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An Outline and Evaluation of Moral Development Through Piagets Theory and the Social Learning Theory

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  • November 2012
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An Outline and Evaluation of Moral Development through Piagets Theory and the Social Learning Theory

Piaget (1932) developed a major theory based on children’s cognitive methodology when approaching particular moral situations; using the game of marbles and moral stories/dilemmas to evaluate the moral development a child. In his evaluation he categorised children into three stages of moral development i.e. pre-moral (0-5yrs), Moral Realism (5-8/9yrs), Moral Relativism (+9yrs). Concluding that children under five didn’t consider moral reasoning Piaget concentrated on the two latter stages.

Piaget believed these stages are innate, they occur naturally; only through cognitive development will a child begin to move from moral realism to moral relativism. Moral realism is when a child has a heteronomous moral perspective with unilateral respect showing unconditional obedience to adults. They are egocentric and their moral judgement is based on consequences and intentions are not considered, with punishment being expiatory and usually unjustifiably severe. When a child reaches the stage of moral relativism, they have an autonomous moral viewpoint, they understand mutual respect and that rules are made through social agreement. They are able to recognise that there is a grey area between right and wrong and their moral decisions are based on intentions rather than consequences. Punishment is reciprocal i.e. shows balance between severity of the crime and the punishment received. He noted the importance of a child’s social environment and their interaction without an authority figure e.g. in the school playground, here they learn to negotiate conflict and will start to understand resolution/compromise.

According to Wright (1971) Piaget’s theory is supposed to show how a child’s practical moral development occurs but the evidence in fact was based on theoretical morality. Piaget linked this through the concept of conscious realization e.g. children can talk...