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Values and Morals Clarification

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 26th 2016

The final thing you will benefit from becoming more aware of is your own values and how those values correspond to your community's moral sensibilities, and to your own actions. Your values are the principles you believe in and have invested in (which is why they are said to have "value" in the first place). Values are the goals towards which you aspire. They largely define the core of your identity. More importantly still, they are the source of your motivation to improve yourself. If you did not value self-improvement, for example, you would not be reading this document right now.

It is important to develop a good understanding of your values, because of how influential your values are in determining and motivating your behavior. If you don't understand your values, you won't understand how to orient yourself in a direction that is likely to be satisfying. Your behavior, your actions will be more oriented towards putting out fires (satisfying your immediate needs), and less oriented towards developing your long term potential. You won't have a plan. You will instead, just be reactive. Because if you don't understand what they are you don't know what motivates you. Or what could motivate you - towards becoming a better person.

People's values define what they want personally, but morals define what the society around those people want for them. Certain behaviors are considered to be desirable by a given society, while others are considered to be undesirable. For the most part, however, morals are not written in stone, or proclaimed by God above, but instead reflect local sensibilities. Different societies have different ideas about what is acceptable and not acceptable. There are only a relative few behaviors (usually including murder, and various forms of abuse, including incest and adult-child sexual contact of any sort) that are pretty much universally despised by stable societies.

People are not born understanding their society's morals. Instead, these understandings develop and mature over time. Psychologist Lawrence Kolhberg's famous work has provided us with a developmental mapping of how moral understanding tends to progress through childhood and early adulthood.

According to Kohlberg, infants have little or no moral sense, because they are not born with an understanding of the nature of human relationships. As children reach elementary school age, they enter into the first major stage of moral understanding, known as the "pre-conventional" stage. Pre-conventional children are essentially selfish in orientation. They do not think about what behaviors will serve the greater good, but rather think in terms of what will most benefit themselves. They respond primarily to power, and think of morality as a matter of following rules so as to avoid punishment.

As children grow into adulthood, they typically enter into the stage of "conventional" moral understanding. Some children will be developmentally delayed in this regard and become adults who have the moral understanding of children; we call them sociopaths, narcissists, and anti-social personalities. The majority of people that do make it to the conventional moral understanding start thinking in terms of duty; a duty to do what is necessary to promote the greater good. They orient towards behaviors that are most likely to gain other people's respect and admiration. Part of conventional morality is the duty to behave lawfully. Some people take this duty further and understand it as a duty to conform to what other influential people around them want.

Most adults never actually achieve the final stage of morality, known as post-conventional morality, mostly because in order to get there, people have to throw off their sense of duty to what others around them want, and reinvest their moral sense in higher principles, such as (but not limited to) "honesty", "reciprocity", and "social welfare". Such people become willing to take unpopular stances and make unpopular decisions simply because those decisions represent the right thing to do. For example, a post-conventional CEO might decide to offer full medical coverage for all employees because it is the right thing to do (to use the company to raise up all participants), even though to do so would anger shareholders who might see this as a drain on profits. It is very difficult to achieve a post-conventional morality in what is largely a conventional world. The CEO in our example would probably not last long, unfortunately.


Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

RN - Marya - Jun 16th 2012

I love this statement.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years.

Agreeable One - LTW - Jan 8th 2012

I agree with the "polluted soceity" which we do operate off of on a daily basis.

conventional adults - Lani Lopez - Oct 27th 2011

Very interesting article. It is sad but very true when adults never reach the conventional stage of life and are stuck in the pre-conventional stage of life. I have met far to many people whom are grown human beings and still act like children. I have always not understood how many men do not achieve maturity and think it is alright to not raise and take care of their children. Not only to make a good life for thier children but to set a good example for them as well. Both men and woman are guilty of this in my experience however I have seen way to many men that have not stepped up and been responsible citizens in my community.

A polluted society - YJ Draiman for Mayor of LA - Feb 13th 2011

A polluted society

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.

We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less.

We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time;

We have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry too quickly, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too seldom, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values.

We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often.

We've learned how to make a living, but not a life; we've added years to life, not life to years.

We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.

We've conquered outer space, but not inner space.

We've done larger things, but not better things.

We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.

We've split the atom, but not our prejudice.

We write more, but learn less.

We plan more, but accomplish less.

We've learned to rush, but not to wait.

We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever, but have less communication.

These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion; tall men, and short character; steep profits, and shallow relationships.

