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Classified in Philosophy and ethics

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Pre-conventional[edit]

The pre-conventional level of moral reasoning is especially common in children, although adults can also exhibit this level of reasoning. Reasoners at this level judge the morality of an action by its direct consequences. The pre-conventional level consists of the first and second stages of moral development and is solely concerned with the self in an egocentric manner. A child with pre-conventional morality has not yet adopted or internalized society's conventions regarding what is right or wrong but instead focuses largely on external consequences that certain actions may bring.[7][8][9]

In Stage one (obedience and punishment driven), individuals focus on the direct consequences of their actions on themselves. For example, an action is perceived as morally wrong because the perpetrator is punished. "The last time I did that I got spanked, so I will not do it again." The worse the punishment for the act is, the more "bad" the act is perceived to be.[16] This can give rise to an inference that even innocent victims are guilty in proportion to their suffering. It is "egocentric," lacking recognition that others' points of view are different from one's own.[17] There is "deference to superior power or prestige."[17]

An example of obedience and punishment driven morality would be a child refusing to do something because it is wrong and that the consequences could result in punishment. For example, a child's classmate tries to dare the child to skip school. The child would apply obedience and punishment driven morality by refusing to skip school because he would get punished.

Stage two (self-interest driven) expresses the "what's in it for me" position, in which right behavior is defined by whatever the individual believes to be in their best interest but understood in a narrow way which does not consider one's reputation or relationships to groups of people. Stage two reasoning shows a limited interest in the needs of others, but only to a point where it might further the individual's own interests. As a result, concern for others is not based on loyalty or intrinsic respect, but rather a "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" mentality.[2] The lack of a societal perspective in the pre-conventional level is quite different from the social contract (stage five), as all actions at this stage have the purpose of serving the individual's own needs or interests. For the stage two theorist, the world's perspective is often seen as morally relative.

An example of self-interest driven is when a child is asked by his parents to do a chore. The child asks, "what's in it for me?" The parents offer the child an incentive by giving a child an allowance to pay them for their chores. The child is motivated by self-interest to do chores.


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