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A Study on the Application of Kohlbergs Theory of Moral Development to Engineering

Profession Situations
Dizon, Charlene; Fajardo Jr., Reynaldo; Gonzales, Mark Anthony; Mateo, Jay; Perez, Randolph
Jan; Sabandal, Kim; Salvador, Rannie; Santiago, Erika Marie; Tenorio, Ma. Lorena Angelica;
Viudez, Ferdinand Arvi;;;;;;;;

Abstract: This study focuses on Lawrence Kohlbergs Theory of Moral Development and its
application to various Engineering profession situations. The researchers provide sample
responses to various ECE profession-related moral dilemmas for further understanding of
different levels and stages of moral reasoning.

Keywords: Kohlberg, moral development, dilemma, pre-conventional, conventional, post-


Social issues are being dealt with making moral judgments. That is, situations pertaining
to humans societal dilemmas basically encompass morality the concept of right and wrong, or
in a sense, good and evil.
Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist provided a provoking theory of moral
development. According to him, Moral development consists of a sequence of qualitative
changes in the way an individual thinks. (Miranda, 2008) Queries arise, however, despite the
provision of the stated adage.
Some of which are as to what is the nature of morality, if there is an absolute definition of
good and bad and if morality is established by the individual, the situation, or the socio-
cultural context itself. Questions also include how people evaluate whether certain behaviour is
good or bad. These actually urged Kohlberg to be more inclined into studying morality, or to
be more specific, in moral judgment or reasoning.

History recounts that Kohlberg commenced his work upon asking 10 - 13- and 16-year-
old boys inquiries about various moral quandaries to assess how they thought about these issues.
Careful study of the responses led him to conclude that moral growth advances through a
worldwide and constant sequence of three broad moral levels, each of which is composed of two
distinct stages. (Sigelman, C. and Rider, E., 2006)
Each stage grows out of the preceding stage and represents a more complex way of
thinking about moral issues. According to him, a person cannot skip stages, and a person who
has reached a higher stage will not regress to earlier stages. Going through more of his study, he
also noted that moral development appears to be a gradual process that begins during the
preschool years and continues into adulthood. (Kohlberg, 1969)

N.B. Moral reasoning is not tantamount to moral behaviour. The two may be correlated, but in its strict sense, how
one thinks about moral issues does not necessarily equates to how one acts in moral situations. Kohlbergs theory
focuses on the former. (Lota, T. and Macapagal M.E., 2007)

Here are the levels and stages of moral reasoning developed by Lawrence Kohlberg:


This is the lowest level in Kohlbergs theory of moral reasoning where the consequences
determine morality, behaviour that is rewarded is right; that which is punished is wrong. It
usually starts on children (ages 4 to 10). They obey rules to avoid punishment or reap rewards, or
they act out of self-interest. (Papalia, D. and Feldman, R.D., 2012).

Stage 1 (Morality of Punishment and Obedience) At this stage, the morality is tied with
punishment. The subjects obey to the command to avoid punishment. Subjects at this stage
define good or bad in terms of obedience and disobedience.


1. Students need to wear proper attire in going to school because they are afraid of not being
able to attend classes due to the guards restricting them to enter the campus grounds.

2. Given a situation that a professional is working in a company where he is the Head
Software Engineer. He should always exert effort to his work for him to be able to
maintain his position. If he will not do so, the company will possibly terminate him out of
that position and put him in a lower position.

Stage 2 (Morality of Naive Instrumental Hedonism) At this stage, morally right behavior
depends on the subjects needs and desires. The subject will behave well in anticipation of a
reward or compensation. They also consider the notion of reciprocity.


1. A student stays up all night to review in his upcoming exams. He manages his time so
that he will have enough hours of reviewing for each subject. Due to his perseverance,
not only he passed all the exams but he also got above average score on the examinations.

2. Executive Officer of the IECEP Manila conducts seminars for exhibiting technology and
other trend related to the ECE Profession. These seminars will somehow be a fund-
raising of the organization to support their other projects for the professionals.
Meanwhile, any professional who attend a specific seminar will be given what they called
CPE Points that they can use for the renewal of their license.

