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.