Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development have been debated and argued since they were proposed. They offer a look into the human psyche, as well as into what we are capable of when faced with the greatest challenges and questions of our lives. Most frighteningly to many, they do not offer a permanent solution to morals, but rather a grey area in which we will act after we reach a certain point within our development. They stare at the innermost parts of us and ask, “What would you do?” were we faced with such a difficult decision. We cower from these situations, hoping morality will always be black and white. If it is not, sometimes we force it. Murder is immoral; helping people cross the street is moral. Theft is immoral; feeding a person who has no food is moral. However, we neglect to consider the situations wherein these lines fall away; it is possible for these scenarios to occur, but for a grey area to exist, and for the immoral party to be the moral figure in the situation.
In order to illustrate this, we are given the story of Heinz and his wife, who is dying from a rare form of cancer, of which there is no cure. A druggist finds a cure, however, and while it was expensive to make, costing $200, the druggist charges ten times its production cost to sell it. The couple cannot afford the cure. Desperate to save his wife, Heinz attempts to raise the funds but is only able to raise half of the $2,000 needed to save her life. He asks the druggist to except this in exchange for the treatment, promising to deliver the rest of the payment later; the druggist declines. Growing more desperate, Heinz breaks into the druggist’s lab, and steals the drug. The moral question is whether Heinz should have stolen the drug or not? The answer: of course.
While Heinz should have stolen the medicine, and was justified in doing so, there are technically many correct answers to the question because there are many variables. We are reminded by, “Culture and the Quest For Universal Principles in Moral Reasoning,” that it is likely Kohlberg added so many variables in order to ascertain what our true morals are or what stage of development we are in, but also to demonstrate the complexity of morality . Depending on which side one argues, either Heinz or the druggist are justifiable, showcasing the delicate balance between morality, immorality, and how we view our actions and the actions of others. The truth is, there is no “correct” answer, because not stealing the medicine supports the societal reprimand for thievery, while stealing the medicine supports justice for Heinz’s sick wife and liberation from the tyranny of the druggist . That being said, Heinz should have stolen the drug for his wife. The druggist had discovered how to create a lifesaving drug for $200, which is expensive, but he was selling it for $2,000. Heinz raised half the funds but the druggist was unreasonable, refusing to take half the payment for treatment, something hospitals due even now for cancer treatment. Furthermore, the druggist insisted he was going to make money off the drug, disallowing him to give Heinz the drug at all. It was the druggist’s intention to continue doing this to others. It became Heinz’s moral obligation to take the drug, not only for his wife, but for others like her who would eventually need the drug.
It is true that stealing is wrong. As a society we like to believe there is a line drawn between right and wrong, which, in this case, would make Heinz,’s theft the deciding factor, according to . He stole something that was not his and, regardless of the reason, that makes him the immoral party. However, this way of thinking makes us susceptible to letting other guilty, and immoral, parties go free. We forget to argue against the less blatantly immoral, like the druggist. It is easy to turn on the obvious thieves, but not the not-so-obvious murders. When analyzed this way, Heinz becomes a hero. He stole the drug to save his wife. In doing so, he may have released the formula to a more reputable individual who sells it at affordable individuals, saving countless lives. If left in the hands of the druggist, many lives would have been lost simply because they could not afford the drug, including the life of Heinz’s wife. It would not be because he did not know they could not afford it, but because he wanted more money and would not sell a life-saving cancer cure for any less than ten times what it cost to create. It is true that stealing an item is wrong, and can be viewed as immoral, but with extenuating circumstances such as these to examine, one must consider if the immoral acts are being perpetrated by the individual withholding medication, making Heinz the moral figure in this scenario.
In sum, not every scenario is what it seems upon first analysis. Heinz stole the drug and while stealing is typically wrong, unless all of the aspects of the situation were looked at, he would appear to be an immoral criminal. However, it is clear the druggist is the one at fault in this situation. He created a drug that would eventually save millions, perhaps billions of lives, but chose to sell it at a price to high for the average individual to afford. When Heinz, desperate to save his wife, showed initiative to raise the druggist’s absurd prices, he was still denied access, showing the druggist was more concerned with greed than human lives. Heinz stole, but he stole to keep a human alive. The druggist was prepared to murder anybody inadvertently who had the audacity to be too poor to afford his cure, which justifies Heinz’s theft.
Sachdeva, Sonya, Purnima Singh and Douglas Medin. "Culture and the quest for universal principles in moral reasoning." International Journal of Psychology (2011): 161-176. Article.
Schwiztgebel, Eric and Fiery Cushman. "Expertise in Moral Reasoning? Order Effects on Moral Judgment in Professional Philosophers and Non-Philosophers." Mind & Language (2012): 135-153. Article.
Zarkadi, Theodora and Simone Schnall. "“Black and White” thinking: Visual contrast polarizes moral judgment." Journal of Experimental Psychology (2013): 2013. 355-359.