Envious (Machiavelian!?) Mediocrity

There are mediocre people all around us. But the thing is, that some of them actually turn their mediocrity into a kind of weapon, and are able to actually advance much ahead in life. They achieve this by various means and modes.

The idea is that you make up for your mediocrity in the field of work by using other skills that you have. For example, if you are mediocre at coding, then you make sure that you don’t get the work that you may not be able to handle. In case you do, you beg-burrow-steal from your peers to help in that and present it with a face that is calm and take the credit. This happens more often than you think.

Mediocrity is like a viral disease. Once a mediocre is firmly established, it is difficult to remove. Mediocrity attracts mediocrity. Mediocre’s find company between mediocre’s.

The problem comes when mediocre people reach positions of power. They become insecure about their position and work. Time and experience teach them to climb on the top, slowly but steadily, mostly without working what they are meant to. But it doesn’t mean that they don’t work. They do, diligently work their way up. They use devious ways to butter up the seniors, licking them in all ways possible. (pun intended) So you will find such people always close to people with power. They are like fruit flies (no offence to Drosophila) whenever there is a person of power, they will be around. They are obsequious: obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree. They will make sure that the powerful ones are looked after, their needs are taken care of. They will enquire socially and keep track of who and where their family members are. This is kept in the long term memory; next meeting they will know everything about the powerful person. Their likes and dislikes, how their children are faring. This takes great dedication and effort to do it. It is almost a fulltime job. I know a few people who will dedicate their working hours to do this. It is no surprise they such sycophantic people are well connected. They will know all the important people and who’s who in the field, and more importantly, these people will also know them, even if fleetingly. And they know how to make use of these connections. Someone needs some help, they will know whom to contact. Mind you this might not be strictly related to their field.

I mean I won’t do it perhaps (strictly metaphorically) even if my life depended on doing it. When someone like me, who doesn’t like this see it – cringe level 10,000. They are toadyish: attempting to win favour from influential people by flattery  Every time I see this happening I cannot help myself to feel disgusted, I want to take that slimy person and give them a mouthful, and perhaps a handful too. Sometimes, such people are merrily talking to you in a social event. Suddenly, someone with a huge position comes in sight and poof the sycophant vanishes and behave in a way as if they don’t know you.

Most people are prone to flattery. I mean, each one will have a different thing to be flattered about, but they know what is to be done. A sycophant will get there. They are fawning: try to gain favour by cringing or flattering. It is human nature to feel good if someone does good things for you, says good things to you. And it is exactly this nature is what is exploited.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”  – Wilde

The sycophant will imitate the powerful person: in the way they dress, in the way they talk and in the way they behave. The sycophant will pick up the vocabulary to raise themselves to the level of the powerful. Though they may not understand it, they will use it. Over time it becomes a habit to them to utter such words. A new person who is not aware of these will assume that the sycophant is knowledgeable. 

Continuing in this manner, before you know, they are already the aides-de-camp for the powerful. They will keep them updated about every little thing that happens to them and around them. It is as if they have a mandate for doing this. By calling on powerful people on a daily basis, they become the eyes and ears of the powerful people. What will you do when you are day in and day out harangued by a slimy person. Eventually, perhaps you will start to feel pity for them. The powerful people listen to them every day and eventually become influenced by them. When this starts to happen, their bigger game unfolds. Such is the tact of the obsequious person.

ENVY – Emulation adapted to the meanest capacity.

The bigger game is to dislodge any competition that they might get for the actual work they are supposed to do. For this, anyone who is deemed to be a threat is categorically targetted. The threat here can be defined as anyone who will perform better than or is better than the sycophant. And this is what the title of the post is about. Envy sets in. They cannot outdo the threat in a traditional manner, but they are envious nonetheless.  To overcome this they will use all their wits and dirty tricks to outsmart the threat. They will over time, with opportune moments make the threat disesteemed in the opinion of the powerful person. They will create communication gaps, which are filled by maliciously spread gossip which is detrimental to the threat. They will accuse, complain, whine, cavil, bitch, nitpick about the threat and their work. Slowly but surely they gain control. Such is the control that they will slowly, but surely turn opinion about the threat towards being low value or even worse nuisance. And the targetted person is in the bad books. This is especially hurtful if the targetted person is not outspoken or introvert. In the next level, the sycophant is not only eyes and ears but also becomes (Wo)Man Friday. They will become executioners also.  Their proximity earns them the favour of positions with a lot of power and lesser work at the same time. They become managers in a sense. They manage the affairs of the powerful. 

When a team is to be hired sycophants will never ever take people who are better than them. They will hire people who are mirror images of them. Perhaps this is the reason that great institution builders are people who get good people in the institute and are not insecure about their position and work.

I am surprised that I am surprised even after all these years I cannot let the cringe go away. After all these years, with so many experiences of sycophantic behaviour, I should come to terms with it. But I can’t, perhaps I never will. 

Edit: Sometime back I received the following couplets which reflect very well the emotions that I had while writing this post. Was going to add these couplets in the original post, but somehow forgot. Here they are

तरक़्क़ी  की फ़सल, हम भी काट लेते,
थोड़े से तलवे, अगर हम भी चाट लेते…

बस मेरे लिहाज़ में जी हुज़ूर न था,
इसके अलावा, मेरा कोई क़सूर न था,

अगर पल भर को भी, मैं बे-ज़मीर हो जाता,
यक़ीन मानिए, मैं कब का आमिर हो जाता…

Don’t know the author, any information on the poet would be appreciated.

