Classification and Treatment by Moral Development Level

Murder, She Wrote, continued

Classification and Treatment by Moral Development Level, by Dr. G. Harry McLaughlin, continued

  1. Level of Universal Values

At this level, customs and laws are examined in relation to universal principles. A mature individual’s felt need to actualize all his human potentialities motivates this reflective consideration of his place in the scheme of things. It demands a capacity for formal thinking on the hypothetico-deductive model. Reasoning by analogy is also needed, but at a high level of abstraction in order to achieve a dialectical synthesis of ideas.

Stage 5. Contract Orientation. The individual sees rule systems as social contracts, regulating behaviour to serve society’s need. He does not believe that chaos will result if exceptions are made to the rules, but he does tend to attribute sanctity to interpersonal contracts and the legal and social processes by which they are developed.

Stage 6. Life Goals [Universal Values] Orientation. The individual at this stage believes that the sole purpose of morality is to serve fundamental human goals such as freedom, love, happiness, survival, and self-respect. He treats rules, processes and contracts only as means to the maximization of ultimate life goals for himself and others. However, he may conform to petty rules to avoid needless arguments about principles.

People at Stages 4, 5 or 6 tend to behave more consistently than those operating at lower stages because they act in accordance with stable principles and, as these principles are generally concomitant with the law, they are likely to stay out of trouble. Furthermore, they police themselves, rather than needing external sanctions, because they have internalized certain values, the ignoring of which would lead to a discomforting loss of self-esteem.

It should be noted that moral judgement continues to develop in many people until about the age of 25 years and, given proper stimulation, further development can occur at any age. However, only about one-fifth of the population go beyond the level of conventional morality.

The attainment of each stage of moral development is logically dependent upon the prior attainment of a new stage of cognitive development. [That is, you can’t reason about moral issues at a level higher than you can reason in general.  RR]  Each stage reflects a more accurate understanding of the complexities of human relationships than the stage below it. A person’s shift from one stage of moral development to the next requires participation in social environments which are perceived as fair and just. Development results mainly from the cognitive conflict created by exposure to moral reasoning at a stage above one’s own, preferably only one stage above.

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