Moral Development

Jean Piaget makes an appearance once again, this time in moral development, with his very own theory of moral development. This section also introduces Lawrence Kohlburg as well as the social domain theory. It also features ways to foster moral development as well as a description of positive and negative moral emotions.

Piaget’s theory includes two different domains, which are the heteronomous stage of moral development and the autonomous stage of moral development. During the heteronomous stage, which occurs from age five to age ten, children are focused on authority and only follow rules because they fear the consequence if they do not. This level of moral development occurs during Piaget’s pre-operational stage of cognitive development. During the autonomous stage, which begins at age ten and continues on, is more intentional and focuses on doing the right thing because you are aware of how it affects others. This stage centers around creating rules with friends and requires children to be in Piaget’s concrete or formal operational stage of cognitive development.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory on moral development is extremely in depth and feature three levels and six stages. The three levels are pre-convential, which represents your decisions before society and is self centered, conventinal, which represents your decisions upon being a part of society, and post-conventional, which represents your decisions outside of society. Stage one takes place in level one and is known as the punishment-obedience stage. This stage, much like Piaget’s heteronomous stage of moral development, is extremely self-centered and focuses on consequence as opposed to intention. Stage two takes place in level one and is known as the instrumental purpose and exchange stage. This stage still revolves around the self but instead of focusing on the consequences one may receive, the focus shifts to the ways one can benefit from a situation. Stage three takes place in level two and is known as the mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and conformity stage. This stage is heavily influenced by society and causes individuals to make decisions based off social norms and what society expects of them. Stage four takes place in level two and is known as the social system and conscience maintenance. This stage focuses on a broader sense of what society thinks such as laws created by the society as a whole instead of what one of your peers may think. Stage four and half takes place between levels two and three and is known as the transition subjective and relative stage. This stage encompasses individual differences and allows for people to make decisions that follow along with their own moral beliefs instead of conforming to the majority of society. Stage five takes place in level three and is known as the social contract stage. This stage allows for more freedom and interprets laws more as suggestions. While being aware that laws are in place for a reason, this stage also helps one realize that they must do what they feel is right in certain situations even if that means bending the rules. Stage six takes place in level three and is known as the universal ethical principles stage. During this stage laws are disregarded almost completely and people are trusted to make moral and beneficial decisions based on their own ethical principles that provide them with a guide between right and wrong.

The social domain theory breaks things down into two different domains, which are social conventional rules and moral rules. Social conventional rules have to do with society and authority driven rules, while the primary concerns of moral rules are justice, welfare, and harm. Elliot Turiel, the theorist who came up with this, believes that children understand the difference between social conventional rules and moral rules from a very young age. He thinks that children know not to harm others even before they are told this by a parent or teacher.

Ways to foster moral development include Skinner’s operational conditioning, Bandura’s social learning theory, and parenting style. Skinner’s system of punishments and reinforcements allows teachers to set moral standards and reinforce the representation of these standards while punishing students who go against them. Bandura’s social learning theory requires parents and teachers to be good role models for their children and show them what it means to have and to represent strong moral values. The four different parenting styles, authoritative, authoritarian, neglectful, and permissive can have an effect on the moral development of children as well.

There are two different types of moral emotions, positive and negative. Negative moral emotions include shame and guilt, which stem from poor moral decisions. Positive moral emotions include pride and gratitude, which stem from good moral decisions. When you do something morally wrong, negative emotions like shame and guilt are meant to deter you from doing these things in the future. When you do something morally right, positive emotions like pride and gratitude are meant to encourage you to do these things more often.


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