Psychology and Morality


The legal system concerns itself with laws and due process, and ignorance of the law is not a legal defense.



But how do individuals decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong ?



2 Theories which describe the development of moral character in individuals :


Kohlberg's  Theory of Moral Development



Gilligan's conception of female moral development



Lawrence Kohlberg's Six Levels of Moral development


Kohlberg proposed six stages of moral development that humans acquire as they grow from children to adults.


Not all people make it to the highest stage of moral reasoning.


In fact, very few women develop high moral standards, according to Kohlberg.


3 levels and Six Stages of Moral Development


Level I :Preconventional  : Actions are motivated by your own self interests.


Stage 1 : Punishment and Obedience orientation.  A person obeys rules and laws because of the possible negative consequences of disobeying.


"I do not steal bc I might get caught and go to jail."


Stage 2 : Hedonistic Orientation  :  Anything that satisfies your own needs or interests is considered "right"


"If you help your grandmother she will remember you in her will"



Level 2 : Conventional  :  The individual is now concerned with the rights and feelings of others.


Stage 3 : Interpersonal Concordance.

Behavior is moral if it helps, pleases, or is expected by others (role fulfillment)



Stage 4 : Law and Order Orientation :  Moral behavior consists of respecting authority, doing one's duty, and perpetuating the existing social order.


"I obey laws for the good of society"




Level 3 : Postconventional (principled) level  :  At this level, the individual internalizes personal standards of morality.  The person defines their own moral values and codes of conduct, separate from the preexisting rules of society.



Stage 5 : Legalistic Orientation :  The person recognizes the differences in stated laws and what they believe to be moral, and can try to have laws changed in the traditional manner to reflect their own sense of morality.  The person tries to change society from within, utilizing the existing policies for enacting societal change.


Stage 6 :  The orientation of universal ethical principles.  "Morally right" is defined by the individuals conscience, and not the written rules of society.

       Universal principles of justice, principles of reciprocity and equality of human rights,and respect for all humans are some of the abstract guidi9ng principles of behavior.



People can progress from stage 1 to stage 6 by being exposed to "moral reasoning" of a higher level than their own.


Females, in Kohlberg's view, can almost never reach postconventional levels of moral development.


The strong allegiance to their children causes females to become stuck at level three, where obedience to the law is based upon role fulfillment.




Carol Gilligan, a former student of Kohlberg, developed a different model of female moral development.


Gilligan (1982) used interviews with 29 women who were considering whether to have an abortion or not as the basis for her moral classification system.


Gilligan concluded that women moved through three levels of moral development :



Level 1 : Selfishness :  Decisions are made as a result of what the women thinks would be best for her.

The only obligation is to noe's own survival.


Level 2 : Conventional Morality:  Morality ios defined by meeting the expectations of others and being submissive to the norms of society.


Level 3 :  The Morality of nonviolence :  The emphasis is on not hurting people, including oneself.



Her Levels are based upon what she calls the female responsibility orientation, which emphasizes sensitivity toward others and compassion.



                           Defining Justice


Throughout history, justice has had many meanings :


Old Testament Justice concerned itself with revenge :  An eye for an eye,  The golden rule


500 BC.  Justice becomes associated with the achievement of well being of individuals.


Wolgast (1987) :claims that perceptions of injustice within specific cases are more important than the concept of justice.


Today, justice can be loosely translated as fairness, and we address both procedural fairness and outcome fairness when examining the legal system.


Outcome Fairness : refers to the perception of the verdict in a case.  It is more important for the community at large to feel that a verdict is "fair", than for the actual participants in the case to have that perception.


Procedural Fairness : refers to the perceptions of each side in the case concerning their ability to present their case, make decisions about the case, and exhaust all available legal avenues. Court spends time and money promoting procedural fairness.



"The just world hypothesis"



When people make causal attributions concerning behaviors, these attributions can take two forms :


Internal attributions : A person behaves in a particular manner because that is who they are.  Their actions are being guided by internal beliefs and attitudes.


External Attributions :  The environment, or context in which the behavior occurred was instrumental in that behaviors appearance.


We are more likely to make external attributions when we know the person performing the action.


The belief in a just world states that people get what they deserve.


This belief can lead to "blaming the victim" and can be a serious problem for prosecutors trying rape and sexual assault cases.



The "just world" belief is partly a result of our desire to have control over every event in our life.