Kohlberg’s model consisting of six stages can be rearranged into a three-stage one. The first two stages as they are known among the scholars are logically connected by one and the same idea of pre-conventionality. Such moral conduct is mostly attributable to children, although in some cases adults can display it as well. At that, those facing a moral dilemma are primarily centered on themselves.
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Another characteristic of this stage of moral speculation is that the speculators mostly view the dilemma through the lens of consequences it might result in and engage them in a direct or indirect manner. It is not without reason that such way of moral thinking is considered the prerogative of children. They have not yet learned or accepted the notion of conventionality and are incapable of thinking in social terms. Instead, their thinking is close to instinctive, even reflectory, judging their conduct by the consequences (Kohlberg, 1984).
Such way of reasoning is displayed, for instance, in another one of Kohlberg’s dilemmas which is widely known as Heinz’s dilemma. Heinz, the protagonist, had to save his wife’s life but could not afford the medicine that would curb her cancer, which left him in two minds as to whether he should or should not steal the medication. Given that there is no way one could change the order of moral reasoning, Heinz plunged into the first stage, viewing his potential course of action in terms of their direct outcomes for him personally. Firstly, he fought with the power of authority (i.e., jail); secondly, he tried to single out any possible benefits (Kohlberg, 1984). The Christians’ case appears to bear significant likeness to that of Mr. Heinz.
To decide upon the Christians’ dilemma, it is worth considering that, on all stages of their moral conduct, they were put in between two mighty powers: the power of the Emperor with his radical autocratic measures and the power of Yahve, their God. The first stage of moral reasoning is obedience and apprehending punishment for a wrongful action (Kohlberg, 1984). On that stage, the persecuted Christians appeared to be asking themselves whether, if at all, they could avoid punishment for their crime of faith. On one side of it, they were making the right choice because if they surrendered to their fear, the God would punish them for committing apostasy. On the other side, they were wrong to continue practicing their faith despite the Emperor’s prohibition because they would be eventually found out and thrown to the lions.
Further into moral reasoning, the persons in question are guided by other motives. On the second stage of moral reasoning, the actors are oriented solely on themselves, which is why it is dubbed self-interest stage. On this stage, as per Kohlberg, the Christians would seek profit adopting either solution of the dilemma (Kohlberg 1984).
For instance, the persecuted may have had personal interest in following the rites and customs of Christianity, particularly that the God would have mercy upon them and grant them heaven afterwards. Thus, even if the crime was discovered, they would supposedly benefit after they died. On the other hand, being thrown to the lions could have served as a negative motivator. From that perspective, their choice was faulty because in case they refrained from practicing their religion, they would have been clean before the Emperor’s law and would most probably stay alive.
Kohlberg, L. (1984). Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I: The Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.