Lawrence Kohlberg: Moral Dilemma

Lawrence Kohlberg was born to a wealthy family in Bronxville, New York, on October 25th, 1927. When World War II came around, Kohlberg enlisted as a sailor with the merchant marines—a decision that would prove to have a major impact on him, and subsequently on the eld of psychology.

As a sailor, Kohlberg worked on a freighter and helped smuggle Jewish refugees through a British blockade located in Palestine. This would be the first time Kohlberg took an interest in moral reasoning; and, later on in life, he would return to what is now Israel to study more about the moral reasoning of children growing up in kibbutzes (agricultural communities in Israel based on collectivist principles). When he returned from the war, he attended the University of Chicago and studied psychology. Kohlberg scored so highly on his admissions tests that he did not have to take many of the required courses, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology in one year. He then earned his Ph.D. in 1958. By 1967, Kohlberg was a professor of education and social psychology at Harvard University, and became widely known and respected with the creation of his theory of the “stages of moral development.”

In 1971, Kohlberg was working in Belize when he contracted a parasitic infection. As a result of the disease, Kohlberg spent the next sixteen years of his life battling depression and constant, debilitating pain. On January 19th, 1987, Kohlberg requested a day of leave from the hospital where he was undergoing treatment. After leaving the hospital, Kohlberg drowned himself in Boston Harbor. He was fifty-nine years old.