The study of moral development has long been recognized as a key problem area in the social sciences, as indicated by McDougall’s statement that “the fundamental problem of social psychology is the moralization of the individual by the society” (1908) or by Freud’s statement that “the sense of guilt is the most important problem in the evolution of culture” (1930). However, it is hard to make clear distinctions between moral development and the broader area of social development and socialization (learning to conform to cultural standards). Such topics as the development of patterns of cooperation, of aggression, or of industry and achievement are generally studied under the broader rubric of socialization, although they may also be viewed as moral development insofar as cooperation or nonaggression are considered “good” and insofar as they involve learning to conform to cultural rules. The past decade has witnessed a great deal of research on moral development (reviewed in Kohlberg 1963a; 1964; Hoffman 1966) viewed as the particular aspects of socialization involved in internalization, i.e., learning to conform to rules in situations that arouse impulses to transgress and that lack surveillance and sanctions. In this research literature, moral development has usually been conceived of as the increase in internalization of basic cultural rules. Various theories and researchers have stressed three different aspects of internalization: the behavioral, emotional, and judgmental aspects of moral action.
A behavioral criterion of internalization is that of intrinsically motivated conformity, or resistance to temptation. Such a conception is implicit in the common-sense notion of “moral character” which formed the basis of earlier American research on morality; Hartshorne and May (Columbia University 1928–1930) defined moral character as a set of culturally defined virtues, such as honesty, which could be measured by observing the child’s ability to resist the temptation to break a rule (for example, against cheating) when it seemed unlikely that he would be detected or punished.
A second criterion of the existence of internalized standards is the emotion of guilt, that is, of self-punitive, self-critical reactions of remorse and anxiety after transgression of cultural standards. Both psychoanalytic and learning theories of conscience have focused upon guilt as the basic motive of morality. It has been assumed that a child behaves morally to avoid guilt.
In addition to conduct that conforms with a standard and to emotional reactions of remorse after transgression, the internalization of a standard implies a capacity to make judgments in terms of that standard and to justify maintaining the standard to oneself and to others. This judgmental side of moral development has formed the focus of the work and theory of Piaget (1932) and others (Kohlberg 1966).
In recent research, then, answers to the problems of moral development have been sought by examining how socialization factors, such as amount, type, and condition of punishment and reward, or opportunities for identification with parents, are related to individual differences in resistance to temptation, guilt, or moral judgment.
Kohlberg has argued (1964; 1966) that the study of internalized socialization has cast a limited light upon the classical problems of moral development. Problems have arisen, in the first place, because internalization does not represent a clear dimension of temporal development. Experimental measures of resistance to temptation (honesty) do not indicate any clear age trends toward greater occurrence of honesty from the preschool years to adolescence. Projective measures of intensity of guilt or moral anxiety also do not indicate clear age trends, except in terms of rather rapid and cognitively based age changes in the years eight to twelve, and these changes are in the direction of defining moral anxiety as a reaction to moral self-judgment rather than to more diffuse external events. While clear trends of development have been found in moral judgment, these trends cannot be easily considered to be trends of internalized socialization as such.
In the second place, problems have arisen because a distinctive set of socialization factors has not been found that can be considered as an antecedent of moral internalization. Research results suggest that the conditions which facilitate moral internalization (e.g., parental warmth) are the same conditions which, in general, facilitate the learning of nonmoral cultural rules and expectations. In other words, this research does not indicate a distinct area of internalization or of “conscience”—of moral control linked to guilt feelings—that is distinct from general processes of social learning and social control.
Recent research findings, then, reinforce the skeptical conclusions about both common-sense and psychoanalytic conceptions of a faculty of conscience or superego. Such conclusions were the major results of Hartshorne and May’s monumental studies of moral character. These scholars found that the most influential factors determining resistance to temptation to cheat or disobey were situational factors rather than a fixed, individual moral character trait of honesty. The first finding that led to this conclusion was the low predictability of cheating in one situation for cheating in another. A second finding was that children could not be divided into two groups—the “cheaters” and the “honest children.” Children’s cheating scores were distributed in bell-curve fashion around an average score indicative of moderate cheating. A third finding was the importance of the expediency aspect of the decision to cheat; that is, the tendency to cheat depends upon the degree of risk of detection and the effort required to cheat. Children who cheated in more risky situations also cheated in less risky situations. Thus, noncheaters appeared to act more from caution than honesty. A fourth finding was that even when honest behavior was not dictated by concern about punishment or detection, it was largely determined by immediate situational factors of group approval and example (as opposed to determination by internal moral values). Some classrooms showed a high tendency to cheat, while other, seemingly identically composed classrooms in the same school showed little tendency to cheat. A fifth finding was that moral knowledge or values had little apparent influence on moral conduct, since the correlations between verbal tests of moral knowledge and experimental tests of moral conduct were low. A sixth finding was that where moral values did seem to be related to conduct, these values were somewhat specific to the child’s social class or group. Rather than being a universal ideal, honesty was more characteristic of the middle-class child and seemed less relevant to the lower-class child.
The Hartshorne and May findings, then, suggested that honest behavior is determined by situational factors of punishment, reward, group pressures, and group values, rather than by an internal disposition of conscience or character. The general problem raised by these findings is whether moral traits describing moral character are simply value judgments of behavior made by the group or whether they correspond to some inner disposition in the person and hence help us to understand and predict his behavior. Psychologists have usually used “moral development” to mean the formation of internal standards that control behavior. This conception of an internalized standard seems to require some cross-situational generality. It is not useful to speak of behavior as being determined by an internalized rule like “Be honest” or “Don’t cheat” if the rule does not predict the individual’s behavior and situational forcesdo. We do not find it useful to speak of the morality of the dog or the rat, although both have been trained to “resist temptation” in specific situations. We do assume, however, that the animal’s resistance to temptation is produced by anxiety aroused by situational cues, rather than by regard for a moral rule. To the extent that human resistance to temptation is not general across situations to which a moral rule pertains and must therefore be predicted by purely situational factors, it would seem to be no more useful to describe human behavior as the result of conscience than it is to describe animal behavior in these terms.
Since MacKinnon’s research (1938), studies of morality have generally attempted to cope with Hartshorne and May’s findings by defining moral internalization in terms of superego, rather than “moral character.” Researchers have recognized that moral action was not the direct result of an internal disposition toward honesty or moral character and instead have assumed it to be the result of a complex balance of internal and external forces, including strength of drives aroused by temptation, defenses against these drives, situational fears, group pressures, etc. However, one distinctively moral force, guilt, was assumed to be a major determinant of action in situations of moral conflict or temptation. The disposition to feel guilt was assumed to be the result of early childhood identifications and experiences of punishment, rather than of situational forces. Accordingly, while moral behavior might be situation-specific, one might still be able to isolate a general process of moral internalization or guilt formation having the same childhood antecedents, regardless of the particular moral situation involved. These childhood antecedents should then have some value for predicting guilt and resistance to temptation in any situation, even though they did not produce a consistent disposition of moral character.
Subsequent research on parental antecedents of guilt and of resistance to temptation has fulfilled this hope only to a very limited extent. Usually the child-rearing correlates of children’s resistance to temptation in one situation have not proven to be correlates of resistance in another, and the child-rearing correlates of projective test measures of guilt have not proven to be correlates of actual moral behavior. Finally, projective measures of guilt have not proven to predict consistently actual resistance to temptation behavior (reviewed in Kohlberg 1963a).
Kohlberg (1964) has argued that this more recent research evidence is consistent with the Hartshorne and May findings by suggesting that the variables leading to resistance to temptation arise primarily from the situation rather than from fixed habits, character traits like honesty, or permanent superego dispositions to feel guilt. Following Burton’s analysis of honesty (1963), however, one would agree that there is some personal consistency in honest behavior or some determination of honest behavior by general personality traits. These traits, however, seem not to be traits of moral conscience but rather a set of ego abilities corresponding to common-sense notions of prudence and will. In a tradition of moral psychology dating back to the British associationists and utilitarians, moral character is believed to result from practical judgment or reason. In this view, moral action (action based on rational consideration of how one’s action affects others) requires much the same capacities as does prudent action (action based on rational consideration of how it affects the self’s long-range interests). Both require empathy (the ability to predict the reactions of others to action), foresight (the ability to predict longrange consequences of action), judgment (the ability to weigh alternatives and probabilities), and capacity to delay (delay of response and preference for the distant, greater gratification over the immediate, lesser gratification). In psychoanalytic theory these factors are included with other aspects of decision making and emotional control in the concept of ego strength. Some of the ego abilities which have been found to correlate consistently with experimental and rating measures of children’s honesty include the following: intelligence (IQ); delay of gratification (preference for a larger reward in the future over a smaller reward in the present); and attention (stability and persistence of attention in simple experimental tasks). [SeeDecision Making, article on Psychologicalaspects.]
These findings suggest that one can predict honesty about as well from an individual’s behavior in cognitive-task or other nonmoral situations as one can from his behavior in other situations involving honesty. This, in turn, implies that the study of moral behavior in terms of early experiences centering on specifically moral training of honesty, guilt, etc., is less likely to be fruitful than is a study of moral behavior in terms of more general experiences relevant to ego development and ego control in nonmoral contexts.
While the findings stressed so far suggest the determination of moral action by nonmoral situational and personality forces, there are also some findings suggesting the determination of action by specifically moral values. This research conclusion should not be taken to mean that there is any direct correspondence between conformity of verbal moral beliefs or attitudes and conformity of moral action. Subjects who say that cheating is very bad or that they would never cheat are as likely to cheat in an experimental situation as are subjects who express a qualified view as to the badness of cheating (studies reviewed in Kohlberg 1966). Apparently, the same willingness to deceive in order to make a good appearance which impels cheating also impels the child to make pious moral statements about cheating.
A conclusion more consistent with actual research is that there is considerable correspondence between maturity of moral values (the possession of rational and internal reasons for moral action) and maturity of action in moral-conflict situations. Clear relations between maturity of moral judgment and mature moral action are found in situations in which social norms are ambiguous or conflicting and in which developmentally advanced values clearly predispose toward one course of action rather than another. Such a correspondence is suggested only to a limited extent by Hartshorne and May’s findings of moderate correlations between age-linked measures of moral knowledge and experimental measures of honesty. This limited correspondence occurred because they defined moral knowledge largely in terms of verbal conformity of attitudes rather than maturity of moral reasoning and because resistance to cheating is not clearly a developmentally more mature choice or a choice based on moral reasons in the young age group studied. There is evidence, however, suggesting that resistance to cheating does become a more mature alternative at older ages or higher levels of development than those involved in the Hartshorne and May study. Only 11 per cent of college subjects who were at the level of moral principle in a verbal moral-values test cheated in an experimental situation, whereas half the subjects at a level of conventional moral values cheated (this test is discussed later in this article; the findings cited are reviewed in Kohlberg 1966). With younger subjects, the same relations between moral judgment and cheating are not found, since few of the younger subjects are at the level in which not cheating may be defined as relevant to principles of contract, trust, and equity. While college-age subjects making principled moral judgments were more likely to conform to an experimenter in the matter of moral expectation about cheating, such subjects are markedly more autonomous, or less conforming to an experimenter, where the experimenter’s expectations violate the subjects’ moral values. Whereas 75 per cent of the morally principled subjects refused to give increasing levels of shock to an experimental “victim” when ordered to do so by an experimenter, only 13 per cent of the remaining subjects refused to do so.
The evidence suggests, then, that the basic social science problem of moral development is not that of accounting for individual differences in moral character as revealed in behavior. Moral behavior that involves conformity to social rule is, on the whole, to be explained as the result of the same situational forces, ego variables, and socialization factors that determine behaviors which have no direct moral relevance. A more distinctive focus of analysis centers instead upon the direct study of the development of moral values, judgments and emotions. The study of actual conduct becomes relevant to problems of moral development insofar as research is able to find links between the child’s conduct and the development of his moral values and emotions.
The major questions which may be asked about moral development, then, are as follows: What is the origin of distinctively moral concepts and emotions in the child? To what extent does the child’s development indicate typical or regular trends of change in these concepts and sentiments? What causes or stimulates these developmental changes in moral concepts and sentiments? To what extent are these developmental changes in moral concepts and attitudes reflected in developmental changes in the child’s moral action under conditions of conflict or temptation?
All of the questions may also be asked about the development of morality in cultures. The present article will not attempt to deal with the development of cultural moralities, a topic still most comprehensively treated in the work of Hobhouse (1906). It must be pointed out, however, that most recent psychological as well as sociological thought has assumed that the problem of the origin of moral values is a cultural problem. It has been assumed that morality is a system of rules and values defined by the culture and that the individual child acquires these readymade values by general cultural-transmission mechanisms such as reinforcement learning or identification. If this were the case, our understanding of the content of the individual’s moral beliefs and emotions should be based on seeing it as a cultural, rather than an individual, product. This culturological approach to moral development was first clearly outlined by Durkheim (1898-1911; 1925), who based it on assumptions about the cultural relativism of moral values which are still widely held but which do not seem to be supported by recent research findings. Durkheim developed his position out of a critique of the British utilitarians (e.g., Hume 1751; Smith 1759; and Mill 1861). The utilitarians assumed that moral values were the products of individual adults, possessed of language and intelligence, who judged the actions of other individual men. The utilitarians suggested that actions by the self or by others whose consequences to the self are harmful (painful) are naturally deemed bad and arouse anger or punitive tendencies, and actions whose consequences are beneficial (pleasant) are naturally deemed good and arouse affection or approving tendencies. Owing to natural tendencies of empathy, to generalization, and to the need for social agreement, acts are judged good (or bad) when their consequences to others are good (or bad), even if they do not help (or injure) the self. Logical tendencies lead these judgments of consequences to take the form of judging that act right which does the greatest good for the greatest number. [SeeUtilitarianismand the biographies ofHume; Mill; Smith, Adam.
In his critique of the utilitarians Durkheim pointed to the following four phenomena: (1) Morality is basically a matter of respect for fixed rules (and the authority behind those rules), not of rational calculation of benefit and harm in concrete cases. (2) Morality seems universally to be associated with punitive sentiments, sentiments incompatible with the notion that the right is a matter of human-welfare consequences. (3) From group to group there is wide variation as to the nature of the rules arousing moral respect, punitiveness, and the sense of duty. (4) While modern Western societies divorce morality from religion, the basic moral rules and attitudes in many groups are those concerning relations to gods, not men, and hence do not center on human-welfare consequences.
According to Durkheim, these facts in turn implied the following: The mere fact of the existence of an institutionalized rule endows it with moral sacredness, regardless of its human-welfare consequences. Accordingly, moral rules, attitudes, and consequences originate at the group, rather than the individual, level. The psychological origin of moral attitudes, then, is in the individual’s respect for the group, the attitudes shared by the group, and the authority figures who represent the groups. The values most sacred to the individual are those which are most widely shared by, and most closely bind together, the group.
