People make different decisions in similar ethical situations because they are in different stages of six cognitive moral development stages:
1. The stage of punishment and obedience. An individual in Kohlberg's first stage defines right as literal obedience to rules and authority.
2. The stage of individual instrumental purpose and exchange. An individual in stage 2 defines right as that which serves his or her own needs.
3. The stage of mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and conformity. An individual in stage 3 emphasizes others rather than him- or herself.
4. The stage of social system and conscience maintenance. An individual in stage 4 determines what is right by considering his or her duty to society, not just to other specific people. Duty, respect for authority, and maintaining the social order become the focal points.
5. The stage of prior rights, social contract, or utility. In stage 5, an individual is concerned with upholding the basic rights, values, and legal contracts of society.
6. The stage of universal ethical principles. A person in this stage believes that right is determined by universal ethical principles that everyone should follow.