Posts tagged stages

The Stages of Moral Development


I have alluded to Kohlberg’s stage theory of Moral Development a few times in this blog, but never devoted an entire post exclusively to that; time to rectify that. For those not familiar with the Kohlberg model, I suggest that they read up an excellent description here.

Morality Play (novel)

Morality Play (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To recap, Kohlberg argues, that we go through three levels (and two stages within each level) as we advance on our path of moral development. He arrived to this conclusion, among other things, based on a long-term study of 58 young men over a span of two decades. The stage of moral development was assessed by analyzing answers to moral dilemmas like the famous Heinz dilemma. (in which a not-so-well-off person steals from a druggist a drug to save his dying wife).

After presenting people with various moral dilemmas, Kohlberg reviewed people’s responses and placed them in different stages of moral reasoning. According to Kohlberg, an individual progresses from the capacity for pre-conventional morality (before age 9) to the capacity for conventional morality (early adolescence), and toward attaining post-conventional morality (once Piaget’s idea of formal operational thought is attained), which only a few fully achieve. Each level of morality contains two stages, which provide the basis for moral development in various contexts.

The standard stages, as deciphered from say the below responses to Heinz dilemma, are as follows:

From a theoretical point of view, it is not important what the participant thinks that Heinz should do. Kohlberg’s theory holds that the justification the participant offers is what is significant, the form of their response. Below are some of many examples of possible arguments that belong to the six stages:

  • Stage one (obedience): Heinz should not steal the medicine because he will consequently be put in prison which will mean he is a bad person.
Or: Heinz should steal the medicine because it is only worth $200 and not how much the druggist wanted for it; Heinz had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else.
  • Stage two (self-interest): Heinz should steal the medicine because he will be much happier if he saves his wife, even if he will have to serve a prison sentence.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because prison is an awful place, and he would more likely languish in a jail cell than over his wife’s death.
  • Stage three (conformity): Heinz should steal the medicine because his wife expects it; he wants to be a good husband.
Or: Heinz should not steal the drug because stealing is bad and he is not a criminal; he has tried to do everything he can without breaking the law, you cannot blame him.
  • Stage four (law-and-order): Heinz should not steal the medicine because the law prohibits stealing, making it illegal.
Or: Heinz should steal the drug for his wife but also take the prescribed punishment for the crime as well as paying the druggist what he is owed. Criminals cannot just run around without regard for the law; actions have consequences.
  • Stage five (human rights): Heinz should steal the medicine because everyone has a right to choose life, regardless of the law.
Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine because the scientist has a right to fair compensation. Even if his wife is sick, it does not make his actions right.
  • Stage six (universal human ethics): Heinz should steal the medicine, because saving a human life is a more fundamental value than the property rights of another person.

Or: Heinz should not steal the medicine, because others may need the medicine just as badly, and their lives are equally significant.

From the above it should be amply clear what is salient for each stage and level.

Today I came across an old article by William Damon in Scientific American (PDF here) and he does a pretty good job of describing the stages, and levels, using terminology that is easy-to-understand and correlate.



Stage 1:PUNISHMENT “I won’t do it, because I don’t want to get punished.”
Stage 2: REWARD “I won’t do it, because I want the reward.”





Stage 3: INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS “I won’t do it, because I want people to like me.”
Stage 4: SOCIAL ORDER “I won’t do it, because it would break the law.”





Stage 5: SOCIAL CONTRACT “I won’t do it, because I’m obliged not to.”
Stage 6: UNIVERSAL RIGHTS “I won’t do it, because it’s not right, no matter what others say.”

Now, long time readers of this blog will be familiar with my ABCD model of psychology and the eight stage model of development. To recap, the four dimensions important for any psychological model are Affective, Behavioral, Cognitive and Dynamic (motivational/social) – the right order of development is A->B->D->C. There exist two polarities relevant at each dimension. For Affect, it is the polarity of Pain-Pleasure; for Behavior, the polarity of Active (approach/reward)-Passive(avoidance/ punishment) , for dynamics (or social) it is Self vs Others and finally for Cognition, it is Narrow vs Broad. This model is based on the pioneering work of Theodore Millon and combines various other theoretical frameworks.

