The United States Constitution, based on a socially agreed standard of individual rights, is an example of post-conventional morality. Those who function at this moral level believe that their views of right and wrong may not correspond with those of other societies.
The concept of moral development and its different levels were first laid out by the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg in the late 1950s and developed further during his lifetime.
According to Kohlberg, the concept of morality is not something imposed by adults on children, nor is it based only on the need to avoid mental stress like anxiety or guilt. Instead, he believed that people developed their own moral standards based on social relationships and emotions and progressed from one stage of moral reasoning to another.
Kohlberg divided these six stages into three separate levels.
1. The pre-conventional level Children at this level base their morals solely on their own needs and perceptions. The two stages in this level are:
- Stage 1: Obedience and punishment orientation
- Stage 2: Self-interest orientation
2. The conventional level Children, or adults, at this level take society's expectations and laws into consideration when making a decision about a moral dilemma. The two stages in this level are:
- Stage 3: Good boy - nice girl orientation
- Stage 4: Authority and social-order maintaining orientation
3. The post-conventional level Those at this level base their decisions on more abstract principles that may not be defined by their particular society's laws.
- Stage 5: Social contract orientation
- Stage 6: Universal ethical principle orientation