On Virtue

Virtue is entirely without character. There are not two races of men on the surface of the earth who are virtuous in the same way. Therefore virtue is not real and has no intrinsic good. It does not deserve our respect. It must be used as a support, and one must adopt in a politic way the virtue of the country where one lives, so that those who practise virtue out of taste, or who are obliged to do so because of their social position, will leave you in peace. Also, the virtue which is respected where you live can protect you by the preponderance or its convention from all attacks of those who practise vice. But once again, all this is, a matter of circumstance and nothing of this can endow virtue with any real merit. Also, some type of virtue are impossible for certain men. Therefore, how can you persuade me that virtue, which opposes or contradicts the passions can be any part of nature?

–  Justine – Marquis De Sade

Plagiarism Vs. Copyright

It is in the interest of the publishers to confuse plagiarism with copyright. And many people wouldn’t know the difference. So here is a difference between the two:

First, plagiarism is a violation of academic norms but not illegal; copyright violation is illegal, but in truth pretty ubiquitous in academia. (Where did you get that PDF?)

Second, plagiarism is an offence against the author, while copyright violation is an offence against the copyright holder. In traditional academic publishing, they are usually not the same person, due to the ubiquity of copyright transfer agreements (CTAs).

Third, plagiarism applies when ideas are copied, whereas copyright violation occurs only when a specific fixed expression (e.g. sequence of words) is copied.

Fourth, avoiding plagiarism is about properly apportioning intellectual credit, whereas copyright is about maintaining revenue streams.

via Plagiarism is nothing to do with copyright

This would also relate to an earlier post, in making the difference between wrong and illegal. It can be exemplified in this case also.

Suppose for her research person A need a particular research article and she or her institution do not have access to it. What does A do?
She asks her friends in other institutes if they have access to this article. That means that the institute they are working in have subscription to the journal in which this article was published. Among her friends person B has access to the article. Suppose she sends A an electronic copy of the article. A is happy, that she got the article. B is also happy, that he could be of help to A. But strictly speaking this is illegal. In the fine print all the publisher website have Terms and Conditions which we have to agree to (without reading them most of the times and they are written in legalese). These terms and conditions prevent us from sharing these articles from anyone else who might not have access to. For example for JSTOR the terms and conditions are listed here. If you read these finely what emerges is the way in which the publishers control the flow of information. For example it says:

Institutional Licensees shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that access to the Licensed 
Content is limited to Authorized Users and to protect the Licensed Content from unpermitted use.

This clause essentially makes what happened between A and B illegal and just for sharing this article they might terminate the B’s institutional access to JSTOR. Now we can ask this question that whether the gesture on B’s part to help A was wrong and illegal both? As per definition by JSTOR this is clearly a violation of copyright. But what is the status of A’s research which emerges from this article given by B. Is it illegal? Can it be called as plagiarised (A gives proper citation of course)?  

If you apply Kolhberg’s theory of moral development, the person who has the most developed morality will perhaps help the other without bothering about the copyright!



Public decency and morality

This is what Supreme Court of India had to say when petition was filed to lift a ban in 1964 on Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence:

It is convenient to set out s. 292 of the Indian Penal Code at this stage:

“292. Sale of obscene books etc. : Whoever- (a) sells, lets to hire, distributes, publicly exhibits or in any manner puts into circulation, or for purposes of sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition or circulation, makes, produces or has in his possession any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, drawing, painting, representation or figure or any other obscene object whatsoever, or

(b) imports, exports or conveys any obscene object for any of the purposes aforesaid, or knowing or having reason to believe that such object will be sold, let to hire, distributed or publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(c) takes part in or receives profits from any business in the course of which he knows or has reason to believe that any such obscene objects are, for any of the purposes aforesaid, made, produced, purchased, kept, imported, exported, conveyed, publicly exhibited or in any manner put into circulation, or

(d) advertises or makes known by any means whatsoever that any person is engaged or is ready to engage in any act which is an offence under this section, or that any such obscene object can be procured from or through any person, or

(e) offers or attempts to do any act which is an offence -under this section,

19(1) All citizens shall have the right-

(a) to freedom of speech and expression; (2) Nothing -in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of public order, decency or morality”

No doubt this article guarantees complete freedom of speech and expression but it also makes an exception in favour of existing laws which impose restrictions on the exercise of the right in the interests of public decency or morality.

Condemnation of obscenity depends as much upon the mores of the people as upon the individual. It is always a question of degree or as the lawyers are accustomed to say, of where the line is to be drawn. It is, however, clear that obscenity by itself has extremely “poor value in the-propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit.” When there is propagation of ideas, opinions and informations of public interest or profit, the approach to the problem may become different because then the interest of society may tilt the scales in favour of free speech and expression. It is thus that books on medical science with intimate illustrations and photographs, though in a sense immodest, are not considered to be obscene but the same illustrations and photographs collected in book form without the medical text would certainly be considered to be obscene.

“I think the test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deperave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall. . . . . it is quite certain that it would suggest to the minds of the young of either sex, or even to persons of more advanced years, thoughts of a most impure and libidinous character.”

He wants us to say that a book is not necessarily obscene because there is a word here or a word there, or a passage here and a passage there which may be offensive to particularly sensitive persons. He says that the overall effect of the book should be the test and secondly, that the book should only be condemned if it has no redeeming merit at all, for then it is “dirt for dirt’s sake”, or as Mr. Justice Frankfurter put it in his inimitable way “dirt for money’s sake.