If one were to see the Kohlberg’s levels/stages from an ABCD lens, it is clear that SELF-INTEREST is a Behavioral level, with the people moving from a passive (punishment avoidance perspective) to an active (reward approaching perspective) way of reasoning and acting as they function and evolve at that level; SOCIAL APPROVAL is a Dynamic /Social level where people move from a primarily Self focus (avoiding social disapproval) to a primarily Others focus (keeping the glue of society intact); and finally The ABSTRACT IDEALS is a Cognitive level with people moving from a narrow view of morality as utilitarian/ social contract based to more broader conceptions like based on universal human rights.

All the above is fine, but what about A or Affect based level/stages in our model? Are there moral reactions and behaviors of children (less than 9 or say even 5 years of age) that cannot be explained solely as a matter of rewards and punishments? Did Kohlberg miss on an important moral foundation on which many of our initial moral acts are based? My contention is yes, Kohlberg did leave out an important moral foundation. I will call that Affect based moral level Level 0.

The Level 0, of moral action and reasoning, is before an infant/ toddler/ child start thinking of, and justifying, their moral actions in terms of self-interests or rewards and punishment. This Level 0 is the Level of EMPATHY. Research in infant and toddler development has shown that the first moral or pro social behaviors develop out of an ability to empathize with others; if an infant or toddler will witness another person crying they will try to soothe the other person even if their means of helping may be inadequate; similarly toddlers, given an opportunity to help another person by saying opening a cabinet, when a stranger has his hands filled with books, will help the stranger, without any regards to any rewards or punishments, but because of the sheer joy of seeing the other person become happy as a result of their actions.

It’s unfortunate that infants cannot speak and many toddlers haven’t developed a good vocabulary, so the verbal responses to dilemma approach cannot be applied as is to them; but clever researchers have developed ingenious protocols to observe and ascertain moral behavior in children of that age group, and probably can develop new techniques to figure out their moral reasoning too. For example, in one of such experiments, children are shown animated clips of figures like squares and triangles that are either helpful or hurtful (pushing around a loved object ) and based on which figures the child prefers, one determines that indeed children like helpful figure/ animation characters over hurtful/ bullying characters; one could modify this paradigm by varying the distress felt by a loved object, that is being pushed around, by increasing the squeaking noise that object makes, to find whether more squeaking leads to more empathy and thus more moral/ pro social action.

The point I am making is that the prediction that there is an earlier moral reasoning/action stage characterized by empathy, is an empirically testable fact and I do hope someone conducts appropriate experiments to modify and add to Kohlberg’s theory.

To reiterate, there does exist a Level 0 of morality based on EMPATHY and the stages here are that based on Avoiding Pain and Enhancing Pleasure; the Avoiding Pain reasoning goes like ” Heinz should not steal the medicine, because it will cause the druggist to become sad (as the druggist has lost something dear to him)” ; the Enhancing Pleasure reasoning goes like ” Heinz should not steal the medicine, so that the druggist can live happily based on profits he earns” .

So the bottom-line, we all start with EMPATHY on our paths to moral development and that provides a solid foundation on which higher stages like those based on abstract ideals are achieved.

The Eight Rasas (aesthetic essences)

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According to Indian Aesthetics , as outlined in Bharat Muni’s Natyashatra,  there are eight Rasas or impacts that an aesthetic piece of work like dance form/ literary piece, tries to achieve/invoke in the beholder/reader. These can be loosely thought of as eight different kinds of aesthetic experiences.


As is evident I like all things eight, as I believe they have an underlying eight fold evo-devo stage structure behind them.  In this case in visual art from each of the rasa is associated with a predominant color that signifies that rasa. For eg Shringar or Love/beauty/erotic rasa has as its color, color green.