While Durkheim’s views of the group mind have been widely questioned, the essential implications of his position have been widely accepted. Assumptions common to Durkheim and Freud underlie the research studies of moral internalization previously discussed. Unlike Durkheim, Freud (1923; 1930) derived moral sentiments and beliefs from respect for, and identification with, individual parents, rather than from respect for the group. Furthermore, Freud derived this respect and identification from instinctual attachments (and defenses against these attachments) and viewed the central rules of morality as deriving their strength and rigidity from the need to counter these instinctual forces. In spite of these differences, Freud agreed in viewing morality (superego) as fundamentally a matter of respect for concrete rules which are culturally variable or arbitrary, since these rules are a manifestation of social authority, and he agreed in viewing punitive or (self-punitive) sentiments toward deviation as the clearest and most characteristic expression of moral internalization or respect.
The research findings on individual moral judgments in a variety of cultures seem incompatible with either of the extreme views just contrasted (Kohlberg 1966). Moral judgments and decisions in all cultures are a mixture of judgments in terms of individual human-utility consequences and judgments in terms of concrete categorical social rules. The utilitarian derivation of respect for rules from utilitarian consequences is as psychologically unfeasible as Durkheim’s derivation of concern for individual welfare consequences from respect for social rules as such. A culturally universal core of moral values and moral development may be found, but it is not based on a culturally universal acceptance of moral principles of the utilitarian variety. Individual moral beliefs and sentiments involving universal principles not directly embodied in concrete social rules often develop and often function at a level of conscious opposition and transcendence of group authority, as the utilitarians implied, but this development itself presupposes the development of respect for group authority discussed by Durkheim. Such, at least, seem the implications of recent research oriented to a third, or “developmentalist,” concept of morality.
In general, the developmental approach to moral psychology (Baldwin 1897; Mead 1934; McDougall 1908; Hobhouse 1906; Piaget 1932; Kohlberg 1966) has attempted to mediate between the extreme positions represented by the utilitarians and by Durkheim. Moral judgment and emotion based on respect for custom, authority, and the group are seen as one phase or stage in the moral development of the individual rather than as the total definition of the essential characteristics of morality it was for Durkheim. Judgment of right and wrong in terms of the individual’s consideration of social-welfare consequences, universal principles, and justice is seen as a later phase of development. This phase depends upon and integrates many of the emotional features of the earlier customary phase and does not spring directly from the minds of unsocialized rational adults, as it did for the utilitarians. Both a morality of respect for social authority and an autonomous rational morality are to be understood as arising from the development of a self through the process of taking the roles or attitudes of other selves in interactions occurring in institutionalized patterns.
As elaborated in Piaget’s developmental theory (1932), the child first moves from an amoral stage to Durkheim’s stage of respect for sacred rules. This is not so much respect for the group as it is respect for the authority of individual elders such as the parents. Piaget believes that the cognitive limitations of the child of three to eight lead him to confuse moral rules with physical laws and to view rules as fixed external things, rather than as the instruments of human purposes and values. Piaget believes that the child sees rules as absolutes and confuses rules with things because of his “realism” (his inability to distinguish between subjective and objective aspects of his experience) and because of his “egocentrism” (his inability to distinguish his own perspective on events from that of others). In addition to seeing rules as external absolutes, the young child feels that his parents and other adults are all-knowing, perfect, and sacred. This attitude of unilateral respect toward adults, joined with the child’s realism, is believed to lead him to view rules as sacred and unchangeable.
Piaget believes that intellectual growth and experiences of role taking in the peer group naturally transform perceptions of rules from external authoritarian commands to internal principles. In essence, he views internal moral norms as logical principles of justice. Of these, he says:
In contrast to a given rule, which from the first has been imposed upon the child from outside... the rule of justice is a sort of immanent condition of social relationships or a law governing their equilibrium. (Piaget  1948, p. 196). The sense of justice ... is largely independent of [adult precept] and requires nothing more for its development than mutual respect and solidarity which holds among children themselves (p. 195).
By “the sense of justice,” Piaget means a concern for reciprocity and equality between individuals. However, norms of justice are not simply matters of abstract logic; rather they are sentiments of sympathy, gratitude, and vengeance which have taken on logical form.
Piaget believes that an autonomous morality of justice develops in children of about age eight to ten and eventually replaces an earlier, heteronomous morality based on unquestioning respect for adult authority. He expects the autonomous morality of justice to develop in all children, unless development is fixated by unusual coerciveness of parents or cultures or by deprivation of experiences of peer cooperation.
Certain aspects of Piaget’s theory have been supported by subsequent research findings, while others have not. Piaget’s stage theory suggests a number of cross-culturally universal age trends in the development of moral judgment. At least three such trends have been found to occur in a variety of Western, Oriental, and aboriginal (American Indian and Malaysian) cultures (evidence summarized in Kohlberg 1966). These include: (1) Intentionality in judgment. Young children tend to judge an act as bad mainly in terms of its actual physical consequences, whereas older children judge an act as bad in terms of the intent to do harm. (2) Relativism in judgment. The young child views an act as either totally right or totally wrong and thinks everyone views it in the same way. If the young child does recognize a conflict in views, he believes the adult’s view is always the right one. In contrast, the older child is aware of possible diversity in views of right and wrong. (3) Independence of sanctions. The young child says an act is bad because it will elicit punishment; the older child says an act is bad because it violates a rule, does harm to others, and so forth.
The young child’s absolutism, nonintentionalism, and orientation to punishment do not appear to depend upon extensive parental use of punishment. Even the permissively reared child appears to have a natural tendency to define good and bad in terms of absolutism and punishment, a tendency which his awareness of punishment by teachers, police, and other parents seems sufficient to stimulate. While specific punishment practices or cultural ideologies do not appear necessary for the formation of the young child’s moral ideology of punishment, they may lead to the persistence of this ideology into adolescence or adulthood. In other words, specific cultural factors appear to stimulate or retard age trends of development on the Piaget dimensions, but they do not appear to actually cause the age shifts or trends observed.
Piaget, then, appears to be correct in assuming certain characteristics of the young child’s moral judgment in any society, characteristics which arise from the child’s cognitively immature interpretation of acts labeled good and bad by adults, according to the derivation of their goodness or badness from their association with good and bad consequences of physical harm—punishment and reward. However, his interpretation of these aspects of the young child’s morality—as deriving from the child’s sense of the sacredness of the rules and of adult authority—has not been supported. Piaget (1932) attempts to demonstrate that the young child’s attitude toward rules is one of unilateral sacredness by observations of children’s behavior and beliefs about the rules of the game of marbles. Swiss children are quoted as saying that the rules of the game can never be changed, that the rules have existed from the beginning of time and have been invented and handed down by God, the head of the state, or the father. More systematic research suggests that attitudes of rigidity toward game rules seem to decline with age in American children of five to twelve but that attitudes expressing the rigidity or sacredness of moral rules or of laws increase in this period, rather than decline. The young child’s ignoring of subjective factors such as intention, then, is not based on respect for sacred rule but on a more or less pragmatic concern for consequences. An example of the fact that young children orient more or less pragmatically to punishment rather than to sacred rule is indicated by a study by Kohlberg, Krebs, and Brener (Kohlberg 1963ft). Young children were asked to judge a helpful, obedient act (attentively watching a baby brother while the mother is away) followed by punishment (the mother returns and spanks the baby-sitting child). Most four-year-olds, ignoring his act, say the obedient boy was bad because he got punished. By age seven, a majority say the boy was good, not bad, even though he was punished.
Piaget also appears to be incorrect in postulating a general trend from an authoritarian to a peergroup, or democratic, ethic. Postulated general age shifts from obedience to authority to peer loyalty, from justice based on conformity to justice based on equality, have not been generally found. Peergroup participation has not been found to be a factor facilitating development on the Piaget dimensions.
More broadly, however, Piaget is correct in assuming a culturally universal age development of a sense of justice, involving progressive concern for the needs and feelings of others and elaborated conceptions of reciprocity and equality. As this sense of justice develops, however, it reinforces respect for authority and for the rules of adult society; it also reinforces more informal peer norms, since adult institutions have underpinnings of reciprocity, equality of treatment, service to human needs, etc.
The last-mentioned conclusion is derived primarily from cross-cultural research by this writer and his colleagues on children’s responses to a number of hypothetical moral dilemmas, such as whether to steal an expensive drug to save one’s dying wife. In this research every sentence or response of a subject could be reliably classified into one of six stages that have also been divided into three major levels of development as follows:
|Level I. Premoral:|
|Stage 1.||Punishment and obedience orientation.|
|Stage 2.||Naive instrumental hedonism.|
|Level II. Morality of conventional role conformity:|
|Stage 3.||Good-boy morality of maintaining good relations, approval by others.|
|Stage 4.||Authority maintaining morality.|
|Level III. Morality of self-accepted moral principles:|
|Stage 5.||Morality of contract, of individual rights, and of democratically accepted law.|
|Stage 6.||Morality of individual principles of conscience.|
Each of these six general stages of moral orientation could be defined in terms of its specific stance on some 32 aspects of morality. For example, with regard to the aspect “motivation for rule obedience or moral action,” the six stages were defined as follows:
|Stage 1.||Obey rules to avoid punishment.|
|Stage 2.||Conform to obtain rewards, have favors returned, and so on.|
|Stage 3.||Conform to avoid disapproval, dislike by others.|
|Stage 4.||Conform to avoid censure by legitimate authorities and resultant guilt.|
|Stage 5.||Conform to maintain the respect of the impartial spectator judging in terms of community welfare.|
|Stage 6.||Conform to avoid self-condemnation.|
It is evident that this aspect of moral development represents successive degrees of internalization of moral sanctions. Other aspects of moral development involve successive cognitive reorganization of the meaning of culturally universal values. As an example, in every society human life is a basic value, even though cultures differ in their definition of the universality of this value or of the conditions under which it may be sacrificed for some other value. With regard to the value of life, the six stages are defined as follows:
|Stage 1.||The value of a human life is confused with the value of physical objects and is based on the social status of physical attributes of its possessor.|
|Stage 2.||The value of a human life is seen as instrumental to the satisfaction of the needs of its possessor or of other persons.|
|Stage 3.||The value of a human life is based on the empathy and affection of family members and others toward its possessor.|
|Stage 4.||Life is conceived as sacred in terms of its place in a categorical moral or religious order of rights and duties.|
|Stage 5.||Life is valued both in its relation to community welfare and as a universal human right.|
|Stage 6.||Life is valued as sacred and as representing a universal human value of respect for the individual.|
It is evident that these stages represent a progressive disentangling or differentiation of moral values and judgments from other types of values and judgments. With regard to the particular aspect—the value of life—the moral value held by the person at stage 6 has become progressively disentangled from status and property values (stage 1), from his instrumental uses to others (stage 2), from the actual affection of others for him (stage 3), etc. While philosophers have been unable to agree upon any ultimate principle of the good which would define “correct” moral judgments, most philosophers agree upon the characteristics which make a judgment a genuine moral judgment (Hare 1952; Kant 1785). Moral judgments are judgments about the good and the right of action. However, not all judgments of “good” or “right” are moral judgments; many are judgments of aesthetic, technological, or prudential goodness or rightness. Unlike judgments of prudence or aesthetics, moral judgments tend to be universal, inclusive, consistent, and based on objective, impersonal, or ideal grounds. “She’s really great; she’s beautiful and a good dancer” and “The right way to make a martini is five to one” are statements about the good and right which are not moral judgments, since they lack these characteristics. If we say, “Martinis should be made five to one,” we are making an aesthetic judgment; we are not prepared to say that we want everyone to make them that way, that they are good in terms of some impersonal ideal standard shared by others, and that we should all make five-to-one martinis whether we wish to or not. In a similar fashion, when a ten-year-old answers the “moral should” question “Should Joe tell on his older brother?”—in stage 1 terms of the probabilities of getting beaten up by his father and by his brother—he does not answer with a moral judgment that is universal (applies to all brothers in that situation and ought to be agreed upon by all people thinking about the situation) or one that has any impersonal or ideal grounds. In contrast, stage 6 statements not only use specifically moral words like “morally right” or “duty” but use them in a moral way: e.g., phrases such as “regardless of who it was” and “by the law of nature or of God” imply universality; “Morally, I would do it in spite of fear of punishment” implies impersonality and ideality of obligation, and so on. Thus, the responses of subjects at lower levels to moral-judgment matters fail to be moral responses the same way that the value judgments of subjects at higher levels about aesthetic or morally neutral matters fail to be moral responses.
In this sense we can define a moral judgment as “moral” without considering its content (the action judged) and without considering whether it agrees or not with our own judgments or standards.
It is also evident that moral development in terms of these stages is a progressive movement toward basing moral judgment on concepts of justice. To base a moral duty on a concept of justice is to base that duty on the right of an individual; to judge an act wrong is to judge it as violating such a right. The concept of a right implies a legitimate expectancy, a claim which I may expect others to agree I have. While rights may be grounded on sheer custom or law, there are two general grounds for a right—equality and reciprocity (including exchange, contract, and the reward of merit). At stages 5 and 6 all the demands of statute or of moral (natural) law are grounded on concepts of justice, i.e., on agreement, contract, and the impartiality of the law and its function in maintaining the rights of individuals.
It is apparent that the stages just defined are stages in the development of moral judgment. Rather similar stages, however, have been independently arrived at by Peck and Havighurst (1960), who include emotional and behavioral as well as judgmental traits in their stage definitions.
The progressions, or stages, just described imply something more than age trends. In the first place, they imply an invariant sequence in which each individual child must go step by step through each of the kinds of moral judgment outlined. It is, of course, possible for a child to move at varying speeds and to stop (become “fixated”) at any level of development, but if he continues to move upward, he must move in accord with these steps. The longitudinal study of American boys at ages 10, 13, 16, and 19 suggests that this is the case (Kohlberg 1966).
Second, a stage concept implies universality of sequence under varying cultural conditions. It implies that moral development is not merely a matter of learning the verbal values or rules of the child’s culture but reflects something more universal in development, which would occur in any culture. In general, the stages in moral judgment just described appear to be culturally universal. Middle-class urban, lower-class urban, and tribal or rural village boys aged 10 to 21 have been studied in Taiwan, Yucatan, Turkey, and the United States. In all groups, stage 1 appears first and becomes less prevalent with age. Stage 2 appears next and then stages 3 and 4, which increase with age. In all middle-class groups, and some lower-class groups, stages 5 and 6 appear at later ages (primarily ages 16 to 21). These last two stages are not found among tribal or village peasant groups. (Kohlberg 1966).
It seems obvious that moral stages must primarily be the products of the child’s interaction with others, rather than the direct unfolding of biological or neurological structures. However, the emphasis on social interaction does not mean that stages of moral judgment directly represent the teaching of values by parents or direct “introjection” of values by the child. Theories of moral stages view the influence of parental training and discipline as only a part of a world or social order perceived by the child. The child can internalize the moral values of his parents and culture and make them his own only as he comes to relate these values to a comprehended social order and to his own goals as a social self.
