Lawrence Kohlberg

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Lawrence Kohlberg

Lawrence Kohlberg


American developmental psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987) spent his life in pursuit of universal justice. He is best known for creating a stage model of moral development and a pedagogical model for moral education. He also developed a significant interest in religious faith, which he defined as the way that people find or construct ultimate meaning in their lives, and in how such faith might support moral reasoning and behavior. Kohlberg's joint pursuits originated in his life experiences as he responded to societal and personal tragedies.

Stages Of Kohlberg's Life

Born in Bronxville, New York, on October 25, 1927, Laurence Kohlberg was the youngest of four children. His mother's background was Christian and his father was Jewish. His early years, despite his father's great wealth, were characterized by an unusual degree of family upheaval and dispersion. Perhaps it was this disorder that motivated a boyhood ritual, which he recalled as an adult to his friend, Jim Fowler, as follows: “I couldn't have been more than six. Alone, I took the Popsicle sticks I had been saving and placed them carefully in a stack meant to be a pyre. With a prayer to whatever indeterminate God there be, I took matches and lit the pyre in hopes of atonement and forgiveness.” As a young boy, Kohlberg understood religion as a way of bartering with God, and thus, according to his own subsequent developmental research, was much like other similarly aged children.

As he entered adolescence, Kohlberg's peers recognized his intellectual and moral precociousness. When he graduated from junior high school, the class prophecy section of the yearbook forecasted that he would become known as “the great scientist and Nobel Prize winner.” For high school, he attended an elite preparatory school in Massachusetts. His classmates there remembered him as a genuine intellectual who rebelled against arbitrary social conventions, such as rules against visiting girls on nearby campuses, and often found himself on probation. As a high school student during World War II, he knew of the plight of European Jewry and came to identify closely with his Jewish heritage.

Kohlberg's Contributions To The Psychology Of Religion

Lawrence Kohlberg saw children and adolescents as moral philosophers, capable of forming their own moral judgments. As a developmental psychologist strongly influenced by Jean Piaget, Kohlberg delineated six stages of moral development from childhood through adulthood. He also recognized children and adolescents as being natural theologians, even if only tacitly. He viewed an individual's religion as his or her way of expressing and responding to the question of ultimate meaning in moral judgment and action. He did not advocate any particular faith tradition but, nevertheless, his search for universal morality and his articulation of moral stages depended on his belief in the existence of universal principles of moral justice—what some theologians call “natural law.” Kohlberg believed that an ethic of justice was more mature within the natural order of things. He believed that the central function of religion was to affirm morality as being related to a ...
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