We need not attempt to bowdlerize all literature and thus rob speech and expression of freedom. A balance should be maintained between freedom of speech and expression and public decency and morality but when the latter is substantially transgressed the former must give way.

The taboo on sex in art and literature which was more strict thirty-five years ago, seemed to him to corrode domestic and social life and his definite view was that a candid discussion of sex through art was the only catharsis for purifying and relieving the congested emotion is.

“The law seeks to protect not those who protect themselves, but those whose prurient minds take delight and sexual pleasures from erotic writings.”

via | Ranjit D. Udeshi vs State Of Maharashtra on 19 August, 1964

The word “obscene” in the section is not limited to writings, pictures etc. intended to arouse sexual desire. At the same time the mere treating with sex and nudity in art and literature is not per se evidence of obscenity.

Exception. – This section does not extend to any book, pamphlet, writing, drawing or painting kept or used bona fide for religious purposes or any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in any temple, or on any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.”

This was I think long back, but the views have not changed ever since the. The idea that somethings are bad for everyone is something which all cultures adhere to, and it is very hard for people, especially people in power to let this notion go. This is another way of controlling people. This is what is common to fundamentalism and democracy. The notion that our past was a golden one, and anything new will harm it and jeopardize the future of the culture. From what I feel is that there was no golden past, it just was.

And thinking about morality, though they say that there are some universal principles, everyone does not subscribe to same ones. In his theory Kohlberg, outlines these differences. But that said, he does not talk about obscenity, which I think it is highly cultural. For example a burqa clad woman is a common picture in certain Islamic communities, or a woman with ghunghat is all but common in certain Hindu communities, but at the same time some people might be find it too restrictive. And a woman in short skirt might be a common scene in the urban areas in certain countries, but it might be a great taboo for some others. There are no universal standards for what counts as moral or decent.



Love, personal qualities and infection

She said: “It seems to me that everyone has a quality that can get  the better of love. Is stronger, you see. Like pride. Or honesty. Or moral – even intellectual, even emotional – integrity. Take two people in love. The only thing that can really upset things is this personal quality in one of them. Other people don’t come into it at all. Except in a roundabout way – as intruments of jealousy, for instance. Don’t you agree?”

I wasn’t sure about anything, but I said yes.

“Another thing about love,” the girl with ringlets said, “is its extraordinary infection. Has it ever occured to you that when you’re in love with someone you’re really wanting to be loved yourself? Because that, of course is the natural law. I mean, it would be odd if every time one person loved another person the first person wasn’t loved in return. There’s only a very tiny percentage of that kind of thing.”
The Day We Got Drunk Over Cake |William Trevor

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Moral Development

In this article the Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development is discussed. Kohlberg’s theory is a direct continuation of the Piaget’s work on the same issues. Kohlberg’s methodology, and why he considers structure more important than content are discussed. The key aspects of the typical reasoning in the moral judgments of each level are discussed. The developmental issues and the criticisms of the theory are presented in the later sections. Also the various aspects of morality being context, culture and time dependent are discussed.

The very word ‘moral’ colloquially means of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior. Moral behavior as understood in a everyday notion, relates to the behavior of an individual which is acceptable in the contemporary society. One thing is for sure that the moral development is not innate, it comes through our own thinking about the moral problems, with inputs from the interactions that we have with the society. There are three major components of morality, viz. the emotional component, cognitive component, behavioral component. The emotional component reflects the fact that we can relate to the harm that we cause to other person. The cognitive component emphasizes the fact that
thinking about the social understanding helps us to make more elaborate judgment’s about actions. Finally the behavioral component relates to the fact that exposure to morally relevant thoughts and feelings can only increase the chances that we will act accordingly but does not guarantee the same.

The biological and the psychoanalytic theories focus on emotional aspect of the morality, cognitive developmental theories on the moral thought, whereas the social learning theory has focused on the behavioral aspects. These theories disagree with what is the primary cause, but the trend that is seen
in the moral development is that a person starts from “externally controlled responses” and goes on to “behavior that is based on inner standards.” In the following sections we mainly consider the theories of moral development of Piaget and Kohlberg which elaborate the cognitive developmental aspect of
 Piaget’s Theory of Moral Development 

From this perspective the maturity in cognition and social experience lead to the development in the moral understanding of the child as a whole. Piaget’s work on the aspect of the moral development in children is the pioneering work in the cognitive development aspect of morality. For studying the
children’s ideas about morality Piaget depended upon open ended clinical interviews. By clinical interviews it is meant that a child is asked some questions and probed futher in the reasoning behind a particular response given. Piaget in particular asked about the rules in game of marbles. The children were also given stories in which the character’s intentions [ either wrong or right ] and the consequences of such a action were varied. The best kno twn such example is that of John and Henry. In these stories each of the boy breaks different number of cups, one with ‘wrong’ intention and other with no intention. The children are asked the question that which one of them is naughtier and why. The two
stories are like this [1]:

Story A: A little boy who is called John is in his room. He is called to dinner. He goes into the dining room. But behind the door there was a chair, and on the chair there was a tray with fifteen cups on it. John couldn’t have known that there was all this behind the door. He goes in, the door knocks against the tray, bang go the fifteen cups and they all get broken!