Culturally universal invariant sequences in the child’s social concepts and values imply that there are some universal structural dimensions or invariants in the social world analogous to those in the physical world. Universal physical concepts have been found because there is a universal physical structure which underlies the diversity of physical arrangements in which men live and the diversities of formal physical theories held in various cultures. In somewhat analogous fashion, the social stages imply universal structural dimensions of social experience; this is based on the fact that social and moral action involves the existence of a self in a world composed of other selves playing complementary roles organized into institutional systems. In order to play a social role in the family, school, or society, the child must implicitly take the role of others toward himself and toward others in the group. One side of such role taking is represented by acts of reciprocity or complementarity (Mead 1934), the other side by acts and attitudes of sameness, sharing, and imitation (Baldwin 1897). These tendencies, intimately associated with the development of language and symbolism, form the basis of all social institutions which represent various patternings of shared or complementary expectations. [SeeInteraction; Language,article on Languagedevelopment; Role,article on Psychological Aspects.]
Such institutional expectations have per se a normative or moral component involving rights and duties and require moral role taking. While the concrete definitions of required behavior in given roles are relatively fixed throughout age development, the perspectives in which these behaviors are related to a moral order undergo successive stagelike transformation. Required behavior may be based upon power and external compulsion (stage 1), upon a system of exchanges and need satisfactions (stage 2), upon the maintenance of legitimate expectations (stages 3 and 4), or upon ideals or general logical principles of social organization (stages 5 and 6). The order in this development is largely the result of general aspects of cognitive development. Concepts of legitimate expectations presuppose concepts of reciprocity and exchange, while general principles of social organization and justice presuppose concepts of legitimate expectations.
The large cognitive component of moral role taking is suggested by correlations between the development of moral judgment and cognitive advance on intelligence tests or on Piaget’s cognitivestage tasks. Intelligence may be taken as a necessary, but not sufficient, cause of moral advance. All morally advanced children are bright, but not all bright children are morally advanced. Cognitive advance is associated with emotional aspects of moral role taking (e.g., the movement of moral motives from punishment to disapproval to self-condemnation) as well as with more intellectual forms of moral role taking in terms of the values and the rights of others (e.g., the movement from conceiving of life as a physical value to conceiving it as based on a universal respect for the human individual).
In addition to cognitive advance, opportunities for participation and role taking in all the basic groups to which the child belongs appear to be important for moral development. Piaget’s theory (1932) has stressed the peer group as a source of moral role taking, while other theories (Mead 1934) stress participation in the larger secondary institutions or participation in the family itself (Baldwin 1897). Research results suggest that all these opportunities for role taking are important and that all operate in a similar direction by stimulating moral development rather than producing a particular value system. In three divergent cultures studied, middle-class children were found to be more advanced in moral judgment than matched lower-class children (Kohlberg 1967). This was not because the middle-class children heavily favored a certain type of thought which corresponded to the prevailing middle-class pattern. Instead, middle-class and working-class children seemed to move through the same sequences, but the middle-class children seemed to move faster and farther. Similar but even more striking differences were found between peer-group participators (popular children) and nonparticipators (unchosen children) in the American sample. Studies underway suggest that these peer-group differences partly arise from, and partly add on to, prior differences in opportunities for role taking in the child’s family (family participation, communication, emotional warmth, sharing in decisions, awarding responsibility to the child, pointing out consequences of action to others ).
Our discussion has stressed the role of intellectual advance and of social participation and roletaking opportunities in family, peer group, and secondary institutions as they facilitate the development of moral judgment. While the evidence is less complete, these same factors appear to correlate with clinical ratings of maturity of moral character (Peck & Havighurst 1960) and experimental or rating measures of honesty and of moral autonomy (Kohlberg 1967; Columbia University 1928—1930).
Parental identification and guilt. It is important to note that some of the findings used here to argue for the centrality of role-taking opportunities in moral development have also been interpreted as indicating the centrality of parent identifications in conscience formation. In psychoanalytic and neopsychoanalytic discussions, identification has meant the general tendency to take the role of the punishing and criticizing other; that is, in order to criticize or punish himself after transgression, the child must take the role of another toward himself. Otherwise he would continue to view himself and the situation as he did when he performed the act. For self-criticism to be guilt, the child must “take the role of the other” in a deep or internalized sense, regardless of whether the other knows about his transgression. Such deep, fixed role taking or identification has been variously hypothesized to result from needs to substitute for an absent or rejecting love object (Freud 1930; Sears et al. 1957), from the need to defend against fear of aggression (A. Freud 1936), or from “status envy” needs (Whiting 1960).
It is evident that identification is a special or particular form of role taking as previously defined. As opposed to more general theories of role taking, identification theories of moral formation have assumed: (a) that the child’s role taking of parents represents a unique, special, and necessary basis for conscience formation rather than one of a number of general role-taking relationships; (b) that the basic moral role-taking tendencies leading to conscience formation are formed in early childhood, when the child’s weakness can create overwhelmingly strong tendencies to love, fear, and respect and lead to introjecting adult figures and their prescriptions; (c) that basic role taking of parents leads to direct introjection, transfer, or mimicking of fixed parental standards rather than being a step toward the development of general role-taking tendencies which move out into wider social realms and so promote moral advance.
In general the research findings suggest the importance of children’s role taking of their parents in moral development, but they do not support the notion that conscience is a unique product of parent identifications (Kohlberg 1963a; 1963b; 1964; Hoffman 1966). Parental warmth, children’s positive attitudes toward parents, and children’s expressed desire to be like their parents correlate positively with acceptance of the conventional moral code as measured by tests of conventional expressions of guilt and of moral judgment. Little evidence, however, has been found to indicate that these variables are correlated with the fixed introjection of particular, individual parental moral values. Furthermore, little evidence has been found to suggest that a close bond to one or both parents is crucially necessary for conscience formation. The most relevant studies come from comparison of kibbutz-reared and family-reared children in Israel. While kibbutz children have regular contacts with parents in evenings and on holidays, parents are little involved in making or enforcing moral or socialization demands upon the child. This task is primarily the function of the nurse–caretaker, the teacher, and the peer group. Few clear differences have been found between these children and city children in moral judgment, in projective measures of guilt, or in naturalistic observations of moral control of behavior (studies reviewed in Kohlberg 1964). It would appear, then, that affectional relationships (or identification) with parents are important in moral development, more because positive and affectional relations to others are generally conducive to ego development and to role taking and acceptance of social standards than because they provide a unique and direct basis for conscience formation. [SeeAffection.]
Common psychological notions that parental punishment and resultant guilt play a critical role in moral development seem even more questionable in the light of research findings. It seems self-evident that self-induced pain after transgression (guilt) must originate largely from experiences of transgression-related pain caused by others (punishment). Some core experiences of punishment, or at least of blame, are presumably necessary for the development of guilt reactions, and even the most permissively raised children experience them. Punishment, however, does not directly produce guilt, since the very young punished child does not experience guilt. Furthermore, there does not appear to be a direct relationship between amount of punishment and amount of guilt. We are also not able to say that the more psychologically painful the punishment, the more likely it is to produce guilt. Physical punishment seems to show a low positive correlation with children’s use of punishment fantasies as consequences of transgression, but it does not relate positively to types of transgression reaction more representative of guilt. Even for punishment reactions, young children whose parents report they never use physical punishment may make heavy use of it in doll-play transgression stories.
Punishment by love withdrawal (ignoring, isolation, a mother’s statements that she doesn’t like her child when he is bad) has been thought to be especially critical in producing guilt, because loss of love is believed to be more psychologically painful or anxiety-arousing than physical punishment and because it would be expected to lead to implicit role taking or identification with the parent’s disapproval. However, love withdrawal has not been found to relate to self-critical guilt (Hoffman 1966).
Rather than showing striking or unique relationships to punishment experiences, projective measures of internal guilt show the same general age trends and social correlates as measures of maturity of moral judgment in the school years. This suggests that the development of conscious internal standards of judgment and of empathic and role-taking capacities is the major factor in the genesis of guilt (Kohlberg 1964; Hoffman 1966).
The findings just reviewed, together with findings presented initially in this article, are inconsistent with the notion of a fixed moral structure (conscience—guilt) developing out of experiences of parental punishment and reward and determining moral behavior. This conclusion is not inconsistent with the obvious importance of punishment and reward in the short-term situational control of “moral” (conforming) behavior, as suggested by the Hartshorne and May findings. Experimental studies that manipulate punishment parameters show striking effects upon short-term resistance to temptation in given situations (Aronfreed 1966). In contrast, naturalistic correlational studies of parameters of parental punishment and reward suggests few clear or persisting effects of these parameters upon later moral behavior (findings reviewed in Kohlberg 1963a). Thus, S–R reinforcement theories may be useful in explaining short-run learning of behavioral conformity, without being adequate for the understanding of what we have considered as characteristic of moral development.
In addition to distinguishing between moral development and situational conformity with regard to punishment–guilt factors, it is important to distinguish between moral development and the formation of neurotic inhibitions, anxieties, and punitive feelings resulting from punishment—guilt factors. It is obvious that neurotics suffer from strong feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and inhibition. To a considerable extent, psychopathologists have held that these feelings result from guilt experiences resulting in turn from real or fantasied childhood transgressions and associated punishments, and they have developed general theories of moral development from these clinical data.
The research findings on guilt and moral factors in neurosis are sparse, but they do suggest limitations to the notion that neurotics suffer from too much general guilt or moral restraint. There is little reason to believe that neurotics are more scrupulous about moral ideals or more morally restrained in their conduct than normal people. Neurotic children have not been found to be higher (or consistently lower) than normal children in projective measures of guilt, in moral judgment, or in resistance to dishonest behavior. (In contrast, pathologically delinquent children are markedly lower on guilt and moral judgment than are either neurotic or normal children.) While neurotic symptoms do not seem to be explainable as the result of too much general guilt or moral concern resulting from childhood experiences, it does seem plausible to view distinctively “neurotic” moral anxieties and inhibitions (anxieties about matters viewed as morally permissible by the general culture) as the result of childhood experiences and fantasies of parental punishment. Clinical observations as to the genesis of these idiosyncratic moral anxieties may be valid, then, even though they have not provided a useful model for the general understanding of moral development. Such understanding rests on further elaboration of the processes of ego development as these interact with social experiences of which the moral is a universal dimension.
[Directly related are the entriesDevelopmental Psychologyand Socialization.Other relevant material may be found in Conformity; Delinquency; Justice; Learning,article on Reinforcement; Personality,article on Personality Development; Psychoanalysis; Role; Sympathy AND Empathy; Utilitarianism; and in the biography of Durkheim.]
Aronfreed, J. 1966 Conduct and Conscience: The Experimental Study of Internalization. Unpublished manuscript.
Bowers, William J. 1964 Student Dishonesty and Its Control in College. Cooperative Research Project No. OE 1672. Unpublished manuscript, Columbia Univ., Bureau of Applied Social Research.
Burton, Roger V. 1963 Generality of Honesty Reconsidered. Psychological Review 70:481-499.
Columbia University, Teachers College 1928—1930 Studies in the Nature of Character. 3 vols. New York: Macmillan. → Volume 1: Studies in Deceit, by Hugh Hartshorne and Mark A. May. Volume 2: Studies in Service and Self-control, by Hugh Hartshorne, Mark A. May, and J. B. Mailer. Volume 3: Studies in Organization of Character, by Hugh Hartshorne, Mark A. May, and F. K. Shuttleworth.
Durkheim, Émile (1898–1911) 1953 Sociology and Philosophy. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → Written between 1898 and 1911. First published posthumously in French.
Durkheim, Émile (1925) 1961 Moral Education: A Study in the Theory and Application of the Sociology of Education. New York: Free Press. → First published posthumously in French.
Freud, Anna (1936) 1957 The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense. New York: International Universities Press. → First published as Das Ich und die Abwehrmechanismen.
Freud, Sigmund (1923) 1961 The Ego and the Id. Volume 19, pages 12-63 in Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan. → First published as Das Ich und das Es.
Freud, Sigmund (1925) 1961 The Resistances to Psycho-analysis. Volume 19, pages 213–222 in Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth; New York: Macmillan. → First published in German.
Freud, Sigmund (1930) 1958 Civilization and Its Discontents. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → First published as Das Unbehagen in der Kultur.
Hare, Richard M. 1952 The Language of Morals. Oxford: Clarendon.
Hobhouse, Leonard T. (1906) 1951 Morals in Evolution: A Study in Comparative Ethics. With a new introduction by Morris Ginsberg. 7th ed. 2 vols. London: Chapman.
Hoffman, M. 1966 Childrearing Antecedents of Moral Internalization. Unpublished manuscript.
Hume, David (1751) 1957 An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. New York: Liberal Arts Press.
Kant, Immanuel (1785) 1949 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals. New York: Liberal Arts Press. → First published as Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Bitten.
Kohlberg, Lawrence 1963a Moral Development and Identification. Pages 277—332 in National Society for the Study of Education, Child Psychology. 62d Year-book. Edited by Harold Stevenson. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Kohlberg, Lawrence 1963 of The Development of Children’s Orientations Toward a Moral Order. Part 1: Sequence in the Development of Moral Thought. Vita humana 6:11-33.
Kohlberg, Lawrence 1964 Development of Moral Character and Moral Ideology. Volume 1, pages 383-431 in Martin Hoffman and Lois Hoffman (editors), Review of Child Development Research. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Kohlberg, Lawrence 1966 Stage and Sequence: The Developmental Approach to Moralization. Unpublished manuscript.
Kohlberg, Lawrence 1967 The Development of Children’s Orientations Toward a Moral Order. Part 2: Social Experience, Social Conduct, and the Development of Moral Thought. Unpublished manuscript.
Mcdougall, William (1908) 1950 An Introduction to Social Psychology. 30th ed. London: Methuen. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Barnes and Noble.
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Sears, Robert R.; Maccoby, Eleanor E.; and Levin, Harry 1957 Patterns of Child Rearing. Evanston, 111.: Row, Peterson.
Smith, Adam (1759) 1948 The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Pages 3-277 in Adam Smith’s Moral and Political Philosophy. Edited by Herbert Schneider. New York: Hafner.
Whiting, John W. M. 1960 Resource Mediation and Learning by Identification. Pages 112-126 in Ira Iscoe and Harold W. Stevenson (editors), Personality Development in Children. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.
Morality refers to the set of values that people use to determine appropriate behavior, that is, what is right versus what is wrong. Determining which behavior is morally appropriate, or "right," is essentially a cognitive decision-making process called moral judgment.
Moral judgment is but one component of the process leading to the actual performance of morally appropriate behavior (Rest 1986). However, research on moral development over the past forty-five years has focused primarily on the development of moral judgment. This is due in large part to the influence of psychologists Lawrence Kohlberg (1969, 1971, 1976) and Jean Piaget ( 1948).
