Kohlberg Dilemmas

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Reading a collection of hypothetical situations reminded me of the type of questions my Sunday school teachers used to ask. I remember those particular questions really shaping the way I behaved in life, for better or worse, and as a result (though I don’t think I’ll find myself in any of these situations anytime soon) it does tend to make this collection all the more compelling.

Two young men, brothers, had got into serious trouble. They were secretly leaving town in a hurry and needed money. Karl, the older one, broke into a store and stole a thousand dollars. Bob, the younger one, went to a retired old man who was known to help people in town. He told the man that he was very sick and that he needed a thousand dollars to pay for an operation. Bob asked the old man to lend him the money and promised that he would pay him back when he recovered. Really Bob wasn’t sick at all, and he had no intention of paying the man back. Although the old man didn’t know Bob very well, he lent him the money. So Bob and Karl skipped town, each with a thousand dollars.

Here are some of the questions to consider:

  1. Which is worse, stealing like Karl or cheating like Bob? and why?
  2. In general, why should a promise be kept?
  3. Is it important to keep a promise to someone you don’t know well or will never see again? Why or why not?
  4. Was the old man being irresponsible by lending Bob the money? Why or why not?

More hypothetical situations and questions to go with them at Kohlberg Dilemmas. Also you may find the moral quandaries at the BBC interesting as well.

10 thoughts on “Kohlberg Dilemmas

  1. hmm, dilemma. Well I think TECHNICALLY both wrong doings were equally bad, but my personal feeling is cheating the old man was worse, not only for cheating someone, but taking advantage of someone is so heinous. The old man was being compassionate, I believe. Irresponsible? Well maybe. But not really, he was trusting Bob.

  2. Taking advantage of someone’s special trust and kindness intuitively seems more sinister than defeating someone’s physical security precautions. In the second instance, the two sides are dealing with each other frankly as enemies: The storekeeper puts locks on his store because he asusmes there’s an enemy—a burglar—who’s going to try to get his valuables. The kindly old man, though, doesn’t believe he’s dealing with an enemy. A trust is being violated in that case that isn’t violated in the other.

  3. In the case of a person who chooses not to lock his store, we intuitively feel that he’s being foolish, opening himself up to the enemies who want to take his belongings. But in the case of a man who chooses to trust a stranger, we are less inclined to call him foolish: Here, there is a competing virtue. We want people to be trusting, at least to a point. When they aren’t, we call them cycnical and unfriendly. But we have a societal norm of drawing the line of trust much earlier when it comes to locking doors, as opposed to believing strangers.

  4. I am going to say that the actions of the person who stole from the store are worse because they potentially affect more than one person. Potentially, the store owner may recover from the loss by increasing the price of his goods, thus passing on the effects of the theft on to his customers.

    In one instance, the crime is against one person. In the other, the crime is against a collective society.

  5. What about the others who might have benefited from the money that the generous man has now lost? If he’s in the habit of making loans to the needy, then some genuinely needy people have likely lost out.

  6. I was inferring it only from what was already listed in the scenario: The man is referred to as “a retired old man who was known to help people in town.” If he’s out $1000, he can do less to help others.

  7. I also didn’t raise the question to criticize you; I raised it as another interesting point to ponder.

  8. I forgot to answer the other questions. Promises are important, and it shows integrity to keep them. I personally believe that Heavenly Father expects us to keep our promises. When he makes a promise He ALWAYS without fail, keeps it. We can count on Him. We should have the same integrity as well.

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