Child, Youth, and Family Studies, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Developmental Psychology, 17:5 (September 1981), pp. 595–603. Copyright © 1981 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. Used by permission. “This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.”


This study explores relationships among moral reasoning (as measured by the Kohlberg scale of moral development), social roles, and cultural context among the elders in a small, traditional Kipsigis community of western Kenya. Six traditional leaders—men who were considered morally outstanding by their neighbors and who were frequently called on to help settle local disputes—were interviewed, using an adapted version of the Kohlberg moral dilemmas; six men who were similar to the leaders in age, education, religion, and wealth but who were not considered moral leaders were also interviewed. The leaders scored slightly but significantly higher than the nonleaders on Kohlberg’s scale. All of the men’s responses, however, were in the Stages 2–4 range, with no representation of the two highest stages. The cultural values expressed by the men’s responses are discussed in relation to their own roles in the community and in relation to the structure of traditional Kipsigis society, and Kohlberg’s theory is critically reexamined.