Conventional Morality: Definition & Stages

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  • 0:10 Stages of Moral Development
  • 0:25 Conventional Morality
  • 1:20 Stage One: Conformity
  • 1:55 Stage Two: Social Order
  • 2:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and a PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Most adults hold moral principles that are generally based on compliance with social norms and a recognition that those social norms help preserve social order. To American psychiatrist Lawrence Kohlberg, this is called conventional morality.

Stages of Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg was an American psychiatrist in the 1950s who had an especially strong research interest in why people formed the moral beliefs that they did. After conducting his research, Kohlberg suggested that there are three phases of moral development and that each phase has two stages. The phases are pre-conventional morality, conventional morality, and post-conventional morality. According to Kohlberg, most adults effectively develop their moral beliefs to the conventional stage, but typically stop there.

Conventional Morality

After an individual progresses through the phases of pre-conventional morality, they begin understanding and complying with the social definition of morality. Conventional morality is the stage where most adolescents and adults frame their moral behavior.

While pre-conventional morality is completely focused on the self, conventional morality understands the importance of others and the basic principles of respect, fairness, and agency. Individuals understand that they are part of a larger society and that society has established values, norms, and beliefs that should dictate moral behavior. While conventional morality is focused on decision making based on good principles, there are two stages, distinguished by a subtle difference in perspective.

Conventional Morality Stage One: Conformity

Remember, each phase has two stages, so stage one of conventional morality is the third stage of Kohlberg's model, after the two stages of pre-conventional morality, which are outside the scope of this lesson.

Our stage one of conventional morality is based on conformity with social norms and expectations. Individuals in stage one understand there is a set of rules in society and that the right thing to do is respect those rules and act accordingly. They want to be moral because society has taught them that being moral is good, and to make that easier, society has defined what moral behaviors are most important.

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