Both Piaget and Kohlberg maintained that moral behavior largely depends upon how one perceives the social world and oneself in relation to it. Furthermore, they viewed moral decision making as a rational process and thus linked the development of moral judgment to the development of rational cognition. In this way, moral development is seen largely as changes in one's way of thinking about questions of morality as he or she gets older.
The present discussion will provide a brief historical description of the theoretical foundation laid down by Piaget and Kohlberg; the method used by Kohlberg to assess moral development as well as alternative methods that have emerged more recently; some of the major criticisms and reconceptualizations of Kohlberg's theory of moral development; and recent research that has pursued those criticisms in the areas of cultural differences, gender differences, and continued adult development.
Kohlberg built on Piaget's theory or cognitive development to hypothesize a sequence of six specific stages of moral judgment in individual development. This theory of moral development is based on a fundamental idea from Piaget that the way people think about the physical and social world is the result of an "interactional" process between the human organism's innate tendencies and influences from the environment.
This "cognitive-developmental" approach is thus distinguished from both maturational and environmental theories of development. Maturational theories (Gesell 1956) maintain that patterns of behavior express the organism's inherent tendencies. Development is seen as the natural unfolding of a process determined by hereditary factors. In contrast, environmental theories argue that behavior is determined primarily by external influences. From this point of view, behavior is not innately patterned but is essentially learned, whether as a result of conditioning processes that associate the behavior with particular stimuli, rewards, and punishment, or as a result of observing (and subsequently modeling) the behavior of others.
Social learning theory (Bandura 1977) has produced considerable research on how observational learning explains a variety of behaviors relevant to morality, including prosocial behavior (e.g., sharing, cooperation), aggression, resistance to temptation, and delayed gratification. More recent developments have pursued the question of how individuals exert control over their behavior, thus providing some balance to the theory's focus on environmental influences. Bandura's self-efficacy theory (1982), for example, emphasizes the individual's expectations as important to the successful performance of a behavior. However, social learning theory has not addressed moral action and moral character in terms of a broad developmental course (Musser and Leone 1986).
Cognitive-developmental theory, on the other hand, focuses on the developmental process by which people come to understand and organize, or "cognitively structure," their experience. It attempts to resolve the "nature-nurture" controversy by emphasizing the development of these cognitive structures as the result of the interaction between organismic tendencies and influences from the outside world. While particular ways of understanding experience may reflect innate tendencies, they develop in response to the individual's specific experiences with the environment.
Thus, development is not seen as primarily maturational, because experience is necessary for cognitive structure to take shape. However, neither is development thought to be primarily determined by the environment. Rather, cognitive developmentalists argue that, because the under-lying thought organization at each stage is qualitatively different, cognitive development is more than the progressively greater acquisition of information. Furthermore, at any given stage, the current cognitive structure can influence how the world is perceived. Thus, cognitive structure is seen to be "the result of an interaction between certain organismic structuring tendencies and the structure of the outside world, rather than reflecting either one directly" (Kohlberg 1969, p. 352).
THE DOCTRINE OF COGNITIVE STAGES
Piaget's theory of cognitive development maintains that cognitive structures are periodically transformed or restructured as they become unable to account for (or assimilate) new information from the external world adequately. These periods of restructuring result in new ways of understanding that are different from the earlier mental structures as well as from those to be developed later. This allows for the differentiation of distinct cognitive stages each identifiable by a characteristic approach to processing and organizing one's experience of external reality.
Piaget (1960) identified four main characteristics of cognitive stages. Kohlberg (1969) maintains that these characteristics accurately describe his stages of moral development. The characteristics identified by Piaget are as follows:
- Stages refer to distinct qualitative differences in the way a person thinks about an experience or solves a problem. Although the focus of attention may be the same, the mode of thinking about it is very different.
- The progression of stages follows an invariant sequence in the development of individuals. That is, the order in which the stages occur is universal for all human beings. It is possible that the speed or timing at which one progresses through the stages may vary with individual or cultural environments—or even that development may stop at one point or another. However, a given stage cannot be followed by any other stage than the one that is next in the sequence. Conversely, the earlier stage must first be achieved before its inadequacies become apparent and the subsequent transformation to the next stage can occur.
- The characteristic mode of thinking represents a structured whole. Specific cognitive responses to specific tasks depend upon the overall organizational framework within which one processes information. It is this underlying cognitive structure that produces a logical consistency to one's responses. Thus, the stage is not identified by specific responses to specific stimuli, but it is the pattern in one's responses that indicates a particular underlying cognitive structure.
- The sequence of stages is hierarchical. At each stage, the underlying structure represents a more integrated and more complex organizational system, one that adequately accounts for information that had created discrepancies within the previous structure. For example, children in the preoperational stage of cognitive development (Piaget's second stage) cannot understand that equal-sized balls of clay formed into two different shapes still have equal amounts of clay. However, children who have achieved concrete operational thinking (Piaget's third stage) understand the principle of conservation and thus recognize that the amount of clay remains the same (is conserved) for both pieces, even though the pieces have changed in shape (Piaget and Inhelder 1969). The underlying cognitive structure of concrete operational thinking differentiates between amount and shape and integrates the information to achieve a more complex understanding of the phenomenon. It is thus logically superior to preoperational thinking. That the later stages in cognitive development are also more comprehensive and more advanced introduces a hierarchical element to the sequence. The stages of cognitive development are not just different but also hierarchical, in the sense that they provide a progressively more differentiated and more integrated—and hence more adaptive—understanding of one's interaction with the environment.
KOHLBERG'S STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT
Kohlberg's six stages of moral reasoning are divided into three levels, each consisting of two stages. The three levels are differentiated according to what serves as the basis for the person's moral judgment, specifically the significance given the prevailing, or "conventional," social expectations and authority. Briefly, the preconventional level, which is the level of most children under 9 years old, occurs prior to the individual's achievement of a full understanding of what is expected or required socially. The conventional level, which characterizes most adolescents and adults, refers to an understanding of the social conventions and a belief in conforming to and maintaining the established social order. The postconventional level is reached only by a minority of adults, who understand and generally accept the social rules and expectations but recognize that these have been established for the larger purpose of serving universal moral principles. Should the social conventions conflict with these principles, then moral judgment at this level will support the principles at the expense of the conventions.
Within each level, the second stage is a more advanced form than the first. More specifically, the preconventional level refers to judgment based not so much on a sense of what is right and wrong as on the physical consequences that any given act will have for the self. Accordingly, at the first stage within this level, characterized by the punishment and obedience orientation, the child will make judgments on the basis of avoiding trouble. This includes obeying authorities to avoid punishment.
At Stage 2, still in the preconventional level, the individual has a sense of the needs of others but still makes judgments to serve her or his own practical interests. This is called the instrumental orientation. Although the person is beginning to understand that social interaction involves reciprocity and exchange among participants, moral judgment is still determined by the significance that the action has for oneself. Thus a child may share candy to get some ice cream.
Next, in the conventional level, moral judgment is determined by what is considered "good" according to conventional standards. At this level, the individual has an understanding of what kind of behavior is expected. The first stage at this level (Stage 3) is characterized by the good boy–good girl orientation. Judgment as to what is right is based on living up to the expectations of others. It involves a trust in established authority and conformity for the sake of approval. At Stage 4, the orientation is toward doing one's duty. This is called the law-and-order orientation. The individual personally subscribes to the existing social order and thus believes that obeying authority and maintaining the social order are good values in their own right. Whereas behaving according to the social conventions is desirable at Stage 3 because it produces approval from others, at Stage 4 the individual has successfully "internalized" these conventions, so that proper behavior is rewarding because it reinforces one's sense of doing one's duty and therefore produces self-approval.
At the postconventional level, one's under-standing of what is right and wrong is based on one's personal values and a sense of shared rights and responsibilities. Morality is no longer determined simply by social definition, but rather by rational considerations. Stage 5 is characterized by the social contract orientation, which recognizes that conventions are determined by social consensus and serve a social function. There is an emphasis on utilitarian agreements about what will serve the most good for the most people. Here the person recognizes that rules or expectations are essentially arbitrary. The focus on agreement or contract produces an emphasis on what is legal and on operating "within the system" to achieve one's goals.
Stage 6, however, places the responsibility of a given moral decision firmly on the shoulders of the individual. The basis for moral judgment is found in universal ethical principles rather than socially established rules or expectations. One is guided by one's own conscience and recognizes the logical superiority of principles such as respect for human dignity. At Stage 6, it is thus possible to adopt a position that is in conflict with the prevailing social order, and to maintain this position as morally correct.
In Kohlberg's last theoretical paper, he and his colleagues attempt to articulate Stage 6 more completely (Kohlberg et al. 1990). They describe it as fundamentally characterized by a "respect for persons," specifically one that successfully integrates a sense of justice that is universal and impartial with an attitude of "benevolence" that is empathic and understanding of the individual (see also Lapsley 1996).
MEASURING MORAL JUDGMENT
Kohlberg's procedure for assessing moral judgment involves presenting a hypothetical "dilemma" that requires the subject to make a moral choice. The most famous example refers to "Heinz," a man whose wife is dying of cancer. The woman could possibly be saved by a new drug, but the druggist who discovered it is charging an exorbitant amount of money for it, ten times what it costs him to make it. Heinz tried but could not raise enough money, so he steals the drug. Should he have done this?
Because Kohlberg's scheme emphasizes cognitive structure, an individual's stage of moral development is indicated not by the actual behavior that is advocated but rather by the pattern of reasoning behind the decision. Thus, two people may arrive at the same decision (e.g., that Heinz should steal the drug to save the life of his dying wife) but for two entirely different reasons. An individual at the preconventional Stage 2, operating within the instrumental orientation, might recommend stealing the drug because any jail term would be short and worth saving his wife. An individual at the postconventional Stage 6 might also recommend stealing the drug but with a different understanding of the dilemma: Although stealing would violate the law, it would uphold the higher principle of valuing human life and allow Heinz to maintain his self-respect.
The difference between the actual behavioral content of a decision and the cognitive structure of the decision is also illustrated when two people arrive at different decisions but for similar reasons. Thus, the decision not to steal the drug because Heinz would go to jail and probably not be released until after his wife died is also Stage 2 thinking. Even though the ultimate decision advocates the opposite behavior of what was indicated above, it is similarly based on the consideration of what would be most instrumental to Heinz's own self-interest. On the other hand, an individual at Stage 6 might recommend not stealing the drug because, although other people would not blame Heinz if he stole it, he would nonetheless violate his own standard of honesty and lose his self-respect.
Because the stage of moral development is demonstrated not by the behavioral content but by the form of the moral judgment, the subject is allowed to respond freely to these moral dilemmas, and is asked to explain and justify his or her answer. The interviewer can probe with specific questions to elicit more information about the basis of the subject's decision. Interviewers are trained to collect relevant information without directing the subject's responses.
The subject's answers are then transcribed and coded for stage of moral development. Kohlberg identified twenty-five aspects of moral judgment, basic moral concepts that refer to such matters as rules, conscience, one's own welfare, the welfare of others, duty, punishment, reciprocity, and motives. Each of the twenty-five aspects was defined differently for each of the six stages of moral development. Originally, Kohlberg used an aspect-scoring system, whereby every statement made by the subject was coded for aspect and rated as to stage ("sentence scoring"). The subject's usage of any given stage of moral reasoning was indicated by the percentage of his or her statements that was attributed to that stage. Aspect scoring also included an overall "story rating," whereby a single stage was assigned to the subject's total response.
Coding difficulties led to the abandonment of the aspect-scoring system. Because the unit of analysis for sentence scoring was so small, coding often became dependent upon the specific content and choice of words and did not lend itself to identifying the general cognitive structure under-lying the statement. Conversely, whereas story rating referred to the total response as the unit of analysis, it created some uncertainty when the subject's answer included conflicting themes.
Kohlberg and his colleagues recognized these scoring difficulties and devoted considerable attention to developing a more reliable and valid scoring system. This led to "standardized issue scoring," which relies on the use of a standardized interview format. The subject is presented with three standard dilemmas, and the interviewer probes for only two issues that are specified for each dilemma (e.g., life and punishment in the Heinz dilemma). Scoring of the subject's responses refers to a manual that describes the patterns of reasoning for Stages 1–5 on each issue (Colby et al. 1987). Stage 6 was dropped from the coding procedure, due to its empirically low incidence, but was retained as a theoretical construct (Kohlberg et al. 1990).
Because the focus of the new scoring system is directed more toward the abstract mode of reasoning, the unit of analysis is considered larger and less concrete than the single sentence. However, because this approach focuses on specifically identified issues, norms, and elements, it is considered more precise than the global story rating. Despite the qualitative nature of this approach and its potential vulnerability to rater bias, its developers report that long-term study of its inter-rater reliability, test-retest reliability, internal consistency, and validity has produced favorable results (Colby and Kohlberg 1987).
Validity has been a major concern regarding Kohlberg's moral judgment interview. Kurtines and Grief (1974) criticized the low utility of moral judgment scores for predicting moral action. Other questions have been raised about the validity of the data collected, even for the purposes of assessing moral judgment. For one, use of the "classical" dilemmas in this research has been criticized on grounds that they are not representative: Not only do they address hypothetical—as opposed to real-life—circumstances, but they refer to a limited domain of moral issues (e.g., property and punishment). Assessment may fail to indicate the extent to which the person's moral judgment is influenced by the particular context provided by the dilemma. A related matter is whether responses are affected by the characteristics (e.g., the gender) of the story's protagonist. Also the effect of differences in interviewing style, as interviewers interact with subjects and probe for further information, needs to be considered. Of particular importance is this method's dependence on the subject's verbal expression and articulation skills for the information that is collected. To the extent that the rating might be affected by either the amount of information that is provided or the manner in which it is expressed, the validity of the scoring system is called into question. (See Modgil and Modgil 1986 for discussion of these issues.)
An alternative to Kohlberg's Moral Judgment Interview is the Defining Issues Test (DIT) (Rest 1986). This is a standardized questionnaire that presents a set of six moral dilemmas and, for each dilemma, specifically identifies twelve issues that could be considered in deciding upon a course of action. The subject's task is to indicate, on a five-point scale, how important each issue is in deciding what ought to be done in the given situation. The subject also ranks the four most important issues.
