Stages of Moral Development

I can’t leave the meaningful recent posts on our Morality Need, without addressing the important topic of moral development. Harvard University professor Lawrence Kohlberg is notably known for his pioneering research on the various levels, stages, and ages of human moral development. Kohlberg constructed a cognitive developmental model that gives focus into a person’s perception of morality, and from those perceptions it suggests what behaviors are displayed at the various levels, stages, and ages:

Level I (Stage 1-2) Moral Development for an adult at this level is that of  the  anti-social person; the sociopath. The ability to have empathy for another human being is extremely limited. Only fear of punishment will keep such a person in line. Darkside morality predominates. Level II (Stage 3-4)   Moral Development for an adult at this level is one of normative development.  It is development of cultural conformity.  Karmic Rule (act-react) morality is present. Golden Rule (passive) morality is present. A morality of  giving and receiving can be present in some form at this level. Grayside morality predominates. Level III (Stage 5-6)  Moral Development for an adult at this level comes from conscience, guilt, and true intention. Actions  are based on one’s true character.  Higher Morality is present at this level. Lightside morality predominates.

stages of moral development




Morality – True Intentions

True intentions – In Nietzschean philosophy action is about intention. I construe true intentions as the moral imperative of what is done when no one is watching us —> there are no witnesses. True intentions are what we do when no one observes our actions. Living by true intentions is being well-intended to do what is right. The allegory of The Ring of Gyges is from Plato’s Republic (4th Cent B.C.), and concerns true intentions. The allegory runs something  like this: Gyges is a shepherd who comes across a corpse wearing an expensive ring. Gyges is invisible to other people –—> no one is watching him. What will he do with the ring? Will he take the ring for his own? What are his true intentions? We all should ask, “What would I do with the ring? Thomas Aquinas insisted that, “morality depends on intention,” (12th Cent). The moral question for us all is, “What temptations in life will we act on if we will not be caught?” True intentions is answering the question, “What do I truly intend, mean, or aim to do?”

I propose that the litmus test for Higher Morality is a person living by a manifestation of true intentions. True intentions are a sanctification of one’s inner views, ideas, emotions, values, and beliefs. The question becomes, “Is my moral presentation to the world coming from my true intentions?” A moral presentation of true intentions is the opposite of giving platitudes, banality, and triteness. We all should tune into a reflective state and honestly ponder our true intentions. Do we act from a morality of fabrication, hidden agendas, secrets, lying, social expectations, and political correctness? Or, do we present ourselves to the world with true intentional morality of openness, honesty, frankness, and one’s true agenda? True intentional morality is a person’s authentic morality. A core morality of true intentionality is one indication of self-credibility and a life of distinction. They are at the very heart of who we are and where our conscience resides. It is living by high moral standards because it is the right way to live. The critical thing about true intentions is that no one really knows the true intentions of another person. True intentions are our inner convictions emanating from a consciences subterranean inner core morality that no one can observe.  And, as in the case of good and evil only a person’s behaviors and actions can be observed.

true intentions

Morality Light-Dark Scale

Morality Light-Dark  Scale – There is  a  scale called  the Bortle LightDark Scale that measures night sky brightness.  I ask, “What if we had a scale that measured morality brightness-darkness?” Maybe it can be another way we can demonstrate  a Moral  Core Continuum. The Morality Light-Dark  Scale  is a  nine point  scale from 1 to  9.  At the far left of  the scale  (# 1)  is the individual who  acts without conscience;  a truly evil person. At the middle of the scale (# 5) is the individual with gray morality, ambivalent morality,  societal expectation morality. At the far right of the scale (# 9) is the person who judges his or her actions on a highly developed conscience. The numbers (#’s 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8)  are rated  according  to  the position occupied on the scale. Does such a self-reporting scale have validity?

light dark scale

Gray Morality

As our personal moral development unfolds there will always be a contentious tug of war between  our inherited dark side (bad human) and lightside (good human). A moral struggle exists between our prosocial connecting side and our anti-social separating side. Gray morality lies in the middle of this endless struggle. It is the large middle area on the moral continuum where many shades of gray exist. Gray morality is ambivalent, and a kind of milquetoast morality of hesitancy, timidity, blandness, and fluctuation. The vacillating individual lacks a defined worldview, philosophy, vision, mission, and values. A person in the gray area is lost until dark behaviors, or light behaviors come to dominance in a person. It appears that many of us lead our entire life built around a morality of indecisiveness and gray area living. It is a basic-balance morality of central tendency and normality where a person robotically goes through life. Gray morality helps explain why some ordinary people can become enslaved to cults, or why a highly civilized German culture succumbed to Hitlerian dysphemistic ideology.