CONVENTIONAL LEVEL (Internalization)

The second level of moral thinking is that generally found in society, typically reached
after age of ten (older children, adolescents, and most adults) hence the name "conventional."
Conformity to social norms is right; nonconformity is wrong. People are concerned about being
good, pleasing others and maintaining the social order. Many people never move beyond it,
even in adulthood. (Ciccarelli, S. and White, J.N., 2012)

Stage 3 ( Good Boy or Good Girl Morality) This stage is characterized by an attitude
which seeks to do what will gain the approval of others. It is about good behaviour is that which
please others in the immediate group or which brings approval. This gives importance about
being nice.


1. A student is very attentive when it comes to extracurricular activity. Because of that
he/she captures the attention of his/her professor and he/she meet his/her standard.
Given that he/she has good performance, his/her professor will astound in his attitude.
Furthermore, his professor thinks that he/she deserve a good evaluation.

2. If a person address himself as an engineer even without passing a licensure exam. It is
not allowed according to Republic Act No. 5734 (Section 27) but people will admire
and respect the person given that they still do not know that the person was lying.

Section 27. Practice of the profession. No person shall offer himself/herself in the Philippines as, or use
the title Professional Electronics Engineer, Electronics Engineer or Electronics Technician, as
defined in this act, or use any word, letter figure, or sign whatsoever, tending to convey the impression
that he/she is a Professional Electronics Engineer, Electronics Engineer or Electronics Technician, or
advertise that he/she is qualified to perform the work of a Professional Electronics Engineer, Electronics
Engineer or Electronics Technician, without holding a valid Certificate of registration and a valid
Professional Identification Card in accordance with this Act, except as provided under Section 26 hereof.

Stage 4 (Authority and Social Order-Maintaining Morality) This stage is one oriented to
abiding by the law, understanding social order and responding to the obligations of duty. It is
emphasizing the up-coming law, order, authority, doing ones duty and following social rules.

1. A college professor introduced the course syllabus on the first day of class. As
indicated in the student handbook, course syllabus shall be discussed in the first day
of class. Moreover, this is the guide of the professor in teaching for the whole

2. It is illegal to use a radio frequency that has been owned by another company in any
Radio Control Board. There will be interference in the signal because two or more
channels are using it. This is illegal because the first company paid for the radio

POSTCOVENTIONAL LEVEL (Full Internalization)

In this highest level of Kohlbergs moral reasoning, the basis for moral judgment is the
individuals conscience and the abstract ethical principles. An individual has come to
comprehend that moral rules include principles that can be applied across all situations and
societies. This people generally do not arrive at this level of moral way of thinking until at least
premature adolescence, or more commonly in juvenile adulthood if ever. Only twenty-five
percent of the adult population reaches the full internalization. (Lota, T. and Macapagal M.E.,

Stage 5 (Morality of Contract, Individual Rights, and Democratically Accepted Law) At
this stage, an individual recognizes that the societal rules are for common good, although human
rights sometimes outweigh laws.


1. Having a proper haircut is included in most if not all universities handbooks;
however some students believe that this is irrelevant because their hairstyle has
nothing to do with their academic performance.

2. In emergency situations, an electronics engineer knows that there is a supply of
electrical energy in telephone wires. Using the energy will not get any attention from
anyone and the engineer will remain undetected unless caught in action. It is more
important to attend to his needs than to think that he is abusing the telephone

Stage 6 (Morality of Individual Principle of Conscience) This is considered as the vision of
ideal moral reasoning by Lawrence Kohlberg but this stage is so rarely observed that he ceased
to measure its existence. At this utmost stage of moral thinking, a person delineates right and
wrong on the basis of the persons moral code that are universal in application. He described this
moral reasoning as a kind of moral musical chairs in which an individual facing a moral
dilemma is able to take the chair, or perspective, of each individual or group that could
potentially be affected by a judgment and to arrive at a result that would be regarded as just
from every chair. (Sigelman, C. and Rider, E., 2006)


1. A student destroyed his classmates project for a certain reason but in a period of
time, the student will think that what he did was wrong. His conscience will bother
him that he was one of the reasons why his classmate failed in the subject.

2. An inconsiderate professor gave a failing mark (without changing his passing rate) to
his/her students even though the minority of his/her students will pass.

