This discussion explores a striking correspondence between conservative, liberal, and egalitarian political attitudes and the three upper stages in Kohlberg’s schema of moral development. In the context of cognitive-developmental theory, the correspondence entails that political ideologies can be ranked in order of cognitive adequacy, but analysis of the evidence uncovers only ‘soft’ political stages. The success of Habermas’s alternative attempt to derive the moral stages from stages of interactive competence depends upon viewing competence in terms of the evolution of communicative practices rather than genuine structural development. His reconciliation of broadly Piagetan and broadly Marxist forms of structuralism leaves the former able to account for prepolitical reasoning but ties political argument to a set of alternative institutional forms rather than to a hierarchy of historical stages.

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