of moral education by drawing on the moral education practices he had observed at an Israeli kibbutz high school. This just community approach to moral education involved establishing classroom and school governance interventions based on direct participatory democracy.