Now, I have also blogged previously about color terms and how they may have evolved in an eight step model. In brief, I believe that Black came first , white next, then Red followed; after which followed yellow, blue and green and then other terms like orange, brown and grey followed.  This I believe is also tied to the way our color vision and sensitivity would have grown/evolved.


Taking cue from that color term evolution model , I belive the eight rasas evolved in the same order as the color used to denote them, and that nicely fits with other aspects of the eight stage theory too, like the eight stage emotion development.


So, in essence, please find listed below the eight Rasaas in the correct eight stage order:

1. Bahyanak Rasa: color Black : emotion fear.

2. Hasya Rasa: color white: emotion joy/laughter

3. Rudra Rasa: color red : emotion anger

4. Adbhuta Rasa: color yellow , emotion wonder

5. Bibhitsa Rasa: color blue, emotion disgust

6. Shringar rasa: color green; emotion erotic/love

7. Veera rasa : color orange; emotion heroism

8. Karuna rasa: color grey; emotion compassion/ sadness.


Contrast this with the basic emotions list I have come up earlier viz.
1. Fear – Bahyanak
2. Joy/happiness – Hasya
3. Anger – Raudra
4. Sadness – Karuna
5. Disgust – Bibhitsa
6. Surprise – shringar
7. Contempt – Veera
8. Interest (anticipation) – Adbhuta


With just one switch between the Adbhuta (wonder/interest) and Karuna (sadness/ compassion), the eight rasas fit both the color term evolution and basic emotions evolution. That surely means we are at something and moving in the right direction as different routes are leading to the same destination. .

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The four mechanisms of evolution

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Regular readers of the blog will know of my enthusiasm for evolutionary and developmental theories especially the eight stage evo-devo theory.

I have also advocated the four primary problems faced by all creatures undergoing evolution, as delineated by Theodore Millon– the problems of Existence; Adaptation; Replication and Abstraction which lead to polarities of pain/pleasure;  active/passive; self/other and broad/narrow at each of the stages/domains/ solutions.

However, when we pause to look at what the mechanism of evolution actually is, we clearly note that there are a few prerequisites for evolution to take place and unless all the four mechanisms/ preconditions are present it is unlikely that the creatures will evolve.   I have been having this in the back of my mind for quite some time especially as I  have been ruminating on the BVSR (blind variation and selective retention)  theory of Donald Campbell as applied to creativity.

I was recently reading ‘Driven’ and in that book too a lot of emphasis is placed on the V-S-R (Variation, Selection, Retention) mechanism of evolution. I think this popular portrayal of evolution misses another important ingredient required for evolution that of Struggle due to limited resources and excess fecundity. If the problem of limited resources and excess fecundity was not there, probably there would be no pressure to evolve.


Thus I would like to frame the four evolutionary prerequisites/ mechanisms as Struggle-Retention- Variation-Selection or S_R_V_S.  To elaborate:

1. Struggle: This is driven by the fact of limited resources and overproduction due to excess fecundity. Here two strategies, leading to 2 polarities,  work; one can either compete for resources or one can cooperate and exist symbiotically.  Also, one can either have a r-strategy (low investment in many) of reproduction or A K-strategy (high investment in few). In the eight stage model, the organisms at first 2 levels would be primarily constrained by this evolutionary mechanisms.

2. Retention:  There must exist some mechanism by which the traits that confer survival/reproductive or selection advantage can be retained over time in the same individual and over generations in the same species. Again the mechanism of stable trait over time as well as  over generations may be in conflict with each other and may lead to a polarity. Creatures at stage 3 and 4 of 8 stage evo-devo theory would likely face issues regarding stability and retention of traits; retaining in individual the same trait is an active process; while retaining in generations is more passively driven.

3. Variation. There must exist some  mechanism that causes minor changes in the stable traits such that variation may lead to deleterious or beneficial effect over the individual having that variation. This is classically implemented using mutations and sexual-recombinations. While mutations confer (dis)advantages at an individual level; recombinations take that to the next level by affecting offsprings variability. The creatures at stages 5 and 6 of evo-devo stages are grappling with these problems of adequate variation in self and other.