Story B: Once there was a little boy whose name was Henry. One day when his mother was out he tried to get some jam out of the cupboard. He climbed up on to a chair and stretched out his arm. But the jam was too high up and he couldn’t reach it and have any. But while he was trying to get it he knocked over a cup. The cup fell down and broke.
The responses that Piaget got from children between ages 5 and 13 he could identify two general stages of the moral understanding viz. heteronomous and autonomous morality.
 Heteronomous Morality [ ∼ 5 – 10 years]
Before the beginning of this stage the children show little understanding that rules govern the social behavior. At about 5 years of age the children enter the period of heteronomous morality and begin to show concern for the rules. The word heteronomous means under the authority of other, the children view the rules as handed down by the authorities. The rules are unvarying and require strict obedience. The factors that limit the child’s understanding according to Piaget are:
1. The unquestioned respect for rules and those enforce them.
2. Egocentrism.

As young children think that view of all the people about the rules are same, their moral understanding is characterized by realism, which means that they regard the rules as “external features of reality, rather than as subjective, internal principles that can be modified at will.” The presence of realism and egocentrism leads to young children focussing on the objective consequences rather than the intent. In the stories about John and Henry, John is considered more naughty because he broke more cups, even if he did not wrong intent in doing so. Another thing that the children having heteronomous morality believe in is the concept of immanent justice i.e. they believe that wrong doing always leads to punishment. The punishment thus received is inescapable and can be through a variety of events.

Autonomous Morality [ ∼ 10 years and above]
The autonomous morality is the next stage in Piaget’s theory of moral development. Through the interactions with peers children become aware that people have different views than their own. They realize that intentions are more important than the objective consequences in moral judgments. Thus
in the two stories mentioned, they do not consider John as naughty, even if he broke more cups because he simply did not intend to do so. On the other hand Henry is considered naughty as he has intent to steal the jam, even in the process he broke less cups. The conflicts with peers are settled in mutually beneficial ways. The concept of reciprocity is developed in children. By reciprocity it is meant that, “they express the same concern for the welfare of  others as they do for themselves.” The most familiar expression of reciprocity is the Golden Rule:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Reciprocity is the main driving force in the understanding of children in autonomous morality. Children realize that, “rules are flexible, socially agreed on principles that can be revised to suit the will of the majority.” The children can question the logic of the rules and just do not blindly follow them, they can realize that at times there may be good reasons to break a rule. Punishment are also seen in the light of principle of reciprocity. The punishment should be meted in an even-handed way to everyone responsible for the offense, thus guaranteeing justice for all.

Evaluation of Piaget’s Theory
Piaget’s two stage theory gives a general account of the development of the moral understanding in children. The essential aspects of the theory relate with Piaget’s view that child’s development in general goes through a stagewise manner dependent on the age. The followup studies indicate the conclusions of Piaget that “moral understanding is supported by cognitive maturity, release from adult authority, and peer interaction. We now consider some aspects of this theory that have been questioned.

Intentions and Moral Judgments

Considering the stories of John and Henry, they present a biased view of child’s reasoning as more damage is coupled with good intentions and vice versa. If the same scenario is presented on the same grounds of damage, even the younger children can judge the ill intentioned person as naughtier. Also by the age of 4 years children are able to recognize the difference between lying and truthfulness, two morally relevant intentional behaviors. Thus the capacity to consider intentions appears in children much earlier than Piaget believed a deeper understanding does not arise till they reach autonomous morality.
Reasoning About Authority

Piaget assumed that heteronomous children assume the authority of adults with unquestioned respect, but studies have revealed the contrary. The preschoolers judge stealing, hitting as wrong regardless of the opinions of authority. Also peers can be regarded as authorities, e.g. a class captain. Thus “young children’s concepts of authority do not focus solely on status and power.” Contrary to
this many factors are responsible at an earlier age than assumed by Piaget, these factors include, “the attributes of the individual, the type of behavior to be controlled, and the context in which it occurs.

Stagewise Progression

Another aspect of Piaget’s theory is that characterstics associated with each stage do not correlate very highly, as would be expected if each stage represented a “general unifying organization of moral
judgments.” Thus child’s moral thought appears as “patchwork of diverse parts.” But to this Piaget recommended that, “the two moralities be viewed as fluid, overlapping ‘phases’ rather than as tightly knit stages.” Also studies indicate that the moral development goes beyond the two stages of Piaget. Kohlberg’s work presented in the later sections is a direct continuation of the Piaget’s work on moral development.

 Kohlberg’s Extension of Piaget’s Theory

Lawrence Kohlberg [1927 – 1987] following Piaget’s work on the aspect of moral development in children began on similar lines the search for stages of moral development and study of how moral understanding is intimately tied to the cognitive growth. The methodology that Kohlberg adopted for the study of moral was same of Piaget viz. the clinical interviews, but instead of asking children to
judge the naughtiness of a character of a story Kohlberg presented children with moral dilemmas. A moral dilemma is “a conflict situation presented to subjects, who are asked to decide both what the main actor should do and why.” In a moral dilemma two moral values are pitched against each other. The conflict in the mind of sub ject with regard to these two moral values, and its subsequent
resolution serves as an index of the moral development. This enables the experimenter to get a better picture of the reasoning behind the moral decisions. The best known moral dilemma is the the ‘Heinz dilemma,’ in which the subject is presented with conflict between two moral values viz. obeying the law [not stealing] and value of human life [saving a dying person] [2]:

Heinz Steals The Drug
In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make.
He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $ 1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said: “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So Heinz got desperate and broke into the man’s store to steal the drug-for his wife. Should the husband
have done that?

