Ready to pursue his education, Kohlberg enrolled at the University of Chicago. His scores on the admissions tests were so high that he was excused from most of the required courses and earned his bachelor's degree in one year, 1948. He began study for his doctorate degree, which he earned at Chicago in 1958. Kohlberg's career started at Yale University, as an assistant professor of psychology, 1956-1961. In 1955, he married Lucille Stigberg, and the couple had two sons, David and Steven. Kohlberg spent a year at the Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Science, 1961-1962, and then joined the staff of the University of Chicago as assistant, then associate professor of psychology and human development, 1962-1967. He spent the next ten years at Harvard University, as a professor of education and social psychology.
Stages of Moral Development
Main article: Kohlberg's stages of moral development
In his 1958 dissertation, Kohlberg wrote what are now known as Kohlberg's stages of moral development. These stages are planes of moral adequacy conceived to explain the development of moral reasoning. Created while studying psychology at the University of Chicago, the theory was inspired by the work of Jean Piaget and a fascination with children's reactions to moral dilemmas. Kohlberg proposed a form of “Socratic” moral education and reaffirmed Dewey’s idea that development should be the aim of education. He also outlined how educators can influence moral development without indoctrination and how public school can be engaged in moral education consistent with the Constitution.
His theory holds that moral reasoning,which is the basis for ethical behavior, has six identifiable developmental constructive stages - each more adequate at responding to moral dilemmas than the last. Lawrence Kohlberg suggested that the higher stages of moral development provide the person with greater capacities/abilities in terms of decision making and so these stages allow people to handle more complex dilemmas. In studying these, Kohlberg followed the development of moral judgment that is far beyond the ages originally studied earlier by Piaget, who also claimed that logic and morality develop through constructive stages. Expanding considerably upon this groundwork, it was determined that the process of moral development was principally concerned with justice and that its development continued throughout the life span, even spawning dialogue of philosophical implications of such research.
Kohlberg studied moral reasoning by presenting subjects with moral dilemmas. He would then categorize and classify the reasoning used in the responses, into one of six distinct stages, grouped into three levels: pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. Each level contains two stages. These stages heavily influenced others and have been utilized by others like James Rest in making the Defining Issues Test in 1979.
Some of Kohlberg's publications include Consensus and Controversy, The Meaning and Measurement of Moral Development, Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education and Child Psychology and Childhood Education: A Cognitive Developmental View.
Kohlberg contracted a tropical parasite in 1971 while doing cross-cultural work in Belize. As a result, he struggled with depression and physical pain for the rest of his life. On January 19, 1987, he requested a day of leave from the Massachusetts hospital where he was being treated, and committed suicide by drowning.