4. Selection: There must exist some selection criteria based on which the struggling creatures having stable but slightly varying traits can be selected for or against.  While Natural selection (stage 7) employs the three methods of directional, stabilizing and disruptive selection; the stage 8 deploys a qualitatively different method of sexual selection where the criteria for selection may be  arbitrarily driven by choices of the other gender conspesifics.  While the Natural selection criteria is broad, the sexual selection criteria can be said to be narrow. Another way to look at this is that the selection crteria is either to survive (natural selction) or to reproduce (sexual slection) and those who are sucessful can very well move from one level/species to another (speciation due to sexual selection).

To me this is further  corrobrating evidence of the eight stage evo-devo theory and ABCD model being on the right track.


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The Four Fundamental Causes

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This post is an ambitious attempt to link the four causes delineated by Aristotle, to the four questions asked by Tinbergen to the four types of explanations that can be made for any human/animal ability.

First a bit of a background.

Aristotle had listed four causes – Material,  Efficient, Formal and Final causes. From the Wikipedia:
Aristotle held that there were four kinds of causes:

  • A thing’s material cause is the material of which it consists. (For a table, that might be wood; for a statue, that might be bronze or marble.)
  • A thing’s formal cause is its form, i.e. the arrangement of that matter.
  • A thing’s efficient or moving cause is “the primary source of the change or rest.” An efficient cause of x can be present even if x is never actually produced and so should not be confused with a sufficient cause.(Aristotle argues that, for a table, this would be the art of table-making, which is the principle guiding its creation.)
  • A thing’s final cause is its aim or purpose. That for the sake of which a thing is what it is. (For a seed, it might be an adult plant. For a sailboat, it might be sailing. For a ball at the top of a ramp, it might be coming to rest at the bottom.)

While studying these causes scholars have stressed on two sorts of distinctions, the first is the concept of actuality and potentiality– while some causes like the final cause (teeos or entelchiea) and formal cause (eidos or energiea) are actual; the material cause is deemed to be poetntial.

The other concept is that of Hylomorphism, or the distinction between matter and form. I believe that the four causes can be broken down along the two dimensions of potentiality/actuality and matter/form as below to lead to a 2×2 matrix of causes.

Niko Tinbergen , a great ethologist, asked four questions or explanations about any biological phenomenon, inspired by the Aristotle’s 4 causes. . From the Wikipedia page:


However, I like to arrange it slightly differently. I retain the ultimate/proximate distinction, but supplement it with Accidental/ Teleological distinction. Accidental to me means phylogeny due to random genetic drift and genetic baggage; and physiologic mechanisms like hormones etc kicked in accidentally by random interaction with immediate environment;  on the other hand the process of adaptation and developmental unfolding to an adult form (ontogeny)  appear purposeful and pseudo teleological. Thus my arrangement:

Which leads to how I became re- interested in these four causes recently- it was while reading an article by Dean Simonton on ability , wherein he conjectured that studying both the generic and specific factors that affect performance as well as acquisition of ability is problematic and non-fruitful, that I remembered about these and saw how fruitful it may be to conceptualize ability in just so many terms. Hence my conceptualization:

In general for ability I think the following four factors are applicable and all four have strong influences on ability; I have named them talent, hard work, grit and optimism etc elsewhere. In general for any trait like intelligence, emotionality etc I think the 2×2 factor matrix is relevant and worth keeping in mind.

That brings me eventually to my own levels of explanations for any phenomenon. I believe evo-devo explanations as well as psycho-social factors have equal weight-age while explaining say behavior. while some of these explanations are mechanistic/deterministic other are of non-deterministic or chaotic origin. Similarly, while some are governed by factors internal to the organism others are mostly affected by extrinsic factors.

