Preconventional Morality: Definition & Concept

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  • 0:00 Stages of Moral Development
  • 0:57 Preconventional Morality
  • 1:44 Phase 1: Obedience &…
  • 2:09 Phase 2: Self- Interest
  • 2:51 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.

According to the American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg, we all go through different stages of moral development. In this lesson, you'll learn about the concept of preconventional morality and then have the chance to test your understanding with a short quiz.

Stages of Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg was an American psychologist who lived in the 20th century. Because of his interest in how different age groups dealt with moral dilemmas, he wrote his PhD dissertation on the idea that humans go through a learning process to develop morality.

We define morality as the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. According to Kohlberg, there are three stages of moral development, each with two phases. These three stages are preconventional morality, conventional morality, and postconventional morality.

Kohlberg's hypothesis was that everyone needs to go through these phases in order to get to the higher stage of postconventional morality. Individuals at the highest stage really understand morality and consistently demonstrate moral behavior.

Preconventional Morality

The stages of moral development in Kohlberg's model can be loosely tied to different age groups. Because human beings learn from their social surroundings, they generally progress through these stages at roughly the same age. There are, of course, outliers.

As the first stage in moral development, preconventional morality is essentially the approach to right and wrong taken by children. Children often make moral decisions based on how it will impact them. When they make good decisions, or don't make bad decisions, it is less about principles or values and more about some sort of reinforcement they receive. In preconventional morality, the focus is on individual consequences in determining right and wrong. According to Kohlberg, there are two phases of preconventional morality.

Phase One - Obedience and Punishment

In phase one of preconventional morality, the morality of a decision is based completely on the direct consequences to the individual. When a child chooses not to hit someone on the playground because they know they will get in trouble, they are protecting themselves by not hitting someone else. Their decision has nothing to do with respect for others or self-discipline - it is simply a decision to avoid punishment.

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