Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development


Incorporating Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development into the Justice System

Justice refers to moral correctness, equity, and fairness. However, from a legal perspective, it refers to fair treatment and reward according to established legal standards. It should be known that criminal justice has three facets that include ‘emphasize on procedures,’ law based on fault, and interpersonal adjudication. According to emphasize on procedures, which is the due process concept, liberalization does not exist. It means that liberals do not believe that there is any possibility of ever-achieving public good, justice, democracy, equality, as well as other ideals through prescriptive and legislative action (Rest & Clark & Brabeck, 1998). The law based on the fault is a liberal provision. It claims that people should never endure punishment or be disadvantaged except when they are at fault. Lastly, according to interpersonal adjudication, the law should focus on fault as well as emphasize on the procedure.

It is quite clear that s a distinct relation exists between criminal justice and the concept of justice based upon the various meanings that it has. This means that people will always interpret the law according to their own principles. Law enforcement officers should ensure that they always abide by the concept of justice. In addition, they should follow any of the three facets depending on the situation that exists, in order to be fair and avoid judging individuals before the culmination of investigations. They should follow the established laws and be as ethical as possible when they are enforcing justice. This will be possible through constantly administering justice and even attending training such as seminars, conferences, workshops, and online classes.

Lawrence Kohlberg made quite an impact when he answered a question by Socrates concerning a virtuous man. Kohlberg responded by saying that “the first virtue is justice, interpreted in a democratic way as equity or equal respect for all people” (1973). Furthermore, he endured myriad experiences in Palestine and Europe; hence, become troubled by a certain question. He wanted to find out “when is it permissible to be involved with violent means for supposedly just ends” (Kohlberg, 1973). He, therefore, came up with the six stages of moral development. It is possible to evaluate different types of criminals using the stages of moral development by Kohlberg. The first stage, which is ‘Punishment and Obedience Orientation’, deals with physical consequences regarding behavior that determine bad or good acts. It is present in young children whereas adults tend to ignore it; hence, they engage in crimes while being aware of the consequences. Serial killers would fall in this category because they do not seem to have any sort of feelings towards any of their victims, but arbitrarily continue to commit their atrocious crimes.

The fourth stage in Kohlberg’s moral development is ‘Society Maintaining Orientation’. It claims that there will always be an orientation towards fixed rules, authority, as well as social order maintenance (Boyd, 1988). Rogue police officers would fit well in this category because some of them tend to disobey the rules they are meant to safeguard. The society expects them to maintain order, but there are times they turn to crime and are thus no different from other criminals. Lastly, there is the stage of ‘Universal Ethical Principle Orientation’. It concerns universal principles of human rights equality and reciprocity, justice, as well as individual and human dignity. Such people realize their beliefs and values, thereby, want other members of society to follow suit. Vigilantes are criminals who fall in this stage, as they are groups of people who set out to commit crimes because they share similar beliefs and values.

It is possible to deter the vigilantes, rogue police and serial killers from committing more crimes. They should not be given an opportunity to continue causing harm to other innocent individuals. In this case, the serial killer should be incarcerated and then receive optional psychological help by a psychiatrist. The root cause as to why the serial killers commit such heinous acts should be known and the right medication and therapy should be given to them. Secondly, the rogue policeman should be guided and even receive training once again in order to establish why he/she joined the force. The other police officers should be accommodating to them and not victimize them in any way. Law enforcement agencies need to come up with tough laws that will make it hard for any officer to commit a crime. Lastly, society and law enforcement agencies need to come together to promote positive beliefs and values to be upheld by individuals (Boyd, 1988). Furthermore, people should be given an opportunity to air their grievances without any fear of being victimized. This will surely deter the vigilantes from imposing their beliefs and values on others with the intention of breaking the law. In conclusion, justice is a key principle in criminal justice; hence, law enforcers should be fully aware of it. Kohlberg’s six stages of moral development helped in explaining some of the reasons why people commit crimes and how they can be deterred. Therefore, universal ethical principles have to exist in order for justice to prevail.





Boyd, D. (1988). “Special Issue in Honor of Lawrence Kohlberg,” Journal of Moral Education, 17, 788.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. (1973). “The Claim to Moral Adequacy of a Highest Stage of Moral Judgment”. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 18, 630–646. |accessdate= requires |url= (help)

Rest, James. & Clark, Power. & Brabeck, Mary.  (1988). Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987)” American Psychologist, 5, 43, 399–400.



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