gray morality

Our Moral Core

Moral Core –  In a previous post, I stated the two major criteria that make us unique from all other creatures that ever existed are: 1.) a consciousness that allows for self-awareness, and 2.) a free will to make moral decisions. I attest our moral core is a biologically based Natural Moral Code having: 1.) past primordial genetic values, 2.) present free will values of our choosing, and 3.) future biologically based eternal values; i. e. a postmortem cross-generational contribution we make to our species. Our present core morality is indicative of the core values surfacing from a morality we live by. It is the innermost heart of intentional morality. Our moral core has been on an epic journey of historical self-evolutionary behaviors playing out between our darkside and lightside features. Our darkside protrays characteristic features such as indecency, lying, envy, stealing, and cheating. Our lightside protrays characteristic features such as decency, honesty, truth, empathy, sympathy, and a heartfelt concern for others. I so agree with Martin Luther King saying, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

Moral Core ContinuumWe are all on a moral continuum between dualistic features of give-take, me-we, solipsism-empathy, darkness-lightness, etc. There is a flow of moral behaviors between  our lightside and our darkside where most of us, most of the time, live our lives in an ambiguous mediocrity gray area along this Moral Core Continuum: Dark behaviors  <–> Gray behaviors <–> Light behaviors. Along  the continuum one’s dark behaviors are mercilessly inclined, gray behaviors are ambivalently disposed, and light behaviors are mercifully prone.

moral core


Higher Morality – Guilt

Guilt – I ask myself, “If I do something wrong do I feel guilty?” When I say yes to this question, I know I on am on the right moral path. I view guilt as an acknowledgement of  blameworthy deeds. There is a legal term that refers to having a “consciousness of guilt,” which I define as the realization that one is guilty of a particular deed. Being conscious of guilt is a concession of a contributory responsibility for wrong actions that deserve rebuke. Having guilt is an understanding that no wrong doing is sin verguenze, or “without shame.” It  arises from a remorseful conscience in-tune with the Natural Moral Code and Higher Morality.

Samenow maintained, “the capacity to experience guilt is an outgrowth of conscience development.” (1998) Conscience is a powerful deterrent to not harm another (ahimsa). One view of guilt is a purification coming by lamenting, expressing grief, and deeply regretting our wrongs. Acknowledgement of guilt can metaphorically give a self-spiritual cleansing. Guilt can defang the evil things we have done by showing remorse, contrition, and repentance.  Guilt can be a healing process getting us on the right moral path. Another view of guilt is that it emanates from an anxiety over the bad things we have done. Guilt can lead to making amends for the harmful things we have done. Empathy overlaps with guilt and conscience. If I have empathy for another person, it is difficult for me to bring harm to that person. Stein felt that, “guilt in a civilized man is normal and inevitable accomplishment of the violation of a relationship with one’s self or another human being.” (1965)  I welcome comments.


Higher Morality – Conscience

I submitt that our conscience is a call to our original nature, and is at the very heart of a person. I view conscience as the heart of Who am I?, and What am I?  Paul Tillich said, “conscience is a call to ourselves.” (1952)  V. E. Frankl felt conscience, “is not just one factor among many; it is the core of our being and the source of our personal integrity.” (1963) Conscience is a call to set a moral demarcation line between good and evil. A healthy conscience fights the darkness within. I submit a call to conscience is a moral audit of our behaviors. It is a check-point and self-inventory discerning appropriate-inappropriate and approval-disapproval of behaviors. A person of conscience has the ability of self-admonishment –-> the capacity to reprove, reprimand, reproach, and call oneself to the carpet. Such a person scrupulously acts from a base of fortitude that avoids bad actions. Healthy prosocial behaviors rise from a well-defined conscience. I assert a person of conscience truly sticks to “my word is my bond.” In a speech in 1734, Sir Robert Walpole maintained, “every man has his price.” However, I argue that is not necessarily true for a person with a healthy conscience. I realize it flies in the face of human pride, but I advance the notion that a person of character and conscience is magnanimous in both victory and defeat.