In the response received from the sub jects [72 boys of ages 10, 13 and 16 in the core sample] to the moral dilemma presented above Kohlberg was more interested in the structure than the content of the response. So just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response to the question presented above will not provide us with the reasoning behind this moral judgment. In fact for the first four stages that Kohlberg identified, both the responses are found with different reasoning at each stage. To find out this reasoning the ‘why’ questions are asked and the sub ject is further probed with other related dilemmas. Based on the different response he got from the children Kohlberg was able to classify them into various stages.
Kolhberg was able to identify three general levels and six stages in all for the moral development in children.

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Level I Preconventional Morality
At this level the morality of the person is externally controlled and can be identified with the main features of the Piaget’s heteronomous stage. The children accept the rules of the authority and the actions are judged by the consequences and not the intent. The moral understanding is based on
rewards and punishments.

Stage 1 Obedience and Punishment Orientation
This stage is similar to Piaget’s heteronomous stage of moral thought. The child regards the rules as fixed, handed down by adults which must be obeyed at all costs. The child is unable to take two points of view for the moral dilemma.
The typical pro-stealing and anti-stealing responses are as follows [Taken verbatim from [1]]:
Pro-Stealing: “If you let your wife die, you will get in trouble. You’ll be blamed for not spending money to help her, and there’ll be an investigation of you and the druggist for your wife’s death.”

Anti-Stealing: “You shouldn’t steal the drug because you’ll be caught and send to jail if you do. If you do get away, your conscience would bother you thinking how the police will catch up with you any minute.”

Stage 2 Individualism and Exchange
At this stage the children become aware that different people have different perspectives in a moral dilemma, but this awareness is very concrete. The right action is considered that satisfies ones personal needs. Reciprocity is considered as equal exchange of favors. The typical pro-stealing and anti-stealing responses are as follows:
Pro-Stealing: “The druggist can do what he wants and Heinz can do what he wants to do . . . But if Heinz decides to risk jail to save his wife, it’s his life he’s risking; he can do what he wants with it. And the same goes for the druggist; it’s up to him to decide what he want to do.”

Anti-Stealing: “[Heinz] is running more risk than it’s worth unless he’s so crazy about her he can’t live without her. Neither of them will enjoy life if she’s an invalid.”

Both the stages in the first level talk about punishment, but the perception in each stage is different. Whereas in the first stage punishment is linked with [proves] wrongness of disobedience, in the second stage on the other hand punishment is regarded as “simply a risk that one naturally wants to avoids.”
The stage 2 children are considered to reason at the preconventional level as they think “as isolated individuals rather than as members of society.” Also “they see individuals exchanging favors, but there is still no identification with the values of the family or community.”
Level II Conventional Morality

In this level as the name suggests the individuals continue to regard the conformity to social rules as important, but the reason not being self-interest but rather maintaining the “positive human relationships and the societal order.”

Stage 3 Good Interpersonal Relationships
The desire to obey rules in stage 3 is in the context of close inter-personal feelings such as love, trust and concern for others. The main belief is that “people should live up to the expectations of the family and community and behave in ‘good’ ways.” The stage 3 person has a capacity“ to view
a two-person relationship from the vantage point of an impartial, outside observer,” which supports this new approach to morality. The motives are considered to be important than the consequences. As in Piaget’s two stages similarly in Kohlberg’s stages, “there is a shift from unquestioning obedience
to a relativistic outlook and to a concern for good motives. For Kohlberg, however, these shifts occur in three stages rather than two.”
The typical pro-stealing and anti-stealing responses are as follows:
Pro-Stealing: “No one will think you’re bad if you steal the drug, but your family will think you’re an inhuman husband if you don’t. If you let you wife die, you’ll be never be able to look anyone in the face again.”
Anti-Stealing: “It isn’t just the druggist who will think you’re a criminal, everyone else will too. After you steal it, you’ll feel bad thinking how you brought dishonor on your family and yourself; you won’t be able to face anyone again.”
Stage 4 Maintaining the Social Order

In stage 4 person has a intent for the benefit of the society as a whole. The moral judgment and behavior is in the context of maintaining social order and no longer depend on the close ties to others. As the stage 4, “subjects take the moral decisions from the perspective of society as a whole, they think from a full-fledged member-of-society perspective.” The typical pro-stealing and anti-stealing responses are as follows:
Pro-Stealing: “He should steal it. Heinz has a duty to protect his wife’s life; it’s a vow he took in marriage. But it’s wrong to steal, so he would have to take the drug with the idea of paying the druggist for it and accept the penalty for breaking the law later.”

Anti-Stealing: “It’s a natural thing for Heinz to want to save his wife, but it’s still always wrong to steal. You have to follow the rules regardless of how you feel or regardless of the special circumstances. Even if his wife is dying, it’s still his duty as a citizen to obey the law. No one else is allowed to steal, why should he be? If everyone starts breaking the law in a jam, there’d be no civilization, just crime and violence.”

