Table 1

Overview of Kohlberg's stages of moral development

Preconventional Level

Stage 1: Obedience and Punishment Orientation

Focus on avoidance of punishment by not breaking the rules and deference to authority figures.

Stage 2: Individualism and Exchange Orientation

Acceptance of alternative views as right and wrong is determined by what satisfies the individual's particular needs.


Conventional Level

Stage 3: Good Interpersonal Relationships Orientation

Meet the expectations of what is right because people expect it as part of mutual interpersonal relationships.

Stage 4: Maintaining Social Order Orientation

Emphasis is on obeying social order, respecting the dignity of all while conforming to the laws of the group or institution.


Postconventional Level

Stage 5: Balance of Social Contract and Individual Rights Orientation

Conceptualize society in a theoretical manner, stepping back from existing society and considering the relativity of group and individual values with respect to what society ought to uphold.

Stage 6: Universal Ethical Principles

Defined by universal moral principles (what a society should uphold) and sense of personal commitment to them.


Donnon and Paolucci BMC Medical Education 2008 8:58   doi:10.1186/1472-6920-8-58

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