Here, the term "issue" is used differently than it is in Kohlberg's new scoring procedure. The items are prototypical statements designed to represent considerations (e.g., "whether a community's laws are going to be upheld") that are characteristic of specific stages of moral reasoning as they are described in Kohlberg's theory. The importance assigned by the subject to items that represent a particular stage is taken to indicate the extent to which the subject's moral judgment is characterized by that stage's mode of thinking.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the DIT compared with the open-ended interview. Whereas the interview is helpful for originally identifying the considerations that may be relevant to resolving moral dilemmas, the DIT provides a more systematic assessment of the relative importance of such considerations. In the open-ended interview, it is never clear whether a specific concern is not identified because it is not important or because the subject failed to articulate it. Similarly, interviews are less comparable to the extent that subjects do not all address the same issues. These problems are avoided by the more structured DIT, because the task requires the subject only to recognize what is important rather than to identify and articulate it spontaneously. However, because recognition is an easier task than spontaneous production, it tends to allow higher-level responses. Another important difference is that the DIT measures the maturity of moral judgment as a continuous variable rather than in terms of the holistic step-by-step sequence of cognitive-developmental stages. Researchers must be aware of such differences when interpreting results.
A third instrument, the Moral Judgment Test (MJT) (Lind et al. 1981; Lind and Wakenhut 1985) similarly attempts to measure moral reasoning by the subject's endorsement of specific items. Hypothetical moral dilemmas are presented, and subjects respond to a series of twelve statements for each dilemma. Each of Kohlberg's six stages is represented by two statements, one in favor of and one against the particular action in question. Subjects indicate how acceptable they find each of the statements.
Citing Lind's paper (1995) extensively, Rest and colleagues (1997) focus on an important distinction between the MJT and the DIT. Instead of adding ratings to indicate how much the subject prefers a particular stage's statements (stage preference)—as most DIT studies do—Lind emphasizes how consistently the subject responds to different statements from the same stage (stage consistency). Lind argues that stage consistency is a more accurate measure of true cognitive structure, whereas stage preference is more indicative of an affective (like versus dislike) response.
Rest and colleagues (1997) use the DIT statements to construct a consistency measure that is similar to the one developed by Lind. They conclude that the stage-preference measure shows greater construct validity than the stage-consistency measures in differentiating groups with different expertise and different education. The stage-preference measure correlates more highly with moral comprehension—indicating longitudinal development—predicts both prosocial and antisocial behavior, and correlates with political attitudes.
The question of scoring for preference or consistency and what construct is measured by each approach is a legitimate methodological concern with important implications for our understanding of moral development. However, both the DIT and the MJT can be scored for preference and for consistency. Thus, they each remain a viable alternative for attempting to empirically measure moral judgment.
Another measurement tool is the Sociomoral Reflection Measure (SRM) (Gibbs and Widaman 1982; Gibbs et al. 1982), and a more recent variation is the Short Form (SRM-SF) (Gibbs et al. 1992; Basinger et al. 1995; Communian and Gielen 1995; Garmon et al. 1996). This is an open-ended, group-administrable instrument that asks subjects to rate the importance of such topics as keeping promises, affiliation, life, property, and law. It does not present specific dilemmas, but instead uses "leadin statements" that instruct subjects to generate their own example, such as "Think about when you've made a promise to a friend," prior to providing their rating of importance. The short form consists of eleven items that can produce a score ranging from 100 (exclusively Stage 1) to 400 (exclusively Stage 4).
Proponents argue that not only is the SRM-SF suitable for assessing stages of moral judgment, but because examples are self-generated, items also can be used to assess differences in content emphasis (Basinger et al. 1995; Garmon et al. 1996). As such, it is suggested as especially useful for research on cultural differences, gender differences, everyday life (versus hypothetical) experience, and the relationship between moral judgment and moral behavior (Communian and Gielen 1995).
As discussed below, perhaps the single most influential criticism of Kohlberg's theory is Carol Gilligan's contention that it fails to describe the moral development of females (1982). Her articulation of a more female-oriented "morality of care," complete with its own sequence of stages, has led to the development of the Ethics of Care Interview (ECI) (Skoe and Marcia 1991). Similar to Kohlberg's methodology, the ECI assesses stage differences, but specifically as they are relevant to the development of care-based morality. Research with the ECI has recently been reviewed by Skoe (1998), demonstrating that the morality of care has important application to human development in general and to the development of personality in particular.
CRITICISMS AND FURTHER RESEARCH
Besides the methodological problems discussed above, Kohlberg's theory of moral development has been criticized on a number of points. The major criticisms include the following:
- The sequence of stages is more representative of Western culture and thus not universal or invariant across all cultures. Moreover, it is culturally biased in that it maintains the ideals of Western liberalism as the highest form of moral reasoning.
- Like many theories of personality development, Kohlberg's theory fails to describe the development of women accurately but provides a much better understanding of male development. This is a specific variation of the first criticism, suggesting that the theory itself reflects the sexism of Western culture.
- Kohlberg's theory fails to describe adult development adequately. In particular, its emphasis on abstract principles fails to recognize how adult moral judgment is more responsive to the specific practical matters of everyday, real-life contexts. Also, its emphasis on cognitive structure fails to recognize that changes in the content of moral reflection may be the most important aspect of adult moral development.
Cultural Bias. A cornerstone of cognitive-developmental theory is invariant sequence, the notion that the given developmental progression is universal for all human beings within all cultures. Because the conceptual organization of any given stage is considered logically necessary before the cognitive structure of the next stage can develop, each stage is said to have logical priority to subsequent stages. Shweder and LeVine (1975) take issue with both the notion of logical priority and the doctrine of invariant sequence, although they do not address the development of moral judgment per se. Specifically, they analyze dream concepts among children from the Hausa culture in Nigeria and conclude that there are multiple sequences by which such concepts develop.
Shweder (1982) follows up this initial skepticism with a fuller critique of what he sees as Kohlberg's failure to recognize cultural conceptions of morality as relative to one another. He disagrees with the assertion that there is a rational basis upon which morality can be constructed objectively. Rather, he argues that the postconventional morality that Kohlberg maintains as rationally superior is simply an example of American ideology.
Similarly, others (Broughton 1986; Simpson 1974; Sullivan 1977) argue that Kohlberg's theory is necessarily culture-bound, reflective of the Western society from which it originates. Simpson suggests that the specific moral dilemmas used in the testing situation may not have the same meaning for people of different cultures and thus the scoring system may not adequately detect legitimate cultural variations in moral structures. Thus, she maintains that the claims to universality are not valid. Sullivan goes even further, suggesting that Stage 6 reasoning is so rooted in the philosophical rationale for current Western society that it serves to defend the status quo. In doing so, it distracts attention from the injustices of such societies.
In an early response to the charge of cultural bias, Kohlberg and colleagues (1983) acknowledge the influence of Western liberal ideology on the theory. They agree there is a need to be more sensitive to cultural differences in the meaning attributed not only to the various elements of the research protocol but, consequently, also to the responses of the subjects themselves. However, they defend the claim to universality for the six-stage sequence of moral development and maintain that empirical research using the scientific method will help to determine to what extent this position is tenable.
They also maintain that, while it is appropriate to remain impartial in the study of moral judgment, this does not make it necessary to deny the relative value of certain moral positions. They assert that some positions are rationally superior to others. They thus continue to subscribe to the ideal that any given moral conflict can be brought to resolution through rational discourse.
Kohlberg's position on invariant sequence has been supported by a number of cross-cultural studies, although postconventional reasoning (Stages 5 and 6) may occur less frequently in nonurbanized cultures (Snarey 1985). However, in a sample of subjects from India, Vasudev and Hummel (1987) not only found stage of moral development to be significantly related to age, but also found postconventional thinking to occur among a substantial proportion of adults. Concluding that commonalities exist across cultures, Vasudev and Hummel also suggest there is cultural diversity in the way moral principles are expressed, interpreted, and adapted to real life.
More recent research has increasingly acknowledged the significance of cultural influences on moral development. In another study with a sample from India, Moore concludes that "the notion of justice, as defined by Western social scientists, was rarely used as a moral rationale" (1995, p. 286). Rather, results indicated moral judgment to be dependent on one's religious ideology or social status. Similarly, Okonkwo's study of Nigerians (1997) concludes that moral thinking and moral language are culture dependent. While some parallels to Kohlberg's scheme were found, some "well-articulated moral expressions could not be scored" (Okonkwo 1997, p. 117) due to the inability of Kohlberg's instrument to adequately assess certain concepts that served as the basis for subjects' moral judgments.
Ma and Cheung (1996), studying samples of Chinese, English, and American adolescents and young adults, likewise found cultural differences in the way subjects interpreted specific items on the Defining Issues Test. However, after they deleted some of the items used to indicate Kohlberg's Stage 4, their samples demonstrated a consistent heirarchical structure across the three cultures. They thus conclude that, while different cultures may encourage different perceptions of specific moral statements, there is some support for the idea of a fundamentally universal development.
Markoulis and Valanides (1997) similarly addressed the cultural bias controversy in a conciliatory fashion. Comparing students from Greece and Nigeria, they found stage differences between the two cultures, but nonetheless found that the sequence of development was similar. Again, while cultural environment is recognized as a factor, invariant sequence in development is supported.
A related concern that has been receiving more attention from researchers is the question of whether differences in political ideology within a single, larger culture may be inaccurately represented as developmental variation. Specifically, Gross (1996) compared Americans who are pro-life on the abortion issue with others who are pro-choice, and also compared Israelis who disagree on now to handle the West Bank settlement issue. As long as socioeconomic status was similar, he found no difference between the relevant ideological groups and thus concludes that there is no evidence that ideological bias is built into the stages of moral development.
Conversely, Emler and colleagues (1998) argue that differences in moral development as assessed by the DIT more accurately reflect differences in political ideology. Thoma and colleagues (1999) acknowledge overlap between political thinking and moral judgment, but argue that Emler and colleagues and St. James (1998) provide no evidence to discount the DIT as a valid measure of moral development. Narvaez and colleagues (1999) attempt to resolve the issue with a model of moral judgment and cultural ideology as engaged in parallel development, each influencing the other to produce specific moral thinking.
Whereas recent times have been characterized by an increased sensitivity to cultural diversity and political "correctness," more attention has been drawn to the consideration of possible cultural and political bias in the theory of moral development. While some researchers have identified cultural differences in moral reasoning, this has led to an increased recognition of sociocultural factors in moral development (Eckensberger and Zimba 1997).
Shweder and colleagues (1987), for example, propose the social communication theory, which maintains that the learning of morality depends largely on the transmission of cultural ideology to children, by virtue of the evaluation and judgments that parents and others make. The point, of course, is that morality is socially constructed, not self-constructed (Emler 1998).
However, other researchers continue to maintain that, while we must make specific adjustments to our understanding of moral development, it is not necessary to abandon the general consideration of a single, universal pattern to human moral development. This area of inquiry thus promises to remain a controversial yet productive focus for several years.
Gender Bias. Carol Gilligan (1982) argues that the major theories of personality development describe males more accurately than females. She includes Kohlberg's theory in this assessment and points to the prevalence of all-male samples in his early research as a partial explanation. Gilligan contrasts two moral orientations. The first is the morality of justice, which focuses on fairness, rights, and rules for the resolution of disputes. The second is the morality of care, which focuses on relationships, a sensitivity to the needs of others, and a responsibility for others. Gilligan asserts that the orientation toward morality as justice is especially characteristic of males and, conversely, that morality as care and responsibility is especially relevant to females. To the extent that Piaget, Freud, and Kohlberg each address morality as justice, they accurately represent male moral development but inadequately represent female moral development.
Gilligan argues that women are more likely to rely on the orientation of care to frame personal moral dilemmas. Furthermore, whereas the morality of care focuses on interpersonal relationship, it resembles the Stage 3 emphasis on satisfying the expectations of others. Gilligan believes this resemblance results in a high number of female responses being misrepresented with Stage 3 ratings.
Gilligan thus argues that Kohlberg's theory and scoring system are biased to favor men. However, Walker (1984), after systematically reviewing empirical studies that used Kohlberg's method, concludes that men do not score higher than women, when samples are controlled for education, socioeconomic status, and occupation. Similarly, Thoma (1986) reports that sex differences on the Defining Issues Test actually favor women but that the differences are trivial.
Kohlberg and colleagues (1983) address Gilligan's criticisms and agree that the care orientation is not fully assessed by their measurement but disagree that this leads to a biased downscoring of females. They suggest that care and justice may develop together and that Stage 6 nonetheless represents a mature integration of the care and justice moralities (see also Vasudev 1988).
Walker and colleagues (1987) found that both the care and the justice orientations were used by both males and females. Furthermore, the orientation used was related to the type of dilemma being discussed. If the dilemma was focused on personal relationships, both men and women tended to use the care orientation. If the dilemma was impersonal, both men and women tended to express a justice orientation. This suggests that observed gender differences in moral judgment may be more a reflection of the particular kind of dilemma they choose to discuss. Perhaps females tend to report more relationship-oriented dilemmas, the kind that pull for care-based judgments (Yussen 1977).
Wark and Krebs (1996) show just this pattern: Females did not score lower than males on Kohlbergian dilemmas; however, females were more likely to report care-based dilemmas when asked to recall and describe moral conflicts from real life; this difference in the type of moral dilemmas accounted for differences in moral orientation from males and females.
Using the Sociomoral Reflection Measure–Short Form (SRM-SF), which does not rely on specific dilemmas provided by the researcher, Garmon and colleagues (1996) found support for gender differences in moral orientation, with females more likely to refer to a morality of care. However, they reject Gilligan's claim of a bias against females. In fact, results (Basinger et al. 1995) have indicated a possible female advantage in early adolescence. As measured by the SRM-SF, moral judgment was found to be higher among young female adolescents than among their male counterparts. No gender difference was found in late adolescence or young adulthood. Communian and Gielen (1995) found similar results in an Italian sample, with early adolescent girls scoring higher than early adolescent boys, but no gender differences in adults. In another study of seventh and eighth graders, Perry and McIntire (1995) found that subjects used a care mode, a justice mode, and a third narrowly concerned "selfish" mode to make moral decisions. The girls were more likely to use both the care and the justice modes, while the boys were more likely to choose the less developed selfish mode. Contrary to a bias against females, this research suggests that, at least in early adolescence, girls are more advanced in their moral development. Silberman and Snarey (1993) relate such a cognitive advantage to the earlier physical maturation of girls.
Consistent with the lack of evidence for a bias against females, Skoe (1995) found that Kohlberg's justice-based moral reasoning was unrelated to sex-role orientation, as measured by the Bem Sex Role Inventory (Bem 1974). However, this research indicates an interesting pattern for care-based moral reasoning. Using the Ethic of Care Interview (ECI), Skoe found that care-based reasoning was higher in women who were more androgynous and who indicated higher levels of ego identity. Skoe concludes that women who relinquish the traditional female gender role are more likely to develop a mature care-based morality than are women who retain this role.
This would seem to be inconsistent with Gilligan's argument (1982) that the morality of care depends on traditional female socialization. While this morality may be rooted in the traditional female role, Skoe's findings suggest that its advanced development may require a more integrated, androgynous identity.
