A Civil Action


Lawrence Kohlberg did a study and came up with a scale for people’s moral development. This scale goes from 1, which is a pretty infantile stage of “I want it and I want it now!”, to stage 6, which is living purely on ethics and principal. A Civil Action is a wonderful movie to see these stages hard at work and just how fast someone can go from one stage to another. I would like to specifically point out three areas in this movie that best show these stages of moral development at work. First I will discuss Jan Schlictman and how his ethical point of view changes. Then I will discuss his initial refusal of the case. Finally, I will talk about Ann Anderson and her ethical reasoning behind what she does.


First lets talk about Jan Schlictman. Jan is an attorney, however he is not just any kind of attorney, he is a personal injury attorney. These attorneys are usually viewed as ambulance chasers, snakes, the lowest of the low. In fact, they rank so low on the totem pole that other attorneys don’t even like them. As you can tell he is not usually a favorable person, well that is unless you’re his client. This being because all he cares about is money, Money, Money, MONEY! For Jan that is what it is all about. This puts Han at about a stage 1 on the verge of stage 2. At stage 1 he is at a very ego-centric space, with an inability to consider the perspectives of others. In other words “It’s all about me”. Of course he does touch al little into the reciprocity of stage 2, which is “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”


Eventually Jan’s ethical point of view changes. This happens when he hears the story about the little boy that dies on his way to the doctors office. I don’t know for sure what it was about that mans story that helped to cause Jan’s ethics change. Maybe it was the fact that he had heard many stories like this and this one was the straw that broke the camels back, so to say. Or maybe it was the absolute pure, raw emotion that was displayed by someone who had lost there child. Something that all the money in the world can not buy.


If you watch Jan closely in this movie, you can see that on the moral development scale he starts out pretty low. Slowly but surely, as things progress he moves a few notches up the scale. This is where he starts to look at winning the case as a battle between lawful and unlawful. However at the end of it all it becomes a case of what is ethical and doing good things based on the principal of it. So we see that Jan clearly moves up the scale of moral development as time goes on.


Our first introduction to Ann Anderson, she calls Jan while he is on a radio show. She really puts him on the spot and pretty much makes him look like a jerk. When she is doing this I believe that it is a perfect example of how a person can slide backwards on Kohlbergs scale of moral development. At the point when she calls on the radio, it appears that she has gone to the position of 1.


Yet we also see Ann Anderson as a person that is very high on this scale, for she is simply looking for an apology, not money. This indicates that Ann is a level 5 person. This is a woman that has lost her child, the one thing that means the most to a person. Yet instead of her looking to these companies for vengeance, she looks for the ethically correct thing to do. Clean up the mess and apologize for your unrepairable damage to these people’s lives.


Jan starts our as a pretty money hungry attorney, so when he does go out to Woburn to see what this case is all about, he flat out refuses to take the case. For him, the answer is simple, there is no money in this case. He doesn’t look at whether it