These are the times of world peace, but domestic warfare; more leisure, but less fun; more kinds of food, but less nutrition.

These are days of two incomes, but more divorce; of fancier houses, but broken homes.

These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer to quiet, to kill.

It is a time when there is much in the show window and nothing in the stockroom; a time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just ignore it.


The deterioration of family values R4 - YJ Draiman - Jan 17th 2011

The deterioration of family values R4



Since World War 2 when women were encouraged to join the work force en mass, to replace the men who went to war and keep the economy and the war effort going.


There has been a deterioration of family values and a breakdown of the family unit, a trend where a mother was not at home to take care of her children, monitor their behavior, help with the homework and discipline when and where necessary.


The advancement in technology has harmed family values. The Media and Television has totally destroyed any comprehension of values in our society.


The lack of discipline and total disregard for authority and respect is clear to anyone who has watched the past 50 years and seen our society’s values deteriorate.


One example alone is that 50 years ago a teacher was happy to go to school to teach, a teacher was respected and looked up-to, a teacher could discipline.  Today teachers fear for their lives they are petrified by their students, discipline is restricted both to teachers and parents alike.


This scenario caries on to other social interactions of society today, and the situation is getting worse and worse every year.


You will notice that many families who come from other countries have a very strong family values, tradition, good education, respect and the children excel in their studies. That is because they have not had the chance to be influenced by our overly liberal society.


The education of our children begins at home and continues in school – the parents and the school must take a proactive approach to teach our children values and respect.


In today’s society a teacher is not permitted to discipline a student, the teachers will be sued, not to mention that teachers fears for their safety.


Parents in today’s society are also restricted as to how to discipline their children; in many cases parents are getting sued. In many cases children would never dream of treating their parents with such disrespect 50 years ago. Today some parents are afraid of their own children.


Abuse has been and will be with society to eternity that does not give society the right to prohibit discipline; a few acts of abuse should not cause society to prohibit proper discipline.


When an individual or individuals utilize a vehicle to commit a crime cause the death of others, does society prohibit vehicles altogether, no, a vehicle is very important for our everyday life.


Well, the discipline of our children by parents and teachers is extremely important for our society and the preservation of humanity.

It seems that our society is so busy chasing the dollar, fame and glory, that anything goes all values goes out the window. We should be an example of honesty, integrity and respect to our children.


Are Americans patriotic and proud enough to defend, protect and bring family values back to America? Is America ready to fight for honesty integrity and justice in our society, eliminate corruption and fraud, waste and self serving programs?


Re-invigorate our economy and decrease our dependence on foreign economies and resources.



YJ Draiman, Northridge, CA.




Tell me and I will forget
Show me and I may remember
Involve me and I will understand.
– Chinese Proverb.

We all want health, happiness, prosperity and life

Morality - Alia Khan - Nov 10th 2010

 I think with help of all reading those articls morality comes from religion,culture,comunity and your internal belives how to live or what you have been tought by surrounding

      Its something you keep it dear.its some ting you care,by the family,for the family ,to the family's honor.If you have lived in joint family you learn more moral values.

The definition of morality comes from the Bible - Ruchelle - Apr 16th 2010

I believe the definition of morality comes from the Bible. If you love God with all your soul, mind, and strength, you will be willing to do the right thing. There is no fear of God in today's society. Everyone thinks they can "do as they please" and get by with it. Sorry, that is totally incorrect and irresponsible.

We are unfortunately building a society where morals are clearly in the past. Today, we pride ourselves in saving the whales and killing our children! How blinded and how totally out of control some Americans are.

We have to get back to the basics and train our children and ourselves in doing what the Word of God says we should do instead of throwing it over our shoulders.

We need prayer in school and we need prayer in homes. All of us, including myself, need to pray more.

Morality is the basis of life - Steve - Mar 3rd 2010

Moral standards are an interesting topic.  I never really understood morality, and I definitely didn't know there were different kinds of morality.  I always thought that moral standards were to do what you believe is the right thing to do, not what society expects of you.  I believe I have very strong moral standards.  I am an honest, hardworking person.  I am going back to school to pursue a degree in criminal justice, and I want to have a career in law enforcement one day. I believe I have achieved so much in my lifetime.  Some things have been good, while others have not been so good.  Growing up in a single family home as the oldest child was not easy, and I do believe my sense of morality has been affected by that.  I just believe that you should know the difference between right and wrong.  That is what morality is all about.  Not everyone grows up with a sense of that.  That is why we have murderers, thieves, rapists, and criminals in general.  Society has not provided some people with an opportunity to understand the difference between right and wrong.  The article was good and has given me a sense of moral understanding, but morality is not a trait that everyone grows up with.  Traditionally, moral standards are based on opposing human characteristics, not what society decides what is right or wrong.