Current researchers seem to be recognizing that the different moralities go beyond simple gender role differences. Woods (1996) argues that both Kohlberg and Gilligan represent polarized, sexist views, limited to a focus on gender differences. She suggests that researchers need to take a more comprehensive view of the multiple biological and cultural variables that impact moral development, without reducing it to a discussion of sexism. Gilligan's morality of care identifies a vital approach to morality that may have its origin and strength in feminine ideals, indeed that may be more salient in females than in males. However, women are not confined to it, nor is it confined to women, especially as gender roles become more relaxed.
Adult Development. A third major issue concerning Kohlberg's theory is whether or not it accurately addresses continued adult development. This issue reflects a more general concern in lifespan developmental psychology regarding the inapplicability of Piaget's model for cognitive development beyond adolescence, leading to a consideration of what has come to be called "postformal" development (Commons et al. 1984). Murphy and Gilligan (1980) found that college and postcollege subjects not only indicated a greater tendency to appreciate the importance of specific contexts in real-life dilemmas but also indicated a slight tendency to regress from Stage 5 moral reasoning on the classical dilemmas. They suggest that a more mature recognition of the significance of contextual particulars leads one to question the validity of abstract moral principles (hence the regressed score). This argument is consistent with other work suggesting that adult cognitive development in general is marked by a greater appreciation of the practical realities of day-to-day living (Denney and Palmer 1981; Labouvie-Vief 1984; W. G. Perry, Jr. 1970). Related to this emphasis on the practical is the finding of Przygotzki and Mullet (1997) that elderly adults, when attributing blame, give more importance to the consequences of an action than to the intention of the perpetrator.
Finally, Gibbs (1979) argues that adult development is characterized more by increased reflection on such existential matters as meaning, identity, and commitment than by any structural change in the way the person thinks. Similarly, Nisan and Applebaum (1995) suggest that older adults give more weight to identity-related personal considerations when considering moral choices, unless they conflict with "a moral demand" from an "unambiguous law." Gibbs (1979) suggests that Kohlberg's postconventional stages are not structural advances over the earlier stages but would be more appropriately described in terms of existential development. In response, Kohlberg et al. (1983) maintain that Stage 5 represents a legitimate cognitive structure. However, they acknowledge the possibility of further nonstructural development in the adult years with regard to both specific contextual relativity and existential reflection. They suggest that such development could be described in terms of "soft" stages that do not strictly satisfy Piaget's formal criteria for cognitive stages.
In spite of the formidable criticisms that have been levied against it, Kohlberg's theory of moral development remains the centerpiece to which all other work in this area is addressed, whether as an elaboration or as a refutation. At the very least, Kohlberg has formulated a particular sequence of moral reasoning that adequately represents the prevalent sequence of development in traditional Western society. To that extent, it serves as a model, not only for building educational devices (see Modgil and Modgil 1986; Nucci 1989; Power et al. 1989), but also for comparing possible alternatives. Whether or not this sequence is in fact universal or relative to the particular culture—or a particular socialization process within the culture—is a debate that continues. Nonetheless, the scheme remains the prototype upon which further work in this area is likely to be based.
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Thomas J. Figurski
Moral development is the process throught which children develop proper attitudes and behaviors toward other people in society, based on social and cultural norms, rules, and laws.
Moral development is a concern for every parent. Teaching a child to distinguish right from wrong and to behave accordingly is a goal of parenting.
Moral development is a complex issue that—since the beginning of human civilization—has been a topic of discussion among some of the world's most distinguished psychologists, theologians, and culture theorists. It was not studied scientifically until the late 1950s.
Piaget's theory of moral reasoning
Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist, explored how children developed moral reasoning. He rejected the idea that children learn and internalize the rules and morals of society by being given the rules and forced to adhere to them. Through his research on how children formed their judgments about moral behavior, he recognized that children learn morality best by having to deal with others in groups. He reasoned that there was a process by which children conform to society's norms of what is right and wrong, and that the process was active rather than passive.
Piaget found two main differences in how children thought about moral behavior. Very young children's thinking is based on how actions affected them or what the results of an action were. For example, young children will say that when trying to reach a forbidden cookie jar, breaking 10 cups is worse than breaking one. They also recognize the sanctity of rules. For example, they understand that they cannot make up new rules to a game; they have to play by what the rule book says or what is commonly known to be the rules. Piaget called this "moral realism with objective responsibility." It explains why young children are concerned with outcomes rather than intentions.
Older children look at motives behind actions rather than consequences of actions. They are also able to examine rules, determining whether they are fair or not, and apply these rules and their modifications to situations requiring negotiation, assuring that everyone affected by the rules is treated fairly. Piaget felt that the best moral learning came from these cooperative decision-making and problem-solving events. He also believed that children developed moral reasoning quickly and at an early age.
Kohlberg's theory of moral development
Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist, extended Piaget's work in cognitive reasoning into adolescence and adulthood. He felt that moral development was a slow process and evolved over time. Still, his six stages of moral development, drafted in 1958, mirrors Piaget's early model. Kohlberg believed that individuals made progress by mastering each stage, one at a time. A person could not skip stages. He also felt that the only way to encourage growth through these stages was by discussion of moral dilemmas and by participation in consensus democracy within small groups. Consensus democracy was rule by agreement of the group, not majority rule. This would stimulate and broaden the thinking of children and adults, allowing them to progress from one stage to another.
preconventional level The child at the first and most basic level, the preconventional level, is concerned with avoiding punishment and getting needs met. This level has two stages and applies to children up to 10 years of age.
Stage one is the Punishment-Obedience stage. Children obey rules because they are told to do so by an authority figure (parent or teacher), and they fear punishment if they do not follow rules. Children at this stage are not able to see someone else's side.
Stage two is the Individual, Instrumentation, and Exchange stage. Here, the behavior is governed by moral reciprocity. The child will follow rules if there is a known benefit to him or her. Children at this stage also mete out justice in an eye-for-an-eye manner or according to Golden Rule logic. In other words, if one child hits another, the injured child will hit back. This is considered equitable justice. Children in this stage are very concerned with what is fair.
Children will also make deals with each other and even adults. They will agree to behave in a certain way for a payoff. "I'll do this, if you will do that." Sometimes, the payoff is in the knowledge that behaving correctly is in the child's own best interest. They receive approval from authority figures or admiration from peers, avoid blame, or behave in accordance with their concept of self. They are just beginning to understand that others have their own needs and drives.
conventional level This level broadens the scope of human wants and needs. Children in this level are concerned about being accepted by others and living up to their expectations. This stage begins around age 10 but lasts well into adulthood, and is the stage most adults remain at throughout their lives.
Stage three, Interpersonal Conformity, is often called the "good boy/good girl" stage. Here, children do the right thing because it is good for the family , peer group, team, school, or church. They understand the concepts of trust, loyalty, and gratitude. They abide by the Golden Rule as it applies to people around them every day. Morality is acting in accordance to what the social group says is right and moral.
Stage four is the Law and Order, or Social System and Conscience stage. Children and adults at this stage abide by the rules of the society in which they live. These laws and rules become the backbone for all right and wrong actions. Children and adults feel compelled to do their duty and show respect for authority. This is still moral behavior based on authority, but reflects a shift from the social group to society at large.
post-conventional level Some teenagers and adults move beyond conventional morality and enter morality based on reason, examining the relative values and opinions of the groups with which they interact. Few adults reach this stage.
Correct behavior is governed by the sixth stage, the Social Contract and Individual Rights stage. Individuals in this stage understand that codes of conduct are relative to their social group. This varies from culture to culture and subgroup to subgroup. With that in mind, the individual enters into a contract with fellow human beings to treat them fairly and kindly and to respect authority when it is equally moral and deserved. They also agree to obey laws and social rules of conduct that promote respect for individuals and value the few universal moral values that they recognize. Moral behavior and moral decisions are based on the greatest good for the greatest number.
Stage six is the Principled Conscience or the Universal/Ethical Principles stage. Here, individuals examine the validity of society's laws and govern themselves by what they consider to be universal moral principles, usually involving equal rights and respect. They obey laws and social rules that fall in line with these universal principles, but not others they deem as aberrant. Adults here are motivated by individual conscience that transcends cultural, religious, or social convention rules. Kohlberg recognized this last stage but found so few people who lived by this concept of moral behavior that he could not study it in detail.
Carol Gilligan and the morality of care
Kohlberg's and Piaget's theories have come under fire. Kohlberg's six stages of moral development, for example, have been criticized for elevating Western, urban, intellectual (upper class) understandings of morality, while discrediting rural, tribal, working class, or Eastern moral understandings. Feminists have pointed out potential sexist elements in moral development theories devised by male researchers using male subjects only (such as Kohlberg's early work). Because women's experiences in the world differ from men's in every culture, it would stand to reason that women's moral development might differ from men's, perhaps in significant ways.
Carol Gilligan deemed Kohlberg's research biased because he only used male subjects to reach his findings. Because of this, his model is based on a concept of morality based on equity and justice, which places most men in stage five or six. Gilligan found that women, who value social interaction more than men, base their moral decisions on a culture of caring for other human beings. This would place them at stage three, making women appear to be inferior morally to men. Men determine immorality based on treating others unfairly, and women base it on turning away someone in need.
Gilligan's work, however, doesn't solve the gender question, because newer research has found that both males and females often base their moral judgments and behaviors on both justice and care. Nevertheless, the morality of care theory opened up explorations of moral reasoning in many groups and cultures.
Urie Bronfenbrenner studied children and schools in different cultures since many ethnic, religious, and social groups often have their own rules for moral behavior. His research found five moral orientations, regardless of culture, social group, or developmental stage. Movement from the first stage to any of the others was dependent on participation in the family and other social institutions within each culture. Movement to the last stage involved exposure to a different moral system that might be in conflict with one's own. This moral pluralism forces individuals to examine their own moral reasoning and beliefs. This often occurs when people work in other countries or cultures and come face to face with different sets of moral conventions.
Bronfenbrenner also noted that individuals could slide back into a previous moral orientation when they experienced the breakdown of their familiar social order as in war, regime changes, genocide, famine, or large scale natural disasters that destroy social infrastructures. People narrow their attention to their own pressing needs and ignore the welfare of the larger society.
Self-oriented morality coincided with Kohlberg's pre-conventional morality. Behavior is based on self-interest and motivated by who can help children get what they want or who is hindering that process. This stage was found in all children and some adults in all cultures.
Authority-oriented morality again is similar to Kohlberg's Law and Order stage. This applies not only to parents' rules but to teachers, religious leaders, and government officials. This moral orientation was culturally defined. It was very evident in Middle Eastern cultures where religious authority is the law.
Peer-authority morality is moral conformity based on the conventions and rules of a social group. This is evident among teenagers in Western cultures and even among some adults.
Collective-oriented morality is an extension of the peer-authority stage. Here a larger group's rule supercedes individual rights and interests. Duty is the law. This moral orientation was found in Asian cultures.
Objectively-oriented morality is akin to Kohlberg's universal principles stage. Here, however, these rules transcend individual moral perspectives and become entities in themselves. Like Kohlberg's last stage, this moral orientation was found in relatively few people in any culture.
There are several other approaches to the study of moral development, which are categorized in a variety of ways. Briefly, the social learning theory approach claims that humans develop morality by learning the rules of acceptable behavior from their external environment, an essentially behaviorist approach. Psychoanalytic theory proposes instead that morality develops through humans' conflict between their instinctual drives and the demands of society. Cognitive development theories view morality as an outgrowth of cognition, or reasoning, whereas personality theories are holistic in their approach, taking into account all the factors that contribute to human development.
The differences between these approaches rest on two questions: How moral are infants at birth? and How is moral maturity defined? The contrasting philosophies at the heart of the answers to these questions determine the essential perspective of each moral development theory. Those who believe infants are born with no moral sense tend toward social learning or behaviorist theories, because all morality must therefore be learned from the external environment. Others who believe humans are innately aggressive and completely self-oriented are more likely to accept psychoanalytic theories where morality is the learned management of socially destructive internal drives. Those who believe it is the reasoning abilities that separate humans from the rest of creation will find cognitive development theories the most attractive. And those who view humans as holistic beings born with a full range of potentialities will most likely be drawn to personality theories.
What constitutes mature morality is a subject of great controversy. Each society develops its own set of norms and standards for acceptable behavior, leading many to say that morality is entirely culturally conditioned. There is debate over whether or not this means that there are no universal truths, and no cross-cultural standards for human behavior. This debate fuels the critiques of many moral development theories.
Definitions of what is or is not moral are in a state of upheaval within individual societies. Controversies rage over the morality of warfare (especially nuclear), ecological conservation, genetic research and manipulation, alternative fertility and childbearing methods, abortion, sexuality, pornography, drug use, euthanasia, racism, sexism, and human rights issues, among others. Determining the limits of moral behavior becomes increasingly difficult as human capabilities, choices, and responsibilities proliferate with advances in technology and scientific knowledge. For example, prenatal testing techniques that determine birth defects in the womb force parents to make new moral choices about whether to give birth to a child.
The rise in crime, drug and alcohol abuse, gang violence, teen parenthood, and suicide in Western society has also caused a rise in concern over morality and moral development. Parents and teachers want to know how to raise moral children, and they turn to moral development theorists to find answers. Freudian personality theories became more widely known to the Western public in the 1960s and were understood to imply that repression of a child's natural drives would lead to neuroses. Many parents and teachers were therefore afraid to discipline their children, and permissiveness became the rule. Cognitive development theories did little to change things, as they focus on reasoning and disregard behavior. Behaviorist theories, with their complete denial of free will in moral decision-making, are unattractive to many and require precise, dedicated, behavior modification techniques.
Schools are returning to character education programs, popular in the 1920s and 1930s, where certain virtues such as honesty, fairness, and loyalty, are taught to students along with the regular academic subjects. Unfortunately, there is little or no agreement as to which virtues are important and what exactly each virtue entails.
Another approach to moral education that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s is known as values clarification or values modification. The purpose of these programs is to guide students to establish or discern their own system of values on which to base their moral decisions. Students are also taught that others may have different values systems, and that they must be tolerant of those differences. The advantages of this approach are that it promotes self-investigation and awareness and the development of internal moral motivations, which are more reliable than external motivations, and prevents fanaticism, authoritarianism, and moral coercion. The disadvantage is that it encourages moral relativism, the belief that "anything goes." Values clarification is generally seen as a valuable component of moral education, but incomplete on its own.
Lawrence Kohlberg devised a moral education program in the 1960s based on his cognitive development theory. Called the Just Community program, it utilizes age-appropriate or stage-appropriate discussions of moral dilemmas, democratic consensus rule-making, and the creation of a community context where students and teachers could act on their moral decisions. Just Community programs have been established in schools, prisons, and other institutions with a fair amount of success. Exposure to moral questions and the opportunity to practice moral behavior in a supportive community appear to foster deeper moral reasoning and more constructive behavior.