It might at the first glance seem that stage 1 and stage 4 sub jects are giving the similar responses, but the reasoning that the stage 4 is quite elaborative. Stage 1 children cannot elaborate the reasons, except that stealing will lead to jail, stage 4 respondents, on the other hand have a broader conception of the function of societal laws as a whole, which exceeds the capacity of the stage 1 child.
Level III Postconventional Morality

Individuals in this level move beyond the unquestioning support for the rules and the laws of their own society, hence the name. The morality for such individuals is “in terms of abstract principles and values that apply to all situations and societies.” The individuals in this level of moral reasoning with
a pro-stealing answer to the Heinz dilemma, the reasoning being of course different from the previous levels.

Stage 5 Social Contract and Individual Rights

The stage 5 individuals consider the rules as “flexible instruments for furthering human purposes.” They can argue for a change in the societal laws [considered to be unchangeable by the previous stages] when a good enough reason is pressent. At stage 5, people begin to ask, “What makes for a good society?” They begin to think about “rights and values that a society ought to uphold,” and
then see the society from these perspectives.
The typical pro-stealing response is as follows:

Pro-Stealing: “Although there is a law against stealing, the law wasn’t meant to violate a person’s right to life. Taking the drug does violate the law, but Heinz is justified in stealing in this instance. If Heinz is prosecuted in stealing, the law needs to be reinterpreted to take into account situations in which it goes against people’s natural right to keep on living.”

The stage 5 people regard society is “best conceived as a social contract into which people freely enter to work toward the benefit of all.” Even with some differences in the society the stage 5 people believe that rational people in the society would agree on some basic points. “First they would all want certain basic rights, such as liberty and life, to be protected, and second they would want some democratic procedures for changing unfair law and for improving society.

Stage 6 Universal Principles
The stage 5 respondents are strong believers in the democratic process. But during a democratic process he outcomes are not always just for the minority group. Hence Kohlberg believed “that there must be a higher stage–stage 6–which defines the principles by which we achieve justice.” At this highest stage the right action is defined by the self-chosen ethical principles which are valid for the humanity as a whole regardless of societal laws. Most of the social reformers and the moral leaders will fall in the stage 6. The claims of all individuals need to be looked at in an impartial manner respecting basic dignity of all people.
The typical pro-stealing response is as follows:

Pro-Stealing: “If Heinz does not do everything he can to save his wife, then he is putting some value higher that the value of life. It doesn’t make sense to put respect for property above the respect for life itself. [People] could live together without private property at all. Respect for human life and personality is absolute and accordingly [people] have a mutual duty to save one another from dying.”
The stage 6 is called as a theoretical stage as not many individuals are consistently able to respond at this stage. The fact that the moral dilemma presented is not very convincingly able to distinguish between stage 5 and 6 makes this more clear. One issue that can tell the difference between stage 5
from stage 6 is of civil disobedience. Stage 5 believe more in the democratic process so will be less willing to go in for a civil disobedience. The violation of the law is justified only when a right is at stake. In stage 6, in contrast, “a commitment to justice makes the rationale for civil disobedience
stronger and broader.”
 Theoretical Issues

In this section we briefly consider the main theoretical issues regarding the theory. They include the developmental aspects of the theory, the Piagetian stage concept in the context of Kohlberg’s theory.

How Development Occurs

Kohlberg’s views are strongly influenced by the Piagetian framework of child development. The stages of moral development are not seen as a product of maturation i.e. there is no “genetic blueprint” for the stages to occur. The socializing agents do not directly teach new forms of thinking. The stages
that are externally seen are a manifestation of one’s own thinking about moral problems.

Social experiences promote the development of moral thinking, by stimulating our mental processes. When we discuss with others, our view are challenged due to which we are force to think about ‘better’ positions that we can take. The stages of moral development reflect these broader viewpoints. Thus our interactions with the society and our own thought process combined gives us the ability to advance from one stage to the next.

The Stage Concept

As already mentioned Kohlberg being a close follower of Piaget, has taken the stage concept of Piagetian framework criteria very seriously. The following aspects of his theory are shown to be related to the Piagetian framework.

Qualitative Differences

The qualitative differences in the different stages is evident from the different response that is given by the individuals in different stages. Quantitatively the stages do not seem to have much differences.

Structured Wholes

The stages are not just isolated responses present given by the individual, but are a more general patterns of response that are found across many domains. Thus the stages are structured wholes in the sense that they truly depict the whole moral development of the individual which is valid across domains.
Invariant Sequence
The stages according to Kohlberg form an invariant sequence. The stages are skipped or moved in a random order. Mostly the cross-sectional data in which children of various age group were interviewed supports this claim of the invariant stage sequence. But the data from the cross-sectional studies are
not conclusive, as a child at higher age could have possibly skipped some previous stage. To resolve this issue longitudinal studies were undertaken. In longitudinal studies the same children are tested regularly after a period of 3 – 4 years. Almost all children in one of the longitudinal study moved through stages without skipping. Another aspect of moral development is that it is very slow and gradual process.