Various worldviews of morality - Kieu Cong Hien - Jun 3rd 2009

The general concepts and definitions of the above ideas are very good, it is actual based on its own society and community. On the other hand, morality may be depended or influential from the beliefs, cultural mores and traditional practice of society or community where they live.

There are various definitions of morality, for me there are three major definitions of morality:

(1) the morality of God, what Christians are compliance with Ten Commandments and Scriptures. However, this morality sometimes runs contrary to the law and regulation of the secular society or community where each person must obey the uniqued stipulation of that society. In short, this morality is absolutely opposited to the morality of Satan.

(2) the morality of Satan, this morality is attractive people who want to be freedom in whatever they want to do in order to satisfy their own ambitions. This morality is welcomed by those who desire to live beyond the law of human or the morality of human in which each country has to issue and require its citizens to compliance with.

(3) the morality of human is when people who are compliance with their current laws and regulations, if they run contrary and object the law they will at once punish. On the other hand, the morality of human is to make society order, its common goal is to value its community. This morality  sometimes lies between the morality of God and the morality of Satan.

Post-Conventional Stage - ayse - Apr 14th 2009

We need to educate the society for all adults to be in the post -conventional stage of Kohlberg's, so that humanity will serve for others not only for him or her-self. It is sad that we have conventional society.The conventional CEO's should get fired not post-conventional ones.

Interesting article - Melissa - Apr 13th 2009

I found this article to be interesting. I agree that little things people do differ on the morality standard scale depending on where you live. I also found it interesting that babys are not born with any sense of morals and that it is learned growing up.

values and morals - Betty - Apr 10th 2009

I never knew the difference between vakue and morals.  I have always done what my parents have told me to do and what was expected of me.  For instance, I got married straight from high school and had three boys,  My husband could not keep a job at all.  i ended up divorcing him and I went on with my life.  I knew what I wanted and i kept it inside of me.  Today I am achieving what I wanted to do over 20 years ago.  I am attending school.  I am strong in what I want and that is going to be it. 

very helpful! - Learnig in the University and diversity of the Web sites. - Jan 16th 2009

I found this site very helpful!  It made me think of how some things are related and how our values determine our behavior. So true♥

- - Oct 28th 2008
Is it Possible to be in the Post- conventional stage at a young age?

post-conventional? - post-conventional - Oct 1st 2008

A post-conventional CEO? don't make me laugh.

- Danita Applewhite, Doctoral Candidate-Ca - Aug 15th 2008

I must encourage others, especially my students, to believe that post-conventional morality is still existent. There are many who strive to stand up for what is right and fair, or at least they support those who are willing to stand out in the crowd.

I find that those who genuinely care for others regardless of their culture, ethnicty, and political or religious belief systems, are those who claarify values and morality for us in the world.  It is difficult to see popular entertainers and political leaders as imperfect because they influence so  many. However, I am honored to be in the company of others who are truly interested in feeding the hungry and teaching them how to sustain themselves.

Good country this Canada - John Smith - Jul 12th 2008

A duty to do what is necessary to promote the greater good

Philanthropy? Most people in a macro sense who have reached this stage have so much money that thay look for a way to give back to the community that they have overly charged for their services,have sucked the life blood out of the human race and are now looking for spiritual redemption.

altruism, beneficence, benignancy, benignity, charitableness, charity, goodwill, grace, kindheartedness, kindliness, kindness

Be true to thine own self.

If you are a social welfare recipient and do not contribute to the community, I have no pity or sympathy for you.

Mothers raising generations of welfare dependants and fathers having children(planting their seed) without social responsibility.

The world is a cold place 


"GOOS" - - Mar 17th 2008
Yes...i is a "GOOS" article!

Situationally Post-Conventional - - Feb 20th 2008

To be Post-Conventional does not mean that one needs to be totally this way all the time.  Most people will have a moment or moments in their life when they are Post-Conventional based on the situation in which they behave according to this standard. 

nice one !!!!!!!!!!!! - lanre - Feb 14th 2008

nice one,is their anyone from post-convectional morality?.and how will one knows if he or she has move from one level of morality to another.


- - Jan 15th 2008

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