Overall, democratic family and school systems are much more likely to promote the development of internal self-controls and moral growth than are authoritarian or permissive systems. Permissive systems fail to instill any controls, while authoritarian systems instill only fear of punishment, which is not an effective deterrent unless there is a real chance of being caught or punishment becomes a reward because it brings attention to the offender. True moral behavior involves a number of internal processes that are best developed through warm, caring parenting with clear and consistent expectations, emphasis on the reinforcement of positive behaviors rather than the punishment of negative ones, modeling of moral behavior by adults, and creation of opportunities for the child to practice moral reasoning and actions.
According to personal (social) goal theory, moral behavior is motivated by the desire to satisfy a variety of personal and social goals, some of which are self-oriented (selfish), and some of which are other-oriented (altruistic). The four major internal motivations for moral behavior as presented by personal (social) goal theorists are: 1) empathy; 2) the belief that people are valuable in and of themselves and therefore should be helped; 3) the desire to fulfill moral rules; and 4) self-interest.
In social domain theory, moral reasoning is said to develop within particular social domains: 1) moral (e.g., welfare, justice, rights); 2) social-conventional (social rules for the orderly function of society); and 3) personal (pure self-interest, exempt from social or moral rules).
Most people have more than one moral voice and shift among them depending on the situation. In one context, a person may respond out of empathy and place care for an individual over concern for social rules. In a different context, that same person might instead insist on following social rules for the good of society, even though someone may suffer because of it. People also show a lack of consistent morality by sometimes choosing to act in a way that they know is not moral, while continuing to consider themselves moral people. This discrepancy between moral judgment (perceiving an act as morally right or wrong) and moral choice (deciding whether to act in the morally right way) can be explained in a number of ways, any one of which may be true in a given situation:
- weakness of will (the person is overwhelmed by desire)
- weakness of conscience (guilt feelings are not strong enough to overcome temptation)
- limited/flexible morality (some latitude allowed in moral behavior while still maintaining a "moral" identity)
The Moral Balance model proposes that most humans operate out of a limited or flexible morality. Rather than expecting moral perfection from ourselves or others, people set certain limits beyond which they cannot go. Within those limits, however, there is some flexibility in moral decision-making. Actions such as taking coins left in the change-box of a public telephone may be deemed acceptable (though not perfectly moral), while stealing money from an open, unattended cash register is not. Many factors are involved in the determination of moral acceptability from situation to situation, and the limits on moral behavior are often slippery. If given proper encouragement and the opportunity to practice a coherent inner sense of morality, however, most people will develop a balanced morality to guide their day-to-day interactions with their world.
Religious development often goes hand in hand with moral development. Children's concepts of divinity, right and wrong, and who is ultimately responsible for the world's woes are shaped by the family and by the religious social group to which each child belongs. Their concepts also mirror cognitive and moral developmental stages.
In general, in the earliest stage (up to age two years), the child knows that religious objects and books are to be respected. The concept of a divine being is vague, but the child enjoys the regularity of the religious rituals such as prayer.
In the next stage (from two to 10 years), children begin to orient religion concepts to themselves as in the catechism litany, "Who made you? God made me." The concept of a divine being is usually described in anthropomorphic ways for children around six years old. In other words, children perceive God to look like a human being only bigger or living in the sky. At this stage, God is physically powerful and often is portrayed as a superhero. God may also be the wish-granter and can fix anything. Children embrace religious holidays and rituals during this stage.
In the Intermediate Stage during pre-adolescence, children are considered to be in the pre-religious stage. The anthropomorphized divinity is pictured as being very old and wise. God is also thought of as doing supernatural things: having a halo, floating over the world, or performing miracles. Children in this stage understand the panoply of religious or divine beings within the religious belief system. For example, Christian children will distinguish between God and Jesus and the disciples or saints.
The last stage in adolescence focuses on personalizing religious rituals and drawing closer to a divine being. Teenagers begin to think of God in abstract terms and look at the mystical side of the religious experience. They may also rebel against organized religion as they begin to question the world and the rules around them.
Some adults who are considered highly religious consider God to be an anthropomorphized divine being or may reject the supernatural or mystical religious experience. This does not mean that these adults have somehow been arrested in their religious development. This just means that the variation among these stages is great and is determined by the particular religious community in which the individual is involved.
When to call the doctor
Every child misbehaves and will sometimes act selfishly and hurtfully. It is when these acts increase, impulses cannot be controlled, or authority defiance becomes troublesome, that parents may need to seek professional help. Lack of impulse control and authority defiance can be symptoms of medical conditions and psychological disorders. Self-centered behavior, coupled with lack of acceptance of wrongdoing that continues into older childhood and adolescence, may be a problem that requires family or individual counseling.
Risky behaviors such as speeding, drinking, smoking , doing drugs, or engaging in sexual behavior may be related to peer pressure and wanting to conform to the group or may be a way to defy authority. These behaviors, though deemed morally wrong by most societies, may also be symptoms of deeper psychological troubles.
Of extreme concern is the rare child who acts with no remorse, and appears to have to conscience. This is usually signaled by early violent outbursts, destructive behavior, or by acts of cruelty to pets or other children. After each incident, the child has a flat affect (no emotion) or fails to admit that there was anything wrong with the his or her actions. These children need intervention immediately. Behaviors such as these may be indicators of sociopathic disorders.
Altruistic —Thinking of others.
Anthropomorphic —Taking on human characteristics or looking like humans.
Cognition —The act or process of knowing or perceiving.
Flat affect —Showing no emotion.
Moral choice —Deciding whether to act in the morally right way.
Moral judgment —Perceiving an act as morally right or wrong.
Child Psychology and Childhood Education: A Cognitive-Developmental View. New York: Longman, 1987.
Coles, Robert. The Moral Intelligence of Children: How to Raise a Moral Child. New York: Random House, 1997.
Crittenden, Paul. Learning to be Moral: Philosophical Thoughts About Moral Development. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1990.
Essays on Moral Development, II: The Psychology of Moral Development. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Huxley, Ronald. Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting. San Diego: Singular Publishing Group, Inc., 1998.
Kohlberg, Lawrence. Essays on Moral Development, I: The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981.
Kurtines, William M., and Jacob L. Gewirtz, eds. Moral Development: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
Piaget, J. The Moral Judgment of the Child. New York: The Free Press, 1965.
Power, F. C., et al. Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education: A Study of Three Democratic High Schools. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.
Schulman, Michael, and Eva Mekler. Bringing Up a Moral Child: A New Approach for Teaching Your Child to Be Kind, Just, and Responsible. rev. ed. New York: Main Street Books/Doubleday, 1994.
Bersoff, David M. and Joan G. Miller. "Culture, Context, and the Development of Moral Accountability Judgments." Developmental Psychology 29, no. 4 (July 1993): 664–77.
Association for Moral Education Dr. James M. Dubois Center for Health Care Ethics. Saint Louis University, Salus Center 3545 Lafayette Ave. St. Louis, MO 63104.
Developmental Studies Center 2000 Embarcadero, Suite 305 Oakland, CA 94606-5300. (510) 533-0213 or (800) 666-7270.
Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character. Boston University School of Education. 605 Commonwealth Ave., Room 356 Boston, MA 02215. (617) 353-3262. Fax: (617) 353-3924.
Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR). 23 Garden St. Cambridge, MA 02138. (800) 370-2515.
The Heartwood Institute. 425 N. Craig St., Suite 302 Pittsburgh, PA 15213. (800) 432-7810.
Janie Franz Dianne K. Daeg de Mott
The formation of a system of underlying assumptions about standards and principles that govern moral decisions.
Moral development involves the formation of a system of values on which to base decisions concerning "right" and "wrong, " or "good" and "bad."fi Values are underlying assumptions about standards that govern moral decisions.
Although morality has been a topic of discussion since the beginning of human civilization, the scientific study of moral development did not begin in earnest until the late 1950s. Lawrence Kohlberg (1927-1987), an American psychologist building upon Jean Piaget's work in cognitive reasoning, posited six stages of moral development in his 1958 doctoral thesis. Since that time, morality and moral development have become acceptable subjects of scientific research. Prior to Kohlberg's work, the prevailing positivist view claimed that science should be" value-free"—that morality had no place in scientific studies. By choosing to study moral development scientifically, Kohlberg broke through the positivist boundary and established morality as a legitimate subject of scientific research.
There are several approaches to the study of moral development, which are categorized in a variety of ways. Briefly, the social learning theory approach claims that humans develop morality by learning the rules of acceptable behavior from their external environment (an essentially behaviorist approach). Psychoanalytic theory proposes instead that morality develops through humans' conflict between their instinctual drives and the demands of society. Cognitive development theories view morality as an outgrowth of cognition , or reasoning, whereas personality theories are holistic in their approach, taking into account all the factors that contribute to human development.
The differences between these approaches rest on two questions: 1) where do humans begin on their moral journey; and 2) where do we end up? In other words, how moral are infants at birth ? And how is "moral maturity" defined? What is the ideal morality to which we aspire? The contrasting philosophies at the heart of the answers to these questions determine the essential perspective of each moral development theory. Those who believe infants are born with no moral sense tend towards social learning or behaviorist theories (as all morality must therefore be learned from the external environment). Others who believe humans are innately aggressive and completely self-oriented are more likely to accept psychoanalytic theories (where morality is the learned management of socially destructive internal drives). Those who believe it is our reasoning abilities that separate us from the rest of creation will find cognitive development theories the most attractive, while those who view humans as holistic beings who are born with a full range of potentialities will most likely be drawn to personality theories.
What constitutes "mature morality" is a subject of great controversy. Each society develops its own set of norms and standards for acceptable behavior, leading many to say that morality is entirely culturally conditioned. Does this mean there are no universal truths, no cross-cultural standards for human behavior? The debate over this question fuels the critiques of many moral development theories. Kohlberg's six stages of moral development, for example, have been criticized for elevating Western, urban, intellectual (upper class) understandings of morality, while discrediting rural, tribal, working class, or Eastern moral understandings. (See Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning.) Feminists have pointed out potential sexist elements in moral development theories devised by male researchers using male subjects only (such as Kohlberg's early work). Because women's experience in the world is different from men's (in every culture), it would stand to reason that women's moral development might differ from men's, perhaps in significant ways.
Definitions of what is or is not moral are currently in a state of upheaval within individual societies as well as, at least, in the Western world. Controversies rage over the morality of warfare (especially nuclear), ecological conservation, genetic research and manipulation, alternative fertility and childbearing methods, abortion , sexuality , pornography , drug use, euthanasia, racism , sexism, and human rights issues, among others. Determining the limits of moral behavior becomes increasingly difficult as human capabilities, choices, and responsibilities proliferate with advances in technology and scientific knowledge. For example, prenatal testing techniques that determine birth defects in utero force parents to make new moral choices about whether to birth a child. Other examples of recently created moral questions abound in modern-day society.
Therefore, the study of moral development is lively today. The rise in crime, drug and alcohol abuse, gang violence, teen parenthood, and suicide in recent years in Western society has also caused a rise in concern over morality and moral development. Parents and teachers want to know how to raise moral children, and they turn to moral development theorists to find the answers. Freudian personality theories became more widely known to the Western public in the 1960s and were understood to imply that repression of a child's natural drives would lead to neuroses. Many parents and teachers were therefore afraid to discipline their children, and permissiveness became the rule. Cognitive development theories did little to change things, as they focus on reasoning and disregard behavior. (After a great deal of criticism in this regard, Kohlberg and other cognitive development theorists did begin to include moral actions in their discussions and education programs, but their emphasis is still on reasoning alone.) Behaviorist theories, with their complete denial of free will in moral decision-making, are unattractive to many and require such precise, dedicated, behavior modification techniques to succeed that few people are able to apply them in real-life situations.
The continuing breakdown of society, however, is beginning to persuade people that permissiveness is not the answer and another approach must be found. Schools are returning to" character education" programs, popular in the 1920s and 1930s, where certain "virtues" such as honesty, fairness, and loyalty, are taught to students along with the regular academic subjects. Unfortunately, there is little or no agreement as to which "virtues" are important and what exactly each "virtue" means. For example, when a student expresses dislike of another student, is she or he practicing the virtue of "fairness" or, rather, being insensitive to another's feelings? If a student refuses to salute the flag, is he or she betraying the virtue of "loyalty" or, rather, being loyal to some higher moral precept? These complex questions plague "character education" programs today, and their effectiveness remains in dispute.
Another approach to moral education that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s is known as "values clarification"
STAGES OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT
Childhood is often divided into five approximate stages of moral development:
- Stage 1 = infancy—the child's only sense of right and wrong is what feels good or bad;
- Stage 2 = toddler years—the child learns "right" and "wrong" from what she or he is told by others;
- Stage 3 = preschool years—the child begins to internalize family values as his or her own, and begins to perceive the consequences of his or her behavior;
- Stage 4 = ages 7-10 years—the child begins to question the infallibility of parents, teachers, and other adults, and develops a strong sense of "should" and "should not"
- Stage 5 = preteen and teenage years—peers, rather than adults, become of ultimate importance to the child, who begins to try on different values systems to see which fits best; teens also become more aware of and concerned with the larger society, and begin to reason more abstractly about "right" and "wrong."
or "values modification." The purpose of these programs is to guide students to establish (or discern) their own system of values on which to base their moral decisions. Students are also taught that others may have different values systems, and that they must be tolerant of those differences. The advantages of this approach are that it promotes self-investigation and awareness and the development of internal moral motivations (which are more reliable than external motivations), and prevents fanaticism, authoritarianism, and moral coercion. The disadvantage is that it encourages moral relativism, the belief that "anything goes." Pushed to its extreme, it creates social chaos because no one can be held to any universal (or societal) moral standard. "Values clarification" is generally seen today to be a valuable component of moral education, but incomplete on its own.
Lawrence Kohlberg devised a moral education program in the 1960s based on his cognitive development theory. Called the Just Community program, it utilizes age-appropriate (or stage-appropriate) discussions of moral dilemmas, democratic rule-making, and the creation of a community context where students and teachers can act on their moral decisions. Just Community programs have been established in schools, prisons, and other institutions with a fair amount of success. Exposure to moral questions and the opportunity to practice moral behavior in a supportive community appear to foster deeper moral reasoning and more constructive behavior.
Overall, democratic family and school systems are much more likely to promote the development of internal self-controls and moral growth than are authoritarian or permissive systems. Permissive systems fail to instill any controls, while authoritarian systems instill only fear of punishment , which is not an effective deterrent unless there is a real chance of being caught (punishment can even become a reward for immoral behavior when it is the only attention a person ever gets). True moral behavior involves a number of internal processes that are best developed through warm, caring parenting with clear and consistent expectations, emphasis on the reinforcement of positive behaviors (rather than the punishment of negative ones), modeling of moral behavior by adults, and creation of opportunities for the child to practice moral reasoning and actions.
As previously stated, there is disagreement as to the exact motivations involved in moral behavior. Whatever the motivations, however, the internal processes remain the same.