Presented below are the arguments favoring and opposing students cheating in an examination
based on the six stages of moral development.


Pre-Conventional Level

To Cheat

Stage 1: A student cheats not because he wants to do it, but because he needs it. His parents will
probably get mad at him for failing a subject.

Stage 2: If the student cheats with another student during an examination, they will have a better
chance of passing the test and both students will form a sort of partnership when it comes to

Not to Cheat

Stage 1: A student should know that cheating is against his professors rules. So instead of being
reprimanded or even getting a failing grade when caught cheating by the professor, he will just
avoid doing it.

Stage 2: Students know that cheating is prohibited during examinations so if they do not cheat,
they will improve their academic skills and self-respect.

Conventional Level

To Cheat

Stage 3: A professor will notice a student who got a high score in an examination and because of
that, the professor thinks that the student is a studious person.

Stage 4: A student needs to cheat because he know that when he failed the subject, he cannot get
the course subject that has the requirement to pass the said subject as implemented in the course

Not to Cheat

Stage 3: A student will not cheat in an examination because he knows that it is unfair for his

Stage 4: Cheating is prohibited in any examination so a student will not dare to cheat.

Post-Conventional Level

To Cheat

Stage 5: A student cheats to maintain his good credentials because he is running for honors. He
needs to graduate with flying colors.

Stage 6: A student will not cheat because he does not want to lose his pride, honor and dignity.

Not to Cheat

Stage 5: If a student cheats in every examination, he might pass the subject but he will denounce
himself for the reason that he did not follow his conscience.

Stage 6: If a student dont cheat and let his subject fail, he had probably blamed himself after

Presented below are the arguments favoring and opposing an electronics engineer signing for any
electronics engineering work that is not performed by him/her based on the six stages of moral


Pre-Conventional Level

To Sign

Stage 1: If he signs the project, his friend will not feel bad for him.

Stage 2: If he signs the project, his friend will be grateful for his act, and at the same time, he
will get paid.

Not to Sign

Stage 1: He will not sign the project to avoid being punished by the law and being confined in
the jail.

Stage 2: If he will not sign the project, he will maintain his dignity thus having no bad record as
an electronics engineer leaving his friend to be responsible for himself.

Conventional Level

To Sign

Stage 3: To maintain their good relationship, he will sign the project. He will not let his friend
down and help him.

Stage 4: He signed the proposed project of his friend because it is his duty to provide the needs
of his family and himself.

Not to Sign

Stage 3: He is expected by the engineering society not to sign a work not made by him because
he should not tolerate his friend. His friend should get his own license.

Stage 4: He studied ECE laws as a part of his school practice; he already knew that signing an
electronic engineering work that is not actually performed by him is prohibited as what is said in
Republic Act No. 9292, Article VI, Section 35. So he will not sign the project.

Post-Conventional Level

To Sign

Stage 5: He will sign the project for it is more important to help a friend than to see a friend

Stage 6: If he signed the project, hed always condemn himself for he violated a law that was
meant to prevent chaos.

Not to Sign

Stage 5: Hed lose self-respect if he is carried away by the reward for signing the project and
forget his own point of view. So hed rather not to sign the project.

Stage 6: If he does not sign the project, he would not be blamed by other people but hed
condemn himself because he would not have lived up to his own conscience and his own


The provided situations related to Engineering profession are in connection with
Kohlbergs Theory of Moral Development in a sense that the presented ECE-related moral
dilemmas are applications of various levels and stages of moral reasoning.
According to the cases given and the supporting details presented at every given stage, it
is being emphasized that moral reasoning depends on the moral dilemmas experienced by the
subject. Age is a contributory factor and at some point proportional to the maturity of a person
giving arguments about a specific problem.
The case study also provided legally right yet morally wrong scenarios which proved that
not all acts approved by the law were considered right in terms of moral reasoning.
It is being noted that moral reasoning is not and never confined to Engineering career
alone but is also being applied to several, if not, all societal issues requiring moral judgment. The
scope of the research however is narrowed to situations pertaining to ECE profession. It is being
concluded that the research discussed moral reasoning regarding and not moral behaviour, which
is actually relative depending on a persons response upon being subjected to the given situation.
One may not act according to what he/she thought of the moral situation.


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