created to assess a subject's level of moral reasoning using Kohlberg's stages of morality
. On this scale, people at a low level of development make judgements based on immediate rewards and punishments, followed by ones who use social mores
and rules, followed by those who reason from universal moral principles that stand outside of culture.
Subjects read the following story and answer the question. It is important to note that they are not scored according to their answer, but according to how they justify it
A woman is dying from a rare disease. Her husband, Heinz, has tried everything to help her. Finally, he finds a druggist who has a special medicine that might save her life, but he wants a huge sum of money for it. Heinz goes to every aid agency he can find, borrows money from all his friends, and sells all his possessions, but he can only raise half the money. He offers it to the druggist, who refuses. That night, Heinz breaks into the druggist's pharmacy and steals the medicine.
Did Heinz do the right thing? Explain your answer.
(note that this is a sort of fuzzy, subjective
test. There is no standard grading rubric
and, as far as I know, no canonical
version of the story)
The reason that the explanation is so important is that different levels of thinking can lead to the same response. A person at the lowest level, who is motivated by fear of punishment
, might reason that Heinz was right because he'd have felt sad
otherwise, or because everyone needs to watch out for themselves. Someone at the highest level could agree, but because they believe that life is more precious
than property and, in the balance, Heinz gains more than the druggist loses
. People at an intermediate
level might answer either way, but justify their judgement based on how they think society will view the crime.
Women, on average
, score lower on the test than men. The dilemma has been criticized as gender-biased
, notably by psychologist Carol Gilligan
in her book In a Different Voice
. There is the issue that the protagonist is a man and the woman is nameless and passive
, but it goes much deeper than that. Women tend to be more focused on social
groups and consensus-building
than on individual heroism
or personal rights
. They might often answer that Heinz should have talked to the druggist further, taken the druggist to meet his wife, or tried other creative social or interpersonal
solutions. This can make them appear to be mired
in conventional morality, when in fact it merely reflects a stronger belief that these solutions can work, and make things better for everyone.
For further discussion of this system and the criticisms of it, see Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development