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Kohlberg’s theory of moral development strives to explain the psychological development of people. Kohlberg postulates that there are six stages of moral development. Each stage provides a more adequate response to the moral dilemma of the previous stage of development. According to Kohlberg, justice is the driver of the process of moral development. There are three levels of classifications of the six stages of moral development. These include pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. In stage one, people concentrate on how their actions would affect them directly. People avoid actions that would lead to punishments. In stage two, people focus on how their actions would benefit them. Reputations or relationships do not determine the behavior of people. Stages 1 and 2 are the pre-conventional level. In stage three, people strive to fulfill their social roles. Therefore, they try to live up to the expectations of society. In stage four, people strive to obey laws and social norms. Stages 3 and 4 are the conventional level of development. They are common in adolescents and adults (Shaffer, 2009). In stage five, people respect the rights, opinions, and values of other people. People strive to change laws that do not respect the rights, opinions, and values of society. In stage six, people expect laws to be just. Therefore, people do not respect unjust laws. Stages 5 and 6 are the post-conventional level. This level respects the autonomy of an individual (Oakley, 2004).
Moral dilemmas are significant features of the stages of moral development. During the first century, Emperor Nero persecuted anybody caught practicing Christianity. However, this did not deter people from practicing Christianity. Christianity continued to thrive. Stages 5 and 6 of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development may show the moral dilemma the early Christians faced. It may explain why most of the early Christians continued to practice Christianity, albeit secretly.
Stage Five (Human Rights)
Stage five of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development gives special emphasis on the autonomy of people in society. Therefore, it is vital for people to respect the views, opinions, and rights of other people (Panza & Potthast, 2010). Therefore, the early Christians should have continued to practice Christianity regardless of the persecution. The early Christians had the right to choose their desirable religion. No law should deny people this fundamental right. Therefore, the persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero was morally wrong. It contravenes the fundamental rights of the Christians. The right to choose a desirable religion is one of the fundamental rights. Therefore, the emperor should not take away this right. The right to life is also a fundamental right. Therefore, no law should deny Christians the right to life-based on their choice of religion.
Conversely, the early Christians should not have contravened the directive of the emperor. Practicing Christianity posed a threat to the rule of law. According to the emperor, having one religion was one of the major factors that would have increased his ability to rule the empire. Many religions would have made people do whatever their religion prescribed. Some of the ideals of the religions may have contravened the ideals of the empire. This would have ultimately reduced the ability of the empire to rule the empire. This may have plunged the empire into anarchy. The fall of the kingdom would have denied other people their fundamental rights. These include the right to live and own property.
Stage Six (Universal Human Ethics)
Stage six of moral development respects the justice of laws. At this stage, people respect just laws. However, they are under no obligation to respect laws that they deem as unjust (Gibbs, 2003). Therefore, the early Christians should have continued to practice Christianity. Practicing Christianity conforms to the universal human need of seeking nourishment of the soul. Therefore, regardless of the fact that this may have led to their persecution, they should have continued practicing Christianity. Christianity would have enabled them to overcome these persecutions. Bodily harm on the Christians is not comparable to the nourishment of the soul that they would have derived from practicing Christianity. In addition, practicing Christianity would have enabled them to adhere to the ideals of Christianity. Adherence to the ideals of the society would have enriched the society.
Conversely, the early Christians should not have continued to practice Christianity. Proper development of children require the existence of supportive parents. In addition, every individual needs a partner. Practicing Christianity was against the rules of the empire. Therefore, it would have led to persecution, which might have led to the death of the Christians. This would rob off their dependents people who were vital in their life. Persecution would have denied the dependents of the Christians a parent, spouse, or guardian. Therefore, it was wrong for the early Christians to continue undertaking activities that would have jeopardized the rights of their dependents.
Kohlberg’s stages of development strive to explain the psychological development of people. They may explain why people undertake certain activities at a specific stage of their development. In addition, they may explain the moral dilemma of people at various stages of their life.
Gibbs, J.C. (2003). Moral development and reality: Beyond the theories of Kohlberg and Hoffman. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Oakley, L. (2004). Cognitive development. London: Routledge.
Panza, C. & Potthast, A. (2010). Ethics for dummies. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Shaffer, D. (2009). Social and personality development. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.