Heinz’s wife was dying because of a special kind of cancer. There was only one medicine that the doctors thought might cure her, but it was an advanced formula that a pharmaceutical company had recently discovered. This drug was extremely costly to produce due to high-cost equipment and singular production techniques. On top of that, the company was selling the drug at a price tenfold the production costs.
Heinz went to everyone he knew to borrow money but he could only collect half of what the drug costs. He sought an audience with the CEO of the pharmaceutical company, told him that his wife was dying and begged him to sell the drug cheaper or allowed him to defer the payment. But the CEO refused. He couldn’t make any exception as they had spent massive funds in the research and equipment, and turning in a profit was the top priority for the company.
Heinz was devastated, and at wit’s end about what he should do next. In the end, he broke into the company and stole the drug for his wife.
Think about this. What would you do if you were Heinz and WHY?
If you were to pick one of the below answers, which one would you CHOOSE?
1. Heinz should NOT steal the drug because he would be put to prison for his crime.
2. Heinz should steal the drug because he would feel gratified and happier.
3. Heinz should steal the drug because he’s a good husband and its expected of him to do so by his wife.
4. Heinz should steal the drug but be incarcerated because he broke the law.
5. Heinz should steal the drug because saving a life is more important than breaking the law.
6. Heinz should steal the drug but NOT be incarcerated because the law would be unjust if it penalized an individual for saving a life.
Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development
Heinz’s dilemma was originally conceived by Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist renown for children’s morality. Thereafter, an American psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg, expanded her work further to build his theory “Stages of moral development”. Kohlberg grouped his six stages into three levels of two stages each:
- Stage 1 Obedience & Punishment Driven
- Stage 2 Self-interest Driven
- Stage 3 Interpersonal Accord & Conformity Driven
- Stage 4 Authority & Social-order Obedience Driven
- Stage 5 Social Contract Driven
- Stage 6 Universal Ethical Principles Driven
Which stage of moral development are you in?
Well, it depends on the answer you chose from the above.
If you chose Answer 1:
You are probably at the pre-conventional level of moral development (stage 1). You focus on the direct consequences of your actions on yourself. Because the result is punishment, so you believe it is wrong to steal.
If you chose Answer 2:
You are probably at the pre-conventional level of moral development (stage 2). You focus on what you believe to be for your best interest. Because you benefit from the result hence you believe it is alright to steal.
If you chose Answer 3:
You are probably at the conventional level of moral development (stage 3). You try to live up to expectations of your social role. You judge the morality of the action by focusing on relationships. Because you want to be a good spouse hence you believe it is alright to steal.
If you chose Answer 4:
You are probably at the conventional level of moral development (stage 4). You feel that it is morally wrong to violate laws – Law, and order are important and to be obeyed. You would think that everyone would steal if Heinz was allowed to.
If you chose Answer 5:
You are probably at the post-conventional level of moral development (stage 5). You believe that laws are basically social contracts that should not be rigid in the face of certain areas such as saving a life. While laws might exist for the greater good, there are times that they will still work against the interest of certain individuals. Saving a life is definitely more important than breaking the law (stealing).
If you chose Answer 6:
You are probably at the post-conventional level of moral development (stage 6). You are focused on universal human rights. You feel that all individuals deserve to afford the drug and be saved regardless of their wealth. You are one of those who would have challenged slavery even when the law allowed it. Few people reached this level.
Of course, these analyses are not absolute and are provisionally true – applying to most people in most circumstances most of the time. Nevertheless, Kohlberg’s theory provides us with a novel method of evaluating how individuals justify and rationalize their moral actions.
Bibliography: Kohlberg, L. (1981). The philosophy of moral development: Moral stages and the idea of justice (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Harper & Row.