Postconventional Moral Thinking: A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach

Postconventional Moral Thinking: A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach

Postconventional Moral Thinking: A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach

Postconventional Moral Thinking: A Neo-Kohlbergian Approach


Although Lawrence Kohlberg provided major ideas for psychological research in morality for decades, today some critics regard his work as outmoded, beyond repair, and too faulty for anybody to take seriously. These critics suggest that research would advance more profitably by taking a different approach. Postconventional Moral Thinking acknowledges particular philosophical and psychological problems with Kohlberg's theory and methodology, and proposes a reformulation called "Neo-Kohlbergian." Hundreds of researchers have reported a large body of findings after having employed Kohlberg's theory and methods to the Defining Issues Test (DIT), therefore attesting to the relevance of his ideas.

This book provides a coherent theoretical overview for hundreds of studies that have used the DIT. The authors propose reformulations in the underlying psychological and philosophical theories. This book pulls together the analysis of criticisms of a Kohlbergian approach, a rationale for DIT research, and new theoretical ideas and new research.


In this chapter, we propose our solutions to the problems with Kohlberg's theory discussed in the previous chapter. First, we cite Kohlberg's own distinction between conventional and postconventional moral thinking, on which we base our neo-Kohlbergian approach.


We quote Colby et al. for their definition of conventional and postconventional moral thinking (1987, Vol. 1, pp. 28-29):

At Stage 4 the individual takes the perspective of a generalized member of society. This perspective is based on a conception of the social system as a consistent set of codes and procedures that apply impartially to all members. The pursuit of individual interests is considered legitimate only when it is consistent with maintenance of the sociomoral system as a whole. The informally shared norms of Stage 3 are systematized at Stage 4 in order to maintain impartiality and consistency. A social structure that includes formal institutions and social roles serves to mediate conflicting claims and promote the common good. That is, there is an awareness that there can be conflicts even between good role occupants. This makes it necessary to maintain a system of rules for resolving such conflicts. The perspective taken is generally that of a societal, legal, or religious system that has been codified into institutionalized laws and practices. . . .

The Stage 5 prior-to-society perspective is that of a rational moral agent aware of universalizable values and rights that anyone would choose to build into a moral society. The validity of actual laws and social systems can be evaluated in terms of the degree to which they preserve and protect these fundamental human rights and values. The social system is seen ideally as a contract freely entered into by each individual in order to preserve the rights and promote the welfare of . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.