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 using the correct grammar long before they realize that there are rules that govern grammar. Implying that a child's practical morality shapes their theoretical morality; an adult’s moral influence won’t affect but will only help and guide a child’s theoretical morality catch up with their practical morality.
Armsby (1971) suggests young children understand intention and show awareness to avoid damaging valued items, older children find it easier to differentiate the relation between intention and damage. Piaget’s stories confounds intentions and consequences, when approached separately Constanzo et al. (1973) confirmed that with adult disapproval six year olds judged on consequence regardless of intention but with adult approval they as with older children will consider intentions. Notably, social consequences are related to parental tendencies as children generally will have more experience in dealing with ill-intended acts.
To support Piaget’s theory, Kruger (1992, cited in Gross, 1996) tested conflict resolution amongst children with and without an authoritarian figures involvement by giving them two moral dilemmas and questioning them afterwards. The children who had been paired with an adult had less real insight, lacking moral reasoning because they had given way to the adults understanding. When questioned afterwards, they had a less sophisticated stance-point than the children who had been paired together, showing the advantages attributable to egalitarian active discussion.
As Piaget’s investigations were only based on a small amount of subjects, whereas Jose Linaza (1984) interviewed several hundred children in relation to a number of games; participants were from England and Spain, both boys and girls. He re-affirmed Piaget’s findings but found that depending on the games complexity this determined what age certain stages become more apparent, another notable finding was there was no difference between the English and the Spanish children....