Many of Kohlberg's critics have pointed to what they regard as weaknesses in his stage theory of moral development. Some of these concern the number of stages. As was noted earlier, the existence of Kohlberg's sixth stage was questioned by researchers who could not find subjects who seemed to have attained it. In addition, Kohlberg's eventual hypothesis of a seventh stage of moral development, which he called a "soft stage," represented a later modification of his original position.
Other critics question the interrelationship among the stages. Kohlberg's early work described the stages as "hard," in the sense that the stages were not only sequential but relatively separate from one another; that is, people would generally function in all areas of moral decision-making at the highest level of development that they had attained. In 1979, James Rest, one of Kohlberg's associates, proposed a so-called "mixed stage" or "layer cake" model of moral development, according to which a person might use an earlier and less complex level of moral reasoning in certain specific situations. For example, a person who scores at Stage 5, which is considered "postconventional," might well reason at Stage 3 or 4 when dealing with such commonplace obligations of citizenship as registering to vote or serving on a jury. In other words, Rest's "mixed stage" model allows for the simultaneous coexistence of higher and lower stages within a person's cognitive repertoire.
Related to Rest's modification of Kohlberg's stages is domain theory, usually identified with the work of Elliott Turiel. Turiel came to distinguish between children's moral development and other domains of social knowledge in order to account for anomalies in the data from Kohlberg's long-term follow-up studies of the subjects from his dissertation research. Turiel's domain theory holds that children's conceptions of morality and social conventions develop as a result of different social experiences associated with these two domains. Actions in the moral domain have certain effects on other people that occur without regard to social rules that may or may not be associated with the action. An example would be striking another person for no apparent reason. The moral domain is structured around the concepts of fairness, harm caused to others, and the welfare of others. Conventions, by contrast, are agreed-upon rules that smooth social interactions within a group; they are structured to meet the needs of social organization rather than considering the members' harm or well-being. An example might be the convention of addressing a physician in public as "Doctor" rather than using his or her first name; the use of the professional title is a matter of conventional etiquette rather than a moral issue. Domain theory helps to explain why people often appear to be inconsistent in applying moral reasoning across different social contexts. It has also been applied by teachers at the high school level to help students distinguish between moral issues (e.g., cheating on tests or stealing from other students) and matters of convention (e.g., dress codes).
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