What were they thinking?

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I often wonder how people can make some of the decisions they make when the right moral decision seems so obvious. Lawrence Kohlberg attempts to answer this question by studying how people answer questions that do not have clear cut morally right or wrong answers. From his studies he came up with 3 levels of moral thinking, including preconventional, conventional, and postconventional morality. He believes that everyone passes through the three stages in the order listed, but at varying speeds, some never reaching the postconventional level. At the preconventional level, people decide that something is right if it will result in reward and wrong if it will result in punishment. The conventional level is when people think something is right if it's socially acceptable and wrong if not. At the last level, postconventional, people decide what's right or wrong based on internal moral principles. This gives a wide variety of ways that people might be making decisions. Then there's also the fact that we don't know what underlying reasons people are considering when making the decisions. An example given by Kohlberg is of a person stealing a jacket. From an outside view, this looks to most of us like someone who has poor moral judgement and just wants a new jacket. However, they could have a better reason for wanting to steal it. Maybe they're trying to keep their homeless family warm. It's a little harder to look down on their decision if this is the case.


Although Kohlberg's explanation may cover a wide range of bases, it doesn't account for everything, like emotional decision making. It seems easy to look at a scenario and say that you would react and feel a certain way, but being put in a situation may cause us to do things that we didn't think we would do because of how we feel emotionally. However, Kohlberg's theory still helps us to understand why people do the things that they do a little better. It's probably best to reserve judgement on other's actions since it's highly unlikely that we actually know what they are dealing with or considering when making their decisions.


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This blog bodes a great point: the fact that Kohlberg's theory helps to understand the deeper meaning of why some people to non-moral actions. Looking at someone doing something quite wrong socially and morally can be easy, but understanding why they are doing so goes into a whole other amplitude. If we do catch someone doing something wrong, it is our jobs of citizens to stop them or even asking them why? Maybe then they can tell us and we can help them out rather than making an irrational decision. It just goes to show that there is more than meets the eye.

I think Kohlberg's theory does a good job of describing why some people make the decisions that they do but not in all cases. Like you said there could be many other factors as to why people make the choices they do in certain situations. Some people have different sets of morals so they could be thinking in the postconventional perspective but their morals cause them to think about themselves and not what society may or may not accept.

Good post. I think Kohlberg's theory provides an adequate answer as to why people could act the way they do but is doesn't touch all the bases. Maybe personality or the environment people were raised in play a part but there are tons of factors to consider in each situation.

I also agree that there are other factors that influence the decisions a person makes. The first thought that came to mind was the fundamental attribution error, in which explain people's behaviors based on internal factors rather than their external situational factors. It's important to realize that a person's environment can influence his or her decisions.

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This page contains a single entry by blomm013 published on March 22, 2012 12:18 PM.

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