Kohlberg and the Social Contract: Human Moral Development In Light of Various Formulations of Social Contract Theory


According to Lawrence Kohlberg human individuals develop the capacity for moral reasoning by progressing through an invariant set of sequential stages. These six stages identify the specific form or pattern of reasoning an individual, when faced with a moral dilemma, relies upon to justify moral actions. Social contract theory naturally fits within Kohlberg's general theory because it provides a similar framework for justifying moral actions. In this project I examine Kohlberg's moral development theory in light of five formulations of social contract theory. With a basic understanding of moral development theory it is possible to provide a satisfactory classification for the various formulations of social contract theory and identify their appropriate placement in the structural frame work of Kohlberg's developmental process. I first demonstrate that the appropriate classification of social contract theory is divided between stages five and six. The social contract theories of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau are categorized as stage five, while Kant is categorized as stage six and Rawls is appropriately categorized as a transitional stage between stages five and six. I then discuss the important implications of such a classification. I contend that understanding the appropriate classification of social contract theory will expand and add clarity to moral development theory by demonstrating the existence of moral orientations within stage five and further develop, explain and strengthen the distinction between stages five and six; and that these orientations offer a new predictive element that can add additional precision to moral development theory by further explaining the process of reasoning that people use to arrive at solutions to moral dilemmas.


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Thesis Completion





Stanlick, Nancy A.


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Program



Arts and Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Sciences; Kohlberg, Lawrence -- 1927-







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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