Moral Reasoning, Kohlberg, and Escorting

A few escorts and myself have been talking about moral development for a while now. Basic psychological theories of moral development go from very basic levels of thinking (Will I get punished? Did someone tell me this is right/wrong? Will I get what I want?) to higher levels of thinking (What’s the context of the situation? Regardless of whether I was TOLD this is right/wrong, is it?). One theory that I particularly love (and keep coming back to) is Kohlberg’s stages of moral development. I’ve thought a lot about where I fall on this scale, and where others at the clinic fall on this scale.

Kohlberg’s stages go from pre-conventional to conventional to post-conventional, with six stages that fall into those categories. Kohlberg discussed the idea of regressing from higher to lower stages and had other important insights, but I won’t go into all of that here.

Pre-conventional: Common in children, but exhibited in [many] adults. Judge morality based on direct external consequences.

  • Stage One: Obedience and punishment driven. Individuals in stage one consider the consequences of their actions on themselves, and usually think that the worse the punishment, the worse the crime, morally speaking.

  • Stage Two: Self-interest driven. Individuals in this stage wonder what’s in it for them, and define right behavior as whatever is in their own best interest. Limited concern for the needs of others (except in the context of “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”). Lacks societal perspective.

Conventional: Typical of teenagers and adults. Judge morality based on societal views and expectations, and accept social norms concerning right and wrong. Major concern for “the rules.”

  • Stage Three: Conformity driven. Individuals in stage three consider the consequences actions might have on their relationships and are concerned with social roles/living up to expectations of others. The intention behind actions becomes important (whether someone means well or not), and there is a desire to maintain rules and authority.

  • Stage Four: Authority and social order driven. This stage focuses on laws, social conventions, and above all maintaining a functioning society. Often a central idea guides judgments of right and wrong (perhaps religion), and morality is dictated by an outside force. Views breaking a law as morally wrong (and potentially leading the way for others to follow, which would break down social order)

Post-Conventional: Recognizes that different individuals will have different perspectives, and these people live by their own (abstract) principles about right and wrong. View rules as useful but changeable (not absolute, not to be obeyed without question). Post-conventional moral reasoning is less common. It is worth noting that “Because of this level’s ‘nature of self before others’, the behavior of post-conventional individuals, especially those at stage six, can be confused with that of those at the pre-conventional level.” (That was a concern for me, honestly.)

  • Stage Five: Social contract driven. Individuals in this stage view the world as full of different opinions, rights, and values, and feel that these should be mutually respected. Laws are viewed as social contracts, and those that don’t promote general well-being should be changed to do the most good for the most people.
  • Stage Six: Universal ethical principles driven. Moral reasoning in this stage is based on abstract reason, using universal ethical principles. Laws are valid only if they are grounded in justice, and a commitment to justice carries with it an obligation to disobey unjust laws (I love that!). This stage involves imagining what you would do in another person’s place. Individuals in this stage act because it is right, not because it is legal or expected.

Ok, so all of these stages are lovely and great, but how do they tie in? Well, as adults who are doing something we believe in (which applies to most of the protesters at the clinic, not just the escorts) we have to have used some method of reasoning (moral and other) to conclude that what we are doing is indeed right.

To me, it seems fairly obvious. It seems clear that many (many, not all – this is a generalization) of the protesters are hung up in stage four. Which is where many people are – I’m not using this as a fancy (long winded) way to say that the protesters are stupid, just that our thought processes are very, very different. Consider the criteria for stage four in the context of the clinic. So often I hear arguments about how god has told us what’s right and what’s wrong, and god has said what to do and what not to do. But those arguments don’t seem to go much further than “Because god says so.” I don’t care of the law or god or aliens tell me if something is right or wrong, it’s still up for question if it doesn’t sit with me, and if it doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of people in general.

As for the escorts, I think that many of us have had to think deeply about escorting, abortion, and the situation at the clinic. It’s not a matter of someone having told us to do this, or someone telling us that abortion is right and us blindly obeying. It’s something that we had to tease out for ourselves, from our experiences, beliefs, intuition, and the world around us. I think that escorts tend to feel a commitment to justice, even when that includes doing something that our families, friends, parents, teachers, peers, and on and on, might take issue with. We feel a commitment to justice, even if that means doing something that can be potentially dangerous. We honor this commitment, even when it means being harassed and bullied. We honor this commitment because we see how important it is, and because we see that the rules and laws may not be doing the trick. Those of us who are at a place where we are able to escort (because there are many factors that make it impossible, and for some it is not the best place to direct their energy)  honor this commitment because once we’ve seen the necessity we realize we cannot ignore it.

3 thoughts on “Moral Reasoning, Kohlberg, and Escorting

  1. Wow Frances, that was amazing! Way to capture the thought processes along the stages of moral reasoning. You’ve explained so well why I feel compelled to do that which enrages, saddens, maddens, and baffles me. Up until reading this, the best I could come uo with was “I just gotta!”

    Thanks Lady!

    • No problem!! I felt very much the same way, but I love so much of how Kohlberg’s theory explains what I’m thinking, feeling, and doing.

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