Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development are Balderdash

Reason” hardly matters. As I wrote before:

Rationality may be overrated. Lieberman, Schreiber, and Ochsner noted that “Because behavior is often driven by automatic mechanisms, self-reports of mental processes are notoriously unreliable and susceptible to many forms of contamination” (2003, 682)


Confusing morality with rationalization is insane.

For quite a while I’ve felt that Kohlberg’s stages of moral development are balderdash. The more I learn, the more skeptical i become. Kohlbergism is the bastard offspring of a rape of naive Piagetianism by blithering Vygotskianism.

Kohlberg claimed that morality, which he believed to be essentially the same thing as moral reasoning, proceeded through six stages that are in three levels.

First Level
First a focus on loss-aversion, and
Then a focus on income-maximization
Second Level
First a focus on conforming to norms, and
Then a focus on obeying the law
Third Level
First a focus on the Social Contract, and
Then a focus on Universal Principles

One way to attack Kohlberg is to argue him to absurdity by demonstrating situations where a higher “moral” stage of development leads to actions considered immoral. (That we even have to confuse normative ideals and substantive facts like this is demonstrates another Kohlbergian absurdity, but that would be a post for another time).

Considering that “First Level” descriptions are used only by socially naive participants (that is, small children), nearly all the human variation in “morality” is in the second and third level.

I have a strong intuition that if you measured “moral reasoning,” it would correlate with betrayal and selfish play in the ultimatum game.

I haven’t settled on a reason for that yet.

But does it matter?

Homeland Security Secretary Blasts International Law

Chertoff says U.S. threatened by international law,” Reuters, 17 November 2006, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N17445714.htm (from Democratic Underground).

Secretary Chertoff has joined Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts in attacking “international law”:

A top Bush administration official on Friday said the European Union, the United Nations and other international entities increasingly are using international law to challenge U.S. powers to reject treaties and protect itself from attack.

International law is being used as a rhetorical weapon against us,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a former federal appellate judge, said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative policy group.

Chertoff cited members of the European Parliament in particular as harboring an “increasingly activist, left-wing and even elitist philosophy of law” at odds with American practices and interests.

But he said the same pattern could be seen in the policies of the United Nations and other international bodies.

“What we see here is a vision of international law that if taken aggressively would literally strike at the heart of some of our basic fundamental principals — separation of powers, respect for the Senate’s ability to ratify treaties and … reject treaties,” Chertoff said.

While it’s bastard twin foreign law has been criticized by the Attorney General and Justice Scalia, it is good to see so-called “international law” attacked as well.

International Law and Foreign Law are both attempts by legalistic factions who cannot impose their will democratically, so they use legal-sounding words to try to get in through the back door. The world is better off without them.