People with different views of the way humanity and its laws function reach certain stages of moral development. Kohlberg presents us with these stages of moral development. The individual is categorized under his or her moral priority and the way he or she would handle unexpected situations. In Sophocles play, Antigone, characters illustrate Kohlbergs moral development principles. Ismene embodies Kohlbergs pre-conventional stage throughout Sophocless play Antigone.
In Kohlbergs first level of moral thinking, physical consequences of an action determine its goodness or badness regardless of the humane meaning or value of these consequences. This pre-conventional stage is conveyed through out the play in Ismene. Ismene depicts the question of what is right and what is wrong according to its punishment and consequences. She follows the laws of Creon for she believes her morals cannot possibly be compared to that of a king.
She fears the penalty for her actions and acts on her own best interest. Society tends to stay with authoritarian law because they feel the law is above their beliefs and they are powerless against it. Even when Antigone comes to Ismene and asks for her assistance she mocks Antigone for her idiocy to defy the supreme law, Ismene states And do what he has forbidden! We are only women, we cannot fight with men, Antigone! The law is strong, we must give in to the law In this thing, and in worse (Sophocles 750).
Ismene fails to realize that there is a greater cause beyond Antigones breaking of the law, Antigone is trying to accomplish something regardless of the law, and Ismene is oblivious to her actions. The law has overwhelmed society and societys social orientation. Society has to grow out of the pre conventional stage and needs to put obedience and punishment behind for a greater cause. Society has to realize mans faults and realize that there is a greater universal decree, greater than any other created by man. Ismene symbolizes societys ignorance and social orientation to authoritarian law.
Creon has surpassed Kohlberg’s first stage of moral development, however his outlook on life has only limited him too the main concepts of conventional morality. The second stage of moral thinking is characterized by an attitude which seeks to do what will gain the approval of others. This stage is oriented to abiding by the law and responding to obligations of duty by abiding by the law. Creon is one who responds to his duties and obligations to the fullest, however uses the law as his only support. Creon is not a man of reason but a man of law and order.
Creon follows his law to the fullest as if it were his only refuge to his problems, and even when Creons own son Haimon states I beg you, do not be unchangeable: Do not believe you alone can be right. The man who thinks that, turns out empty (Sophocles 773), Creon with pride and dedication to the law believes his son is corrupt and wants Antigone only for the pleasures she provides for him, and fails to realize his sons growing maturity. Creon on the other had, is unable to realize his faults and believes law and order is the only way people can be ruled.
Creon tries to please his followers and commit to his obligations but fears if he lets Antigone go free for disobeying the law his public image would diminish. Creons tragic error is his pride, he believes by taking Antigones life he will have everything, ironically his pride has destroyed his humane self and destroyed his life as well. What was once everything is now nothing. Creons pride and arrogance weighed him down from blossoming in to the post-conventional stage and becoming more intuitive to, not just to mans law, but universal principles as well.
The state of principled conscience is reached only by Antigone who has reached beyond law and order to a greater superiority. Kohlbergs post-conventional stage is based on respect for universal principle and responding to demands of the individual conscience. Antigone has realized mans error and is determined to violate the law even if the consequence of her actions means death. Antigone is able to see beyond Law and Order and the approval of others, she is able to find her own moral beliefs and put them over authoritarian rule.
Antigone states that It was not Gods proclamation. That final justice that rules the world below makes no such laws. Your edict, King, was strong, But all your strength is a weakness against itself (Sophocles 763). Antigone compliments Creon for his strong dedication to the law, but also reminds him that she is following the supreme law, which Creon seems to ignore. She follows her moral beliefs but also respects mans law. However Antigone is mature enough to realize the limitation to these laws and when they should dealt with.
Society cannot seem to break away from the lower stages of moral development and enter the post- conventional stage. Society is content with their conditions in life and feels no need to trouble with the law, so therefore living life unchanged. Antigone is trying to prove that if the law is radical in some cases and must be dealt with no matter what the outcome Antigone symbolizes the utmost prestige in the social order with her ability to reach beyond authoritarian rule to a greater level of morality.
Kohlberg has made a path which society must follow to grow out of its immature self and enter the morally correct world. In Kohlbergs three stages of moral reason, the levels of maturity and principles of growth are integral in the characterization of the individual. Society has yet to grow out of the pre-conventional stage and enter the conventional and post-conventional stages. As long as society accepts ad obeys authoritarian rule out of fear of punishment social order shall always remaine the pre-conventional stage.