Moral Development

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Jean Piaget was one of the first developmental psychologists to examine the moral judgments and moral development of children. He believed that children moved from considering punishment and other consequences to considering intentions and circumstances when attempting to resolve moral conflicts. What children believe about whether an action is right or wrong depends on their level of cognition (Miller, 2002). Freud believed that morality was encompassed in the superego. In his view, morality develops during the third stage, the Phallic Stage when children begin to identify with the views of the same sex parent. Interestingly, Freud believed that males have stronger superegos because of the intense castration anxiety felt during the Oedipal conflict of the Phallic Stage. This anxiety leads to stronger identification and therefore stronger, more punitive, superegos. Erickson also integrated identity development into his psychosocial stages. The fifth stage of Erickson’s model is identity achievement versus identity diffusion. One of the concerns of this stage is the development and acceptance of an ethical value system. Lawrence Kohlberg was influenced by many of Piaget’s ideas about moral development. He developed his own moral developmental model which included six stages. People move from the first stage where morality is based on one’s obedience to rules and authority to the sixth and final stage where one uses a universal principle to resolve moral dilemmas (Kohlberg, 1969, as cited in Donenberg & Hoffman, 1988). While people move through these stages one at a time, not everyone reaches the sixth and final stage.

One of the reasons Kohlberg’s stages of moral development have been criticized is because the standardization sample from his study was made up entirely of males (Donenberg & Hoffman, 1988). Without females in the standardization sample, females’ concerns about morality were not included in his analysis. Also, all of the protagonists in Kohlberg’s stories are male. This may alienate females who are asked to judge the actions of these male characters. One of the leading critics of Kohlberg’s theories of moral development has been Carol Gilligan. In 1982, she published In a Different Voice which postulates that men and women have different goals with which they approach moral dilemmas. She differentiated between a justice and care perspective. The justice perspective emphasizes ideas of inequality and oppression. The ideal outcome of a justice perspective approach to a moral dilemma concerns equal rights for everyone who is involved. Gilligan theorized that the justice perspective is utilized mainly by males. The counter to the justice perspective is the care perspective, which is usually the approach favored by females. In this approach, problems of detachment and abandonment are emphasized. The ideal outcome of a care approach to a moral conflict concerns attention and response to need (Gilligan & Attanucci, 1988). In Kohlberg’s stages, the care perspective is encompassed in the third stage, in which a person is concerned with pleasing others and gaining approval. The justice perspective is in the fourth stage in which a person is primarily concerned with maintaining social order. This implicates that the justice perspective is more advanced than the care perspective. If males do orient to the justice perspective more often than females, this may mean that males are more morally mature. Whether or not males and females approach moral conflicts using different perspectives, assumptions, and objectives is debated and intermingled with the effects of age, socioeconomic status, culture, types of dilemmas which are presented, identity, and gender role orientation.

Donenberg & Hoffman (1988) did not find a difference between males and females enrolled in middle school their solutions to the Heinz dilemma. The Heinz dilemma is a well-known story from the Kohlberg scale...
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