Hierarchic Integration

The knowledge that is learned at the earlier stages is not lost when the individual advances to the next stage, but is very well present in the individual. The higher stage persons are able to understand the arguments of the lower stage but consider it to be naive. When Kohlberg says that his stages are
hierarchically integrated, he means that people do not lose the insights gained at earlier stages, but integrate them into new, broader frameworks. Thia is a very important concept for Kohlberg because it explains the directional nature of the stage sequence. Since the stage sequence does not have a genetic blueprint, the previous stages must form a ‘platform’ for the next stages to emerge. Thus each new stage provides a broader framework for dealing with moral issues and is thus more cognitively adequate than the prior stage.
The stages of moral development also represent increasingly differentiated structures. The stage 5 people have abstracted the value of life, for example, has become differentiated from other considerations and say that “we ought to value life for its own sake, regardless of its value to authorities (stage
1), its usefulness to oneself (stage 2), the affection it arouses in us (stage 3), or its value within a particular social order (stage 4). Stage 5 sub jects have abstracted this value from other considerations and now treat it as a purely moral ideal.”
Universal Sequence
The sequence for the stages of moral development should be universal according to Kohlberg. By the term universal it is meant that it should be same across all cultures. Since different cultures bring up their children differently this [the universality of the stage sequence] is not naturally expected. Kohlberg’s response is that “different cultures do teach different beliefs, but that his stages refer not
to specific beliefs but to underlying modes of reasoning.”
Cross-cultural research shows that individuals in ‘technologically advanced’ societies move rapidly through the stages of moral development that from the societies which are not. Also in isolated communities nobody goes beyond stage 3. These studies indicate two possibilities, first that societal factors
that help the advancement of the stages are prevalent in the ‘technologically advanced’ societies, second that the method of evaluation is not suited for all cultures. This point is more elaborated upon later.
The number of years an individual completes in a school is an important and deterministic parameter in the moral development of individuals. Studies clearly indicate that the children who are educated higher levels show a better trend of moral development. The reasons for this particular finding could
be the social diversity that is encountered in the college campuses, introduces the people to the issues involving political and cultural groups.

 Moral Thought and Moral Behavior

The moral stages of Kohlberg’s theory do indicate the moral thinking of the persons, but whether this thinking actually translates into a moral behavior remains a question. We can actually be quite advanced in our moral thinking, but when it comes to moral behavior we do not actually are on the same level, this maybe due to practical reasons involved. Infact this is one of the criticisms of the theory. Hence a perfect correlation between moral judgment and moral action is not possible. But Kohlberg has given a particular relation regarding the moral thinking and behavior: “The two should come closer together as individuals move towards higher stages of moral understanding.” The
advancement in moral reasoning is related with many aspects of social behavior, particularly being more prosocial, this is consistent with Kohlberg’s prediction.

Moral Thought and Other Forms Of Cognition

Kohlberg states that moral development depends on cognition and perspective taking in a very specific way. Each moral stage requires certain cognitive and perspective taking abilities but these abilities alone do not guarantee that moral development will occur. Thus these cognitive and perspective taking abilities are deemed to be necessary but not sufficient for the moral development of the individual.

In this section we consider some criticisms about the Kohlberg’s theory. The two main criticisms that the theory faces are of gender bias and of cross-cultural differences. The other include the facts that are already mentioned viz. that moral thought and behavior are different. Also people tend to respond differently in real life and hypothetical situations [this particular aspect was seen during the presentation when asked about the moral dilemma regarding the help in exam]. The theory does not talk about moral development of very young children, where the methodology of moral dilemmas might not work very well. Also many researchers have questioned the very concept of a post conventional morality in Kohlberg’s formulation.

Gender Bias

Females tend to score not very well on the Kohlberg’s scale of moral development, very few females actually went above stage 3 in terms of their scores. The fact that Kohlberg’s stages were obtained from interviews with males, and hence reflect a decidedly male orientation was pointed out by Carol
Gilligan a co-author and associate of Kohlberg. According to Gilligan the advance moral thought for males and females has different ideals. For males the moral thought revolves around rules, rights and abstract principles, whereas for the females the moral thought revolves around interpersonal relations and the ethics of compassion and care. Thus the ‘scale’ of moral development has been ‘calibrated’ from a male perspective and it is improper to judge the moral development of females by this scale. In fact it has been found that the advanced moral thought revolves around rules, rights, and abstract principles.
The ideal for males the ideal of moral reasoning is impersonal justice, in contrast to female ideal of more affiliative ways of living. Women’s morality is more contextualized, it is tied to real, ongoing relationships rather than abstract solutions to hypothetical dilemmas. If these things are taken into account maybe females will score differently on the moral development. This difference is most
apparent when real life situations are given instead of hypothetical dilemmas. Although the current evidence “indicates that justice and caring are not gender specific moralities, Gilligan’s work has had the effect of broadening conceptions of the highly moral person.”
Cross-Cultural Differences

What Kohlberg has essentially done is that he has created a ‘moral yardstick’ with which he intends to measure the morality all the individuals in all cultures. Perhaps it might be the case that the aspects of morality that are rated very highly on Kohlberg’s scale are not considered to be significant in some other cultures. And it might be the case that the moral dilemmas presented for evaluation altogether fail to capture the post-conventional morality present in different cultures. The Kohlberg’s scale is highly Eurocentric [Western] and might fail to consider the aspects of morality that are alien to the European thought. For studying different cultures this ‘moral yardstick’ needs to be ‘re-calibrated’ keeping in mind the particular culture to be studied. Also presenting the same moral dilemma setup in a totally European background might not be a useful idea, the dilemma also needs to be contextualized taking into account the particular culture under study.


The moral behavior and thinking in a society represent give us an insight into the philosophy and the culture of a society. The major influences that are responsible for the moral development of the individual according to Kohlberg are the parents, peers, education and the own thought process of the individual. The influence of religion is not at all considered in the Kohlberg’s developmental theory, whereas religion plays a significant role in the development of children at least in the young age. In fact most of the moral judgments that the individuals make are deeply influenced by the religion they follow. In this regard the position of some religion will be different than the other, so a follower of a particular religion will respond to the situation differently.

