According to Life Span (2006), moral development requires a complex interweaving of emotions, cognitions, and behaviors (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 221). There are two major theories of moral development: Piaget's and Kohlberg's. These two are similar in that they are both stage theories related to cognitive development, but Kohlberg sees moral development as a more complex and longer process than Piaget's theory. Piaget's two-stage model proposes a premoral period where preschool children are indifferent about rules and make them up as they go along. At about age 5, Piaget described children's mortality as heteronomous, where rules are outside the child's sphere and need to be followed exactly, as if the rules were handed down by God, and misbehavior will eventually be punished. In addition, Piaget proposed that the older child's view is more autonomous. The older child 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 (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 221). Piaget's emphasis on egocentrism led him to believe children "project their own thoughts and wishes onto others" and this "uni-directional view of rules and power is associated with objective responsibility" which gives the child confidence in over-evaluating exact rules over reasoning the purpose of the rule (Crain, 1985).
Kohlberg modified and expanded on Piaget's work, and focused on late childhood into the adolescent and early adult years (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 221). Kohlberg's six-stage model includes three levels. The first level is preconventional mortality, which compares to Piaget's heteronomous level. The first stage of preconventional mortality has an orientation, of "punishment and obedience" where rules are correct because an authority figure is assumed to be "right." The second stage of this level has an orientation of concrete/individualistic;" rules are self-serving, but they also will follow the principle of "fair exchange," such as "You scratch my back, I scratch yours" (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 222). The second level is conventional and includes a "social-relational perspective" stage, which is the third stage of the six-stage theory. The "social-relational perspective" stage is when the group feelings and needs take on more importance than individual interests. The fourth stage is the "member-of society perspective," where maintaining the common good of all is considered most important (e.g., obeying laws, and hard work) (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 222). The postconventional level includes stage five, "prior rights and social contract," where social rules are valued over specific laws. However, the processes that the specific laws serve are valued (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 222). The sixth stage of Kohlberg's theory is the "universal ethical principle." It is considered the final stage where social order is maintained, however principles outweigh exacting laws (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 222). Kohlberg did not believe the stages were a product of maturation or socialization, rather he thought they occurred by thinking about moral issues (Crain, 1985).
Piaget's heteronomous morality stage compares with Kohlberg's punishment and obedience orientation, which highlights obedience of authority figures and literalness of the rules to avoid punishment. Piaget's autonomous morality compares with Kohlberg's concrete, individualistic orientation, which highlights the self-serving component of thinking (Broderick & Blewitt, 2006, p. 222). Morals often advanced through "perspective taking," peer interrelations, and structuring by adults where without these advances, the advance of morality principles might be corralled (p. 223). Broderick and Blewitt limit the usefulness of both Piaget and Kohlberg by stating: (1) Piaget's theories abide by a lesser capacity for moral reasoning than is evidenced...
References: Broderick, Patricia C. & Blewitt, Pamela (2006). The life span: Human development for helping professionals (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Crain, W. C. (1985). Kohlberg 's stages of moral development [Electronic resource]. Theories of development. Prentice-Hall, 118-136. Retrieved May 5, 2006, from http://faculty.plts.edu/gpence/html/kohlberg.htm
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