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Theories on Morality

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg believed that we go through a sequence of stages as we develop morality. Building on Piaget's work, he found that children start in the amoral stage. For them, there is no right or wrong, just personal needs to be satisfied. From about ages 7 to 10, children are in what Kohlberg called a preconventional stage. They have learned rules, and they follow them to stay out of trouble. They view right and wrong as what pleases or dis- pleases their parents, friends, and teachers. Their concern is to avoid punishment.

At about age 10, they enter the conventional stage. During this period, morality means following the norms and values they have learned. In the postconventional stage, which Kohlberg says most people don't reach, individuals reflect on abstract principles of right and wrong and judge people's behavior according to these principles.

Carol Gilligan, a psychologist and defender of gender differences in morality decided to find out if there were differences in how men and women looked at morality. After interviewing about 200 men and women, she concluded that women are more likely to evaluate morality in terms of personal relationships.

Women want to know how an action affects others. They are more concerned with personal loyalties and with the harm that might come to loved ones.

Men, in contrast, tend to think more along the lines of abstract principles that define right and wrong. As they see things, an act either matches or violates a code of ethics, and personal relationships have little to do with the matter.