Let us take an example of clinical death. If asked with a moral dilemma that involves a person opting for clinical death [hence in a sense committing suicide], the responses that we receive are more likely to vary with respect to the religion of the respondents. Another controversial issue that would raise similar concerns is that of abortion [in a sense considered murder]. Another example on similar lines that could be taken is that of a hunter following a wounded prey, and a response can save or end the prey’s life. The responses in this case will depend on the sort of society the individual has been bought up in [vegetarian vs. meat eating].
The responses that we will get for these real life situations, which also touch upon the religious aspect of the moral judgments will be worth noting. For most of the people religion has the topmost priority in the decisions that are taken in their everyday life. Mostly the religious scriptures and hence religious values guide the moral values and hence moral judgments. A striking example in this regard in the Indian context is that of charity. The religion demands that people do daan [alms], and most people do it not because they feel for the poor, but because the religion demands so. Thus the religious values are conclusive many times in making moral judgments. The religious moral values are passed to the
young children through stories and epics [mostly of Level I Morality according to Kohlberg’s scale ] and also through their social interactions. These interactions form the basis of the moral judgment that a child makes in the future, and removing these influences can be very hard, as they can be even found in adults. But these age old morality which religion practices might be in many cases totally out of context and in the comtemporary society not of much value. Even then these cannot be overcome even by adults. A very good example of this the ‘moral police’ that are abound in India and elsewhere. ‘What is moral,’ is interpreted from some twisted interpretation of the so called
‘cultural values.’ Most of these ‘moral police’ don’t seem to put any thought of their own to the issues they consider as ‘immoral,’ instead what somebody says is blindly followed without any remorse. On Kohlberg’s scale the so called ‘moral police’ will be at stage 1.

So by asking morally relevant questions that are in direct conflicting with one’s outdated religious beliefs can really lead to one’s moral development in this regard.
We cannot really compare the moral values of the contemporary society with that of a society in the past. The rights and the principles that were the ‘guiding lights’ for people in the past might not be even considered in the todays society as relevant. Hence to compare the moral judgments of the people in the past with our own contemporary society does not help. Similarly to compare the moral judgments of two different cultures does not provide the index of moral development of a particular culture.

Even in the same culture when the socio-economic differences are vast the things that are ‘morally right’ for some of the individuals will not be considered as same by everybody. In the Indian context a particular example in this regard can be considered is that of the zamindaari system, the feudal system in India. Whereas the zamindaars considered their ‘moral right’ to own and cultivate large lands, this was not considered as right by the laborers. Or in the larger economic context the ‘moral right’ of the capitalists and the ‘moral right’ of workers do not coincide. In the recent past America’s ‘moral right’ for war was
executed by George Bush to wage a war with Iraq, and ma jority of the American public ‘morally’ supported the war without putting their own thought to it. They would also score for stage 1 in Kohlberg’s stages. So the issues which really matter in one’s perception of the different aspect needs to be taken into account when considering the moral stage of the individual. A person in the lower strata of the society might consider stealing from the society as morally justified [because it is due to society that he poor].
Another aspect that needs to be touched in this regard is that of level 6 of the Kohlberg’s stages of development. The trend that Kolhberg presents for a level 6 behavior is seen in many great spiritual leaders of the past. Infact most of the great leaders did regard their own abstract principles above the
societal laws.
When the world colonization began and the European Empires extended beyond the boundaries of Europe, another example of twisted morality can be seen. Many British authors including Rudyard Kipling regarded the Anglo-Saxon race as a race which was destined to rule, thus ‘morally justifying’ their atrocities against others. Thus it was a ‘moral responsibility’ of the British to rule India. We can hence see that the concept of being ‘morally right’ can be entirely context and time dependent.

The moral dilemmas do come in an individuals life very frequently. According to Kohlberg in the resolution of these dilemmas in the most broader sense result in the moral development in this regard. A very nice example of presenting a moral dilemma and bringing up moral development can be seen in the context of Indian independence. Gandhi’s non-violence principle is an example of moral dilemma that brought about the moral development of an entire Empire. On one hand with the non-violent crowds just marching through the country, the British were not ‘morally justified’ in attacking them, on the other hand that people can defy their ‘moral right’ to rule was unbearable for them. The British
became so frustrated by this ‘moral dilemma’ that even with all such military might they could not but defeat a non-violent revolt. The resolution of this ‘moral dilemma’ resulted in the ‘moral development’ of the British Empire, which thereafter lost its ‘moral right’ to rule the world.

As per Kohlberg’s three level, six stage theory, morality changes from concrete towards abstract, principled justifications for moral choices. Each moral stage en-corporates the previous ones and has certain cognitive prerequisites that are necessary for the development to occur. The moral development does not occur until there is a support present at various levels like family, peers, schooling and society at large. Although justice is given a emphasis more than that of care it does not underestimate the moral maturity of females. As the individuals advance through the stages the moral thinking becomes better related to moral behavior.

The index of moral development that is presented by Kohlberg by presenting the subjects with a moral dilemma needs to be taken with respect to the broader social and cultural context that the particular individual represents so that any bias that is present can be effectively eliminated.

[1] Laura Berk: Child Development 3rd Ed. Prentice Hall of India 1999
[2] W. C. Crain: Theories of Development Prentice Hall 1985
[3] Wikipedia