In level I, called the premoral level, the person's ethical decisions are based on rewards, punishments, and self-interest. In stage 1, the individual obeys rules to avoid punishment. In stage 2, the individual follows the rules only if it is in his or her immediate interest to do so.
In level II, the conventional level, the focus is on the expectations of others (parents, peers) or society. In stage 3, individuals try to live up to the expectations of people close to them. In stage 4, they broaden their perspective to include the laws of the larger society. They fulfill duties and obligations and want to contribute to society.
In level III, the principled level, what is "right" is determined by universal values. The individual sees beyond laws, rules, and the expectations of other people. In stage 5, individuals are aware that people have diverse value systems. They uphold their own values despite what others think. For a person to be classified as being in stage 5, decisions must be based on principles of justice and rights. For example, a person who decides to picket an abortion clinic just because his religion says abortion is wrong is not a stage 5 individual. A person who arrives at the same decision through a complex decision process based on justice and rights may be a stage 5 individual. The key is the process rather than the decision itself. In stage 6, the individual follows self-selected ethical principles. If there is a conflict between a law and a self-selected ethical principle, the individual acts according to the principle.