Philosophy Dictionary of Arguments

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Author Item Summary Meta data
Slater I 167
Kohlberg/Morality/psychological theories: [An] important critique was offered by Shweder
(1991)(1) who criticized the model for focusing too narrowly on questions of justice and
failing to capture a range of moral concerns, such as divinity and community, that are highly salient in non-Western cultures. (ShwederVsKohlberg). (See also GilliganVsKohlberg: >Morality/Gilligan).
Kohlberg’s approach has been further criticized for its reliance on hypothetical situations. As Krebs and Denton (2005)(2) noted, real-life moral dilemmas tend to differ from Kohlberg’s dilemmas in a number of ways that can have implications for moral reasoning. (KrebsVsKohlberg, DentonVsKohlberg)
For example, when individuals are considering hypothetical dilemmas they are unlikely to consider the possibility of interacting with the targets of their judgments in the future. However, empirical evidence does not seem to support this criticism. For example, work by Walker and colleagues (Walker, 1989(3); Walker, de Vries, & Trevethan, 1987)(4) showed that hypothetical and self-generated moral dilemmas result in similar moral stage classifications for both children and adults. (WalkerVsKohlberg).
Slater I 168
ShwederVsKohlber/DentonVsKohlberg: Kohlberg’s model (…) emphasizes moral reasoning to the exclusion of moral behavior. Krebs and Denton (2005(2), p. 645) argued, “What people do is more practically important than what they say, and the study of what people do is better equipped to elucidate morality than the study of what they say.” They asserted that moral reasoning accounts for only a small proportion of the variance in moral behavior, and noted that correlations between moral behavior and performance on Kohlberg’s reasoning tasks tend to be around .3, and even lower after controlling for factors such as socio-economic status (see also Blasi, 1980(5)) and Gibbs, 2006(6), for a counter-argument).
Slater I 171
Xu et al. (2010)(7) found that (…) children who falsely claimed to like [a] gift were more likely to express a favorable view of lie telling in politeness situations. A study by Fu, Evans, Wang, and Lee (2008)(8) examined the relation between children’s reasoning about lying and their actual lie-telling behavior. The results of these studies indicate that children’s moral reasoning can have significant implications for their moral behavior when the reasoning and behavioral contexts are constructed in a highly parallel manner. The findings suggest that Kohlberg’s moral dilemmas may be indeed too abstract to offer useful insights into children’s moral understanding, moral behavior, and the linkage between the two (Krebs & Denton, 2005)(2).


1. Shweder, R. (1991). Thinking through cultures: Expeditions in cultural psychology. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
2 Krebs, D. L. & Denton, K. (2005). Toward a more pragmatic approach to morality: A critical evaluation of Kohlberg’s modeL Psychological Review, 112,629—649.
3. Walker, L. J. (1989). A longitudinal study of moral reasoning. Child Development, 60, 157—166.
4. Walker, L. J., de Vries, B., & Trevethan, S. D. (1987). Moral stages and moral orientations in real-life and hypothetical dilemmas. Child Development, 58, 842—858.
5. Blasi, A. (1980). Bridging moral cognition and moral action: A critical review of the literature. Psychological Bulletin, 88, 1-45.
6. Gibbs, J. C. (2006). Should Kohlberg’s cognitive developmental approach be replaced with a more pragmatic approach? Comment on Krebs and Denton. Psychological Review, 113, 666—671.
7. Xu, F., Bao, X., Fu, G., Taiwar, V, & Lee, K. (2010). Lying and truth-telling in children: From concept to action. Child Development, 81, 581—596.
8. Fu, G., Evans, A. D., Wang, L., & Lee, K. (2008). Lying in the name of the collective good: A developmental study. Developmental Science, 11, 495—503.


Gail D. Heyman and Kang Lee, “Moral Development. Revisiting Kohlberg’s Stages“, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Psychological Theories
Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2019-07-19
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