Moral Development

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Moral development is one of the oldest topics of interest for those who are curious about human nature. Today, most people have strong opinions about acceptable and unacceptable behavior, ethical and unethical behavior, and ways in which acceptable and ethical behaviors are fostered in youth. Teachers as well as parents have become widely concerned about their children's values, in turn moral education is something that is being pushed into a lot of school curriculums. Moral development "concerns rules and values about what people should do in their interactions with other people."(Santrock, 1998) Both Piaget and Kohlberg did extensive observations and interviews with children and adolescents on the topic of moral development. Piaget studied many aspects of moral judgment, but most of his findings fit into a two-stage theory. Children younger than 10 or 11 years think about moral dilemmas one way; older children consider them differently. Younger children regard rules as fixed and absolute. They believe that rules are handed down by adults or by God and that one cannot change them. The older child's view is more relativistic. He or she understands that it is permissible to change rules if everyone agrees. Rules are not sacred and absolute but are devices which humans use to get along cooperatively. (Crain, 2000 p.148) At approximately the same time--10 or 11 years--children's moral thinking undergoes other shifts. In particular, younger children base their moral judgments more on consequences, whereas older children base their judgments on intentions. When, for example, the young child hears about one boy who broke 15 cups trying to help his mother and another boy who broke only one cup trying to steal cookies, the young child thinks that the first boy did worse. The child primarily considers the amount of damage--the consequences--whereas the older child is more likely to judge wrongness in terms of the motives underlying the act (Piaget, 1932, p. 137). There are many more details to Piaget's work on moral judgment, but he essentially found a series of changes that occur between the ages of 10 and 12, just when the child begins to enter the general stage of formal operations (Crain, 2000 p.149)."Children in the autonomous stage, aged 8 to 12 years, are more flexible in their reasoning than younger children. Piaget noticed that preadolescent' moral reasoning shifts from blind obedience to considerations of people's motives and intentions. This is called moral relativism. Children in this stage take into account the consequences of following or not following rules. They express more flexible opinions. They also understand that rules are important to societal functioning, but that rules can be challenged and changed when the situation requires it" (Jaffe, 1998 p. 152) Kohlberg was inspired by Piaget's findings and continued the investigations of moral reasoning. Kohlberg believed that moral development is based primarily on moral reasoning and unfolds in a series of stages. He interviewed both children and adolescents and found that the stages go well beyond that of Piaget's. In the interviews, children were told stories where people are faced with moral dilemmas. The following is the most popular of the Kohlberg dilemmas: In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together $1,000, which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asking him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, "No, I discovered the drug, and I am going to make...
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