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MORAL DEVELOPMENT: KOHLBERG AND PIAGET

By Dr. P. McCabe, For The PaperStore, Inc., May 1998

    Several researchers have written about the moral

development of children but none are quite as well-known as

Lawrence Kohlberg and Jean Piaget. Piaget has become known

for his direct observations of children in various activities

and it was from these observations that he arrived at his

theories. Although better known for his cognitive

developmental stages, Piaget also investigated moral

development. Kohlberg, on the other hand, arrived at his

conclusions regarding moral development by asking

questions of his subjects, specifically moral dilemma

questions. From their responses, he developed his theories in

this important area of human development. Of the two

theories, Kohlberg's is by far the better known and the one

that is not only cited in many educational psychology

classes, it is the one on which subsequent research into this

arena has more often been based perhaps because Kohlberg

offered a clearer and more discrete theory than did Piaget

(Barger, 1996). Kohlberg offered three levels of thinking and

two components in each level; Piaget offered two stages of

moral development which are not as detailed as Kohlberg's

theory.

The Theories

    Kohlberg's theories are founded in the notion that

infants are born as clean slates without any kind of morals;

these become developed through the family's training and

interaction (Barger, 1996). Development does not stop at some

predetermined age; moral development continues as the person

ages and gains more knowledge, his or her morals also change

based on this maturational process.

    Piaget used three terms when discussing morality: 1.)

moral development; 2.) moral judgment; and 3.) moral behavior

(White, 1996). Moral development, as in Kohlberg' theories,

continues throughout a person's lifetime; moral judgment came

before moral behavior (White, 1996; Barger, 1996). In other

words, before one could behave morally, one had to be able to

judge what was moral; knowledge and judgment must come before

the behavior. Piaget's moral developmental sequence includes

two stages which he determined by observing children playing

games, by asking them questions about how and when rules

could be changed and what lying and stealing meant. Piaget

also presented scenarios to the children depicting a child

doing something wrong and asked which child in the scenarios

should be punished.

The following table reflects Piaget's moral development schema:

Stage Age Range Context

Heteronomous MoralityHeteronomous Morality.

    Egocentric thoughts and imminent justice are the bases of

this stage. Egocentric in that the child is not able to think

beyond themselves; imminent justice in that if you disobey

the rule you get punished.

5 - 10 years old Rules come from adults.

Moral rules are permanent and cannot be changed.

Autonomous MoralityAutonomous Morality.

The youngster begins to develop their own set of moral principles. 10 - Adult

Rules are not concrete; they are more flexible.

The society decides what rules are needed but they can be changed.

(Piaget, 1965)

    Kohlberg's invariant theory is much more complex than

Piaget's and follows a progression in moral reasoning with

several steps in it. Both theorists not the influence of the

family although one must return to Piaget's stages of

cognitive development to really see his thoughts regarding

his thoughts on the impact of the family on the infant's and

child's developmental processes. One can also see the

similarities in Kohlberg's design of his stages and Piaget's

design of the cognitive stages (White, 1996).

    In Piaget's schema, the first "stage" was dependent on

outside authority such as parents and others of influence in

the child's life. From about age 10 forward, the process

became more internal. In Piaget's opinion, in the

heteronomous stage, the rules were not changeable; there was

no flexibility. Piaget called this equilibrium. His

experiment to prove his point was to ask children which of

two children were naughtier a child who accidentally broke 16

cups or a child that broke one cup while stealing some jam.

Six and seven year-olds typically said the one who broke 15

cups because he broke the most. The fact that the second

child in the scenario was stealing when he broke one cup did

not enter into their decision (Piaget, 1965).

    Equilibrium is related to consistency; the child needs

the events in his or her life to "fit" within their frame of

reference, within their past experience and teaching from

their parents and other family members. It provides a balance

for them without which the world is no more than a very

confusing chaotic place in which they cannot function. When

the balance or equilibrium is disrupted, in Piaget's view,

the child must perform some sort of cognitive gymnastics to

put it back together. They do this through the process of

accommodation and assimilation (Piaget, 1965).

    Role-taking within the family unit plays a significant

part in moral development, in fact, Piaget believed this

aspect was so essential that moral development would be

stifled without it. Each family member plays different roles

at different times and it is within the family unit that the

individual first as a child and then as an adolescent

develops morals and ethics for his or her life as an adult.

The society plays another significant part but mostly not

until the child becomes an adolescent and begins to "try on"

different social roles. Children and adolescents whose

families have rigid moral codes, however, will not as great

an opportunity to experience different kinds of moral

authorities because the number of moral authorities to which

the adolescent will be exposed is determined greatly by the

degree of adaptability found in the family. When the family

structure is such that the adolescent does have the

opportunity to explore and investigate different moral codes,

the youngster is better able to choose the moral code to

which he or she will ascribe and adopt as their own (Piaget,

1965; White, 1996).

    Kohlberg's and Piaget's theories both incorporate the

fact that the family is the first place where children were

first exposed to the concept of morals. Kohlberg believed

that very young children could be taught to behave morally

but because the learning was based on getting punished for

doing something wrong, it is questionable as to how well this

training would be internalized. The parent can force the

child to behave in certain ways that the family considers

moral only because they hold the power to punish the child.

What young children unquestionable learn during their young

years is how their parents and other family members behave in

various situations. Both theorists agree on this point --

children learn by example and the first people they learn

from is their parents. As they grow, learn and mature, they

are capable of having discussions with parents, family

members and others about moral issues; they will learn from

this as well (Barger, 1996).

    Kohlberg also made the point that even thought there is

an invariant set of stages in moral development, it does not

mean that everyone will transition through the stages; some

people seem to be stuck at a lower stage for their whole life

(Kohlberg and Turiel, 1971).

Conclusion

    There are more similarities than dissimilarities in the

theories of Kohlberg and Piaget, although that may not be

immediately apparent. They both believe in the significant

influence of the parents and family in the moral development

of the child, for instance, and they both believe the degree

of ridigity in the family impacts the adolescents' moral

development. They also both state or infer that the family

roles are influential in moral development. Kohlberg's is a

more discrete theory with more elements but when all the

writings of each theorist are considered, the student finds

that Piaget's thoughts are more similar than they are in

conflict.
  psychology term papers, papers on psychology about psych term papers

Bibliography

Barger, Robert N. (1996). A Summary Of spacingLawrence Kohlberg's Stages Of Moral spacingDevelopment.Notre Dame, IN: University spacingof Notre Dame

Kohlberg, L. And Turiel, E. (1971). Moral spacingDevelopment And Moral Education. In G. spacingLesser, Ed. Psychology And Educational spacingPractice. NY: Scott Foresman.

Kohlberg, Lawrence. (1981). The Philosophy Of spacingMoral Development. NY: Harper & Row, spacingPublishers.

Piaget, J. (1965). The Moral Judgment Of The spacingChild.NY: The Free Press.

Walker, L.J. (1989). A longitudinal study of spacingmoral Reasoning. Child Development, spacingv.60, 157-166.

White, Fiona A. (1996, March). Family spacingprocesses as predictors of spacingadolescents' preferences for         spacingascribed sources of moral authority: a spacingproposed model. Adolescence, Vol. 31, spacingpp. 133(12).

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