I hope the above conceptualization makes sense. It is inline with my eight stage model and four domains model where Evo is stage 1&2; social- stage 3&4, devo- stage 5&6 and psycho stage 7&8.


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2 factor theories of personality

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While most people are generally aware of the five factor model of personality (that is the FFM or OCEAN model that is revealed by factor analysis), the two factor models of personality may not be that readily apparent, though most readers will be familiar with some form or the other of the 2 factor models of personalities like the four humors/temperaments of the Greeks or the enneagrams or the temperaments used in Kiersey personality sorter.

In brief, two factor models of personality posit that individuals differ on two bipolar dimensions and that one’s personality type or temperament can be determined based on whether one is high or low on these 2 dimensions. for eg consider factor 1 and factor 2 as the 2 underlying personality factors; then there would be 4 typical temperaments : high factor 1, high factor 2; high factor 1, low factor 2; low factor 1, high factor 2; and low factor 1, low factor 2. Typically the extremes of the bipolar factors would be named such that low factor 1 corresponds to some trait and high factor 1 to opposed trait and similarly for factor 2.

The scheme becomes sometimes more complex by not mandating that a personality type lies on extremes, but positing that the balanced or middle value of these factors is also relevant; in these cases up to 9 personality types can be created by using the 3 typical values (high, mid, low) of the two factors. Enneagrams uses this schema.

To clarify by way of an example, the ancient Greeks posited 2 underlying personality factors – a hot-cold factor that coded the response-delay as to whether response was quick or slow to follow an event; and a dry-wet factor that coded whether the response was sustained or subsided quickly. This resulted in 4 temperaments: sanguine ( Air i.e. hot and wet; quick onset and quick offset; the happy-go-luck personality ) ; choleric (Fire i.e. hot and dry ; quick onset but prolonged offset; the energized or angry personality) ; Phlegmatic ( Water i.e. cold and wet; prolonged build-up but quick offset; the hard-to-provoke calm personality) and finally melancholic (Earth i.e. cold and dry; prolonged onset and prolonged offset ; the classical brooding personality) .

As one can see from the Wikipedia page on 2 factor models of personality, there are a lot of theories that define their personality types on the basis of 2 underlying factors one of which is factor 1 (the Wikipedia page cites that as extroversion scale) and teh second is factor 2 (which the Wikipedia labels people-task orientation scale, a nomenclature to which I am more sympathetic).

There is a table listed at the end of the Wikipedia article and form a cursory look at the table one can see that the interpretation of the two factors have changed from time to time; it began as affect/emotion based interpretation; got morphed into behavioral terminology; briefly flirted with motivational constructs that lead to character types(refer Fromm) and finally also had some recent cognitive interpretations. I am a big proponent of the ABCD model of psychology and the eight stage models of personality; I have formerly reconciled the ABCD model with eight personality factors/stages by following Theodore Millons approach whereby each Affect, Behavior, Desire (Motivation) and Cognition is split in 2 underlying polarities viz, pleasure/pain; active/passive; self/other and broad/narrow respectively.

While reconciling the above I have also been acutely aware that I am more focused on the person side of personality rather than the situation side of personality. Those who are aware of the person-situation debate in personality psychology will be aware that any analysis that focuses on person to the exclusion of environment/situation is not doing full justice to the study of personality or psychology. To remedy that I propose that while factor 1 in each ABCD domain can be used as a proxy for the splitting of Affect, Behavior, Desire or Cognition under the 2 polarities and in internal focused , the factor 2 is more in relation to the environmental/ situational effects and is more external.

