Stages of moral and economic development

In my work to develop an integral economics and political model, I found the moral development model a good launching point. Our morals are a platform, a worldview from which we sense how the world should be. Our economics and political systems are then built on these worldviews. If this is indeed true – since our moral worldviews are not stagnant and evolve as we grow older, this leads to the conclusion that we may also see different economic and political systems as being better or not as we evolve. If economic and political systems are built on different moral worldviews it may be that depending on what moral stage at which humanity is at, different economic and political systems may be more beneficial for it.


Lawrence Kohlberg, a Harvard psychologist, who in following the footsteps of Piaget’s discovery of a cognitive developmental model, came up with a moral developmental model of levels humans can move through. At each level they have a different conception of what justice is, and what constitutes fairness. The stages are :

1: Obediance and punishment
2: Individualism and exchange
3: Good interpersonal relationships (good boy/good girl)
4: Maintaining social order
5: Social contract and individual rights
6: Universal principles

(Many people do not get to stages 5 and 6)

There are many aspects to this developmental theory of justice. Two of them are distributive justice and procedural justice. A distributive justice stage model would provide the basis of stage model of economic development. A procedural justice stage model would provide the basis of a stage model of political development.

Here is Lawrence Kohlberg’s distributive levels of justice we can move through

1: Heteronomous/Naïve Realism – strict equality
2: Individual/Instrumental – maximize your own amount
3: Interpersonally normative – merit and equity become central to indiv judgments
4: Social System – based on social merit and contributions to society
5: Human Rights/Social Welfare – social cooperation and agreement
6: Need is only legitimate basis

William Damon, a Stanford professor of education studied children and found they went through a different levels of distributive justice (which seems to correspond to Kohlbergs) from a chapter “Moral Stage Theory” by Daniel Lapsley:

0-A: self-interest is the governing distributive criteria (“I should get more because that is what I want.”).
0-B: self-interest is backed up with an appeal to external, physicalistic, and observable features, such as size, age, and gender (“All us boys should get more”).
1A: notions of strict equality (“Everyone should get the same”) govern sharing.
1B: merit and just deserts enters the distributive calculation (“If you did the best, you should get more; if you were lazy or did a lousy job, you should get less”).
2A: one attempts to balance competing claims to merit by working out some equitable compromises.
2B: the compromise between equity and reciprocity is worked out in light of the demands of the situation or the larger goals and purposes of the group.”

Krebs and Van Hesteren
used Kohlberg’s theory to come up with a stage theory of levels of motivation for altruism (they added an extra stage which comes when one enters into higher consciousness fields). This seems to me a theory we can also use for a stage theory of economic motivation.

1: Egocentric accomodation – to fulfill safety and effectance needs
2: Instrumental cooperation – gives in order to get
3: Mutual altruism: sensitive to the audience of generalized others. Aims at fulfilling shared social obligations, avoiding disapproval, upholding bonds of friendship, behaving in socially acceptable manner. There is a sense of we that transcends the me
4: Conscientious altruism – Guided by an internalized sense of responsiblity to the group and a conscience of what is good
5: Autonomous altruism – guided more by higher order principles that uphold human dignity, equal rights, and maximizing benefits for all, than by external norms, laws or social conventions
6: Integrated altruism – The self-other difference becomes transcended. Self’s interests integrated with others. There is understanding that there will be conflicts and decisions are guided by principles of justness, fairness, impartiality. The goal is to foster maximally balanced and integrated social relations
7: Universal self-sacrificial love – stems from feelings of cosmic oneness. It is selfless and stems from agape, an ethic of univeral love, sacrifice, and service. The goal is to mesh with the ultimately transformed world and coordinated non-violent world.

In an economic system people will be acting from any of those different stages. Individual economic actions will look quite different depending on what stage someone is at. Micro and macro economic behavior will be different depending on the distribution of the populace across these different stages.

References : Social justice and moral reasoning by Wendorf, Alexander, and Firestone


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