If you have lost me till now, please bear patience. Let me clarify by way of an example. consider the DiSC theory and assessment produced by William Martson. He proposed 2 factors ; Factor 1 is Active/passive with reference to behavior of person and Factor 2 is open/controlled or favorable/antagonistic with reference to the environment one chooses to operate in/ finds oneself in. Thus, his definition of DISC as follows:

Dominance, which produces activity in an antagonistic environment; with a feeling of unpleasantness until stimulus is acted upon
Compliance, which produces produces passivity in an antagonistic environment; with a feeling of unpleasantness until stimulus is reconciled
Inducement, which produces activity in a favorable environment; with a feeling of pleasantness increasing as interaction increases
Submission, which produces passivity in a favorable environment; with a feeling of pleasantness increasing as yielding increases

Of course he is working on 2 levels – the Affect level where he discusses feelings and emotional tone and stimuli and the Behavioral level where he discusses active/passive behavior in a appropriate environment. With this I am all set to propose my new 16 factors theory of personality that may also bridge the gap between ABCD model of personality/psychology, the eight stages /factors theory of personality and the 16 personality factors or the 16 MBTi types.

To recall, Affect is the first stage/domain where pleasure/pain polarity is operational; I propose we also take in account a second polarity/factor as to whether the stimuli causing pleasure(pleasantness)/ pain(pleasantness) is present/being introduced or being recalled/ is absent. Let us call this factor Stimuli present/stimuli absent.

Behavior is the second stage/domain where active/passive polarity is operational; here the effect of environment can be subsumed under the polarity of whether the environment is favorable or antagonistic. Let us call this factor env favorable/antagonistic .

Desire is the third stage /domain where the motivational impetus can be either Self /Other focused. Here the environment/situational factors to consider are the significant others or the desirable objects – be it things or peoples . I call this polarity of being concerned with objects the things/ people factor.

Cognition is the final fourth stage/domain where the operational polarity is that of Broad/narrow – or put another way abstract(generalized) and concrete (specialized) ; here I posit that the system which is being cognized can be either chaotic/ orderly and that view of how the system is conceived results in factor of system chaotic/orderly.

Let me now elaborate all the 16 different types that emerge once one takes all these 2 factors (diff for each domain) and the 4 domains (ABCD) under consideration.

Affect driven combinations/types :

  1. generally feels pleasant due to presence of stimuli (a happy-g-lucky sanguine person; predominant emotion : joy; ‘reward’ driving factor in terms of reinforcement theory)
  2. generally feels pleasant due to absence of stimuli ( a lazy , lethargic., contended phlegmatic personality; ‘relief’ in terms of reinforcement theory) .
  3. generally feels unpleasant due to presence of stimuli ( an angry person energized to remove that stimuli; choleric with predominant emotion anger and ‘punishment’ driven in terms of reinforcement theory;)
  4. generally  feels unpleasant due to absence of stimuli (a sad person grieving loss of a beloved object ;melancholic with  predominant emotion sadness and ‘penalty’ is the reinforcement principle in use)

Behavior driven combinations/types

  1. Actively strives in favorable environments. (Influence/Inducement in DiSC terminology)
  2. Actively strives in even antagonistic environments (  dominant in DiSC terminology)
  3. Passively accommodates in even favorable environments (Submission/ steadfastness in DisC terminology)
  4. Passively accommodates in unfavorable environments ( Compliance in DiSC)

Desire /Motivation driven combinations/types leads to Fromm’s Character orientations

  1. Accommodating others with a focus on people – Marketing Character orientation as per Fromm
  2. Accommodating others with a focus on things – Receptive orientation-Fromm
  3. Assimilating in self the other people – Manipulative orientation-Fromm
  4. Assimilating in self with a focus on things- hoarding orientation-Fromm

Cognition driven combinations can be correlated with Hermann Brian dominance Instrument

  1. Broad/generalized synthesis of chaotic patterns ( Imaginative thinking style)
  2. Broad/generalized synthesis of ordered  patterns (Interpersonal thinking style)
  3. Narrow/specialized analysis of chaotic patterns ( Sequential thinking style)
  4. Narrow/specialized analysis of orderly patterns  ( Logical thinking style)

Of course I would love to correlate the cognitive factors with the Beauty and sublime factors of Kant but am unable to paint a coherent picture at this time. Maybe one day I will.

How do you find the above marriage of ABCD theory with 2 factor models of personality? do let me know via comments.



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