The Four Component model describes them as follows:
- moral sensitivity = empathy (identifying with another's experience) and cognition of the effect of various possible actions on others;
- moral judgment = choosing which action is the most moral;
- moral motivation = deciding to behave in the moral way, as opposed to other options; and
- implementation = carrying out the chosen moral action.
According to personal (social) goal theory, moral (or prosocial) behavior is motivated by the desire to satisfy a variety of personal and social goals, some of which are self-oriented (selfish), and some of which are other-oriented (altruistic). The four major internal motivations for moral behavior as presented by personal (social) goal theorists are: 1) empathy; 2) the belief that people are valuable in and of themselves and therefore should be helped; 3) the desire to fulfill moral rules; and4) self-interest. In social domain theory, moral reasoning is said to develop within particular social "domains": 1) moral (e.g., welfare, justice, rights); 2) social-conventional (social rules for the orderly function of society); and 3) personal (pure self-interest, exempt from social or moral rules).
Most people in fact have more than one moral "voice" and shift among them depending on the situation. In one context, a person may respond out of empathy and place care for one person over concern for social rules. In a different context, that same person might instead insist on following social rules for the good of society, even though someone may suffer because of it. People also show a lack of consistent morality by sometimes choosing to act in a way that they know is not moral, while continuing to consider themselves "moral" people. This discrepancy between moral judgment (perceiving an act as morally right or wrong) and moral choice (deciding whether to act in the morally "right" way) can be explained in a number of ways, any one of which may be true in a given situation:
- weakness of will (the person is overwhelmed by desire);
- weakness of conscience (guilt feelings are not strong enough to overcome tempation); or
- limited/flexible morality (some latitude allowed in moral behavior while still maintaining a" moral" identity).
The Moral Balance model proposes that most humans operate out of a limited or flexible morality. Rather than expecting moral perfection from ourselves or others, we set certain limits beyond which we cannot go. Within those limits, however, there is some flexibility in moral decision-making. Actions such as taking coins left in the change-box of a public telephone may be deemed acceptable (though not perfectly moral), while stealing money from an open, unattended cash register is not. Many factors are involved in the determination of moral acceptability from situation to situation, and the limits on moral behavior are often slippery. If given proper encouragement and the opportunity to practice a coherent inner sense of morality, however, most people will develop a balanced morality to guide their day-to-day interactions with their world.
Dianne K. Daeg de Mott
Crittenden, Paul. Learning to be Moral: Philosophical Thoughts About Moral Development. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1990.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Kohlberg, Lawrence. Essays on Moral Development, I: The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral Stages and the Idea of Justice. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981.
———. Essays on Moral Development, II: The Psychology of Moral Development. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984.
———. Child Psychology and Childhood Education: A Cognitive-Developmental View. New York: Longman, 1987.
Kurtines, William M., and Jacob L. Gewirtz, eds. Moral Development: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
Schulman, Michael, and Eva Mekler. Bringing Up a Moral Child: A New Approach for Teaching Your Child to Be Kind, Just, and Responsible, rev. ed. New York: Main Street Books/Doubleday, 1994.
Developmental Studies Center. 2000 Embarcadero, Suite 305, Oakland, CA 94606-5300, (510) 533–0213, (800) 666–7270.
Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character. Boston University School of Education, 605 Commonwealth Ave., Room 356, Boston, MA 02215, (617) 353–3262, fax: (617) 353–3924.
Educators for Social Responsibility (ESR). 23 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138, (800) 370–2515.
The Heartwood Institute. 425 N. Craig St., Suite 302, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, (800) 432–7810.
The Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, author of the 1932 book The Moral Judgment of the Child, is among the first psychologists whose work remains directly relevant to contemporary theories of moral development and education. From his observations and interviews of children, Piaget concluded that children begin in a "heteronomous" stage of moral reasoning, characterized by a strict adherence to rules and duties and obedience to authority. This heteronomy results from two factors. The first factor is the young child's cognitive structure. According to Piaget, the thinking of young children is characterized by egocentrism. Young children are unable to simultaneously take into account their own view of things with the perspective of someone else. This egocentrism leads children to project their own thoughts and wishes onto others. It is also associated with the unidirectional view of rules and power associated with heteronomous moral thought and with various forms of "moral realism." Moral realism is associated with "objective responsibility," which is valuing the letter of the law above the purpose of the law. This is why young children are more concerned about the outcomes of actions rather than the intentions of the person doing the act. Moral realism is also associated with the young child's belief in "immanent justice." This is the expectation that punishments automatically follow acts of wrongdoing.
The second major contributor to young children's heteronomous moral thinking is their relative social relationship with adults. In the natural authority relationship between adults and children, power is handed down from above. The relative powerlessness of young children, coupled with childhood egocentrism, feeds into a heteronomous moral orientation. Nevertheless, through interactions with other children in which the group seeks to play together in a way all find fair, children find this strict heteronomous adherence to rules sometimes problematic. As children consider these situations, they develop towards an "autonomous" stage of moral reasoning, characterized by the ability to consider rules critically and to selectively apply these rules based on a goal of mutual respect and cooperation. The ability to act from a sense of reciprocity and mutual respect is associated with a shift in the child's cognitive structure from egocentrism to perspective taking. Coordinating one's own perspective with that of others means that what is right needs to be based on solutions that meet the requirements of fair reciprocity.
Piaget concluded from this work that schools should emphasize cooperative decision-making and problem solving, nurturing moral development by requiring students to work out common rules based on fairness. He believed individuals define morality individually through their struggles to arrive at fair solutions. Given this view, Piaget suggested that classroom teachers should provide students with opportunities for personal discovery through problem solving, rather than indoctrinating students with norms.
Lawrence Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development and Education
The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg modified and elaborated Piaget's work and determined that the process of attaining moral maturity took longer and was more gradual than Piaget had proposed. On the basis of his research, Kohlberg identified six stages of moral reasoning grouped into three major levels. At the first, preconventional level, a person's moral judgments are characterized by a concrete, individual perspective. Within this level, a Stage 1 heteronomous orientation focuses on avoiding breaking rules that are backed by punishment, obedience for its own sake, and avoiding the physical consequences of an action. At Stage 2 a moral orientation emerges that focuses on the instrumental, pragmatic values of actions. Reciprocity is of the form: "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours."
Individuals at the second, conventional, level reason about moral situations with an understanding that norms and conventions are necessary to uphold society. Within this level, individuals at Stage 3 define what is right in terms of what is expected by people close to them and in terms of the stereo-typic roles that define being good–for example, a good brother, mother, teacher. Stage 4 marks the shift from defining what is right in terms of local norms and role expectations to defining right in terms of the laws and norms established by the larger social system. This is the "member of society" perspective in which one is moral by fulfilling the actual duties defining one's social responsibilities.
Finally, the postconventional level is characterized by reasoning based on principles, using a "prior to society" perspective. These individuals reason on the basis of principles that underlie rules and norms. While two stages have been presented within the theory, only one, Stage 5, has received substantial empirical support. Stage 6 remains a theoretical endpoint that rationally follows from the preceding five stages. In essence this last level of moral judgment entails reasoning rooted in the ethical fairness principles from which moral laws would be devised. Laws are evaluated in terms of their coherence with basic principles of fairness rather than upheld simply on the basis of their place within an existing social order.
Kohlberg used findings from his research to reject traditional character education practices that are premised in the idea that virtues and vices are the basis to moral behavior, or that moral character is comprised of a "bag of virtues," such as honesty, kindness, patience, and strength. Kohlberg believed a better approach to affecting moral behavior would focus on stages of moral development. Initial educational efforts employing Kohlberg's theory sought to engage students in classroom discussions of moral dilemmas that would lead to an awareness of contradictions inherent in students' present level of moral reasoning and to shifts toward the next stage of moral judgment. Kohlberg and his colleagues eventually developed the "just community" schools approach toward promoting moral development, described in the 1989 book Lawrence Kohlberg's Approach to Moral Education. These schools seek to enhance moral development by offering students the chance to participate in community discussions to arrive at consensual resolutions of the actual moral problems and issues students face as members of the school community.
Domain Theory: Distinguishing Morality and Convention
In the early 1970s, longitudinal studies conducted by the Kohlberg research group began to reveal anomalies in the stage sequence. One of the most productive lines of research to come out of that period has been the domain theory advanced by Elliot Turiel and his colleagues. Within domain theory a distinction is drawn between the child's developing concepts of morality and other domains of social knowledge, such as social convention. According to domain theory, the child's concepts of morality and social convention emerge out of the child's attempts to account for qualitatively differing forms of social experience associated with these two classes of social events. Actions within the moral domain, such as unprovoked hitting of someone, have intrinsic effects (i.e., the harm that is caused) on the welfare of another person. Such intrinsic effects occur regardless of the nature of social rules that may or may not be in place regarding the action. Because of this, the core features of moral cognition are centered around considerations of the effects that actions have upon the well-being of persons. Morality is structured by concepts of harm, welfare, and fairness. In contrast, actions that are matters of social convention have no intrinsic interpersonal consequences. For example, there is nothing intrinsic to forms of address that makes calling a college teacher "professor" better or worse than calling the person Ms. or simply using her given name. What makes one form of address better than another is the existence of socially agreed-upon rules. These conventions, while arbitrary, are nonetheless important to the smooth functioning of any social group. Conventions provide a way for members of the group to coordinate their social exchanges through a set of agreed-upon and predictable modes of conduct. Concepts of convention, then, are structured by the child's understandings of social organization. These hypothesized distinctions have been sustained through studies since the mid-1970s that have included interviews with children, adolescents, and adults; observations of child-child and adult-child social interactions; cross-cultural studies; and longitudinal studies examining the changes in children's thinking as they grow older.
Educational research from within domain theory has resulted in a set of recommendations for what is termed "domain appropriate" values education. This approach entails the teacher's analysis and identification of the moral or conventional nature of social values issues to be employed in lessons. Such an analysis contributes to the likelihood that the issues discussed are concordant with the domain of the values dimension they are intended to affect. Teachers are also better enabled to lead students through consideration of more complex issues that contain elements from more than one domain.
Carol Gilligan and the Morality of Care
Carol Gilligan, in a 1982 book titled In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, suggested that a morality of care can serve in the place of the morality of justice and rights espoused by Kohlberg. A way to look at how these differ is to view these two moralities as providing two distinct injunctions–the injunction not to treat others unfairly (justice) and the injunction not to turn away from someone in need (care). She presents these moralities as distinct, although potentially connected. In her initial work, Gilligan emphasized the gender differences thought to be associated with these two orientations. Further research has suggested, however, that moral reasoning does not follow the distinct gender lines that Gilligan originally reported. The preponderance of evidence is that both males and females reason based on justice and care. While this gender debate is unsettled, Gilligan's work has contributed to an increased awareness that care is an integral component of moral reasoning. Educational approaches based on Gilligan's work have emphasized efforts to foster empathy and care responses in students.
Three primary controversies persist in the field of moral development research. First, there is disagreement over whether morality has universal elements or is cross-cultural. Second, there is disagreement over whether morality develops in stages or levels. Finally, there are unresolved issues regarding the connections between moral judgments and action. The latter is of greatest concern to educators because one of the primary goals of education is to produce citizens who will lead moral lives. The most promising line of work attempting to deal with this issue is exploring the development of what is referred to as the "moral self." This approach assumes that people act on the basis of their moral judgments if being moral is a central part of their sense of personal identity.
See also: Character Development; Kohlberg, Lawrence; Moral Education; Piaget, Jean.
Devries, Rheta, and Zan, Betty. 1994. Moral Classrooms, Moral Children: Creating a Constructivist Atmosphere in Early Education. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development. Cam-bridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Keller, Monika, and Edelstein, Wolfgang. 1993. "The Development of the Moral Self from Childhood to Adolescence." In The Moral Self, ed. Gill G. Noam and Thomas E. Wren. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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During the last half of the twentieth century, perceptions of increased school violence within the United States renewed public concern for children's moral development. The study of moral development includes the way individuals reason about morality, the emotions associated with morality, the actions or behavior demonstrating morality, and the socialization or teaching of morality. Morality is the level of agreement or disagreement with a system of moral rules or standards of right and wrong. Although some children as young as thirty-four months know the difference between morality and social custom, the distinction between the two concepts is often distorted. For example, many children considered flag burning to have moral consequences. Respect for a flag is a social convention or a culturally agreed upon and accepted custom, regulation, or protocol that changes with social opinion. Moral rules, however, rarely change. Considering this confusion, research concerning moral reasoning, emotionality, behavior, and socialization often overlaps with topics concerning other types of prosocial development.
Like Jean Piaget, the pioneer of cognitive theory, Lawrence Kohlberg, a prominent moral development researcher, believed that people's perceptions, attitudes, and actions are influenced by the way they think or reason. So, he studied the reasoning process employed to resolve ethical dilemmas, not the resulting judgments or rules that foster social justice. Through research, he discovered three progressive stages of moral reasoning: preconventional, conventional, and postconventional. Each stage has two phases. All six levels reflect a type of decision that could not be made at an earlier age. Even though an elementary-school-age child has an improved understanding of others' beliefs and thoughts, children between the ages of six and eleven tend to reason in preconventional or self-focused ways. At first, they are likely to make judgments that reflect the need to obey moral rules to avoid punishment, but in later elementary grades, reasoning is likely to reflect a need for reciprocity or in-kind treatment. A person's moral reasoning ability, however, develops over a lifetime and individuals, from the age of twelve on, tend to reason in conventional or community-focused ways. First, they want to please others or receive social approval for following the community's rules. Later, they may think from a law-and-order perspective and value becoming a good citizen. The third stage, post-conventional or ideal-centered reasoning, occurs rarely.
These levels of reasoning may overrule the culture's standards and the individual's personal concerns. Initially, laws are important in ideal-centered analyses of moral dilemmas because they are agreed upon by the community, as a whole, and are created to help everyone. Infractions are accepted if the rules become harmful or if another party breaks the legal contract. Kohlberg suggested, however, that individuals would eventually reason using universal principles established through individual reflection—not legal standards or individual values—but there is little evidence to demonstrate that this stage of reasoning exists.
Evolutionary biologists criticize the validity of Kohlberg's last three stages because, unlike the first three stages, they do not foster the adaptation and cooperation necessary for species survival. Others assert that his moral reasoning levels do not reflect various religious beliefs, cultural values, economic circumstances, social situations, or individual interpretations of moral dilemmas. For example, replies to moral dilemmas frequently reflect either a care for others' perspective or a justice and rights perspective. Morality of care perspectives consider more responsibility toward, interest in, and nurturance of others. Morality of justice perspectives do not consider personal ideas of right and wrong, but reflect theoretical, visionary, and complex notions of morality. When assessing replies to moral dilemmas, some researchers have found that females more than males reflect a morality of care and that males more than females reflect a morality of justice. On the whole, however, Kohlberg's stages reflect a range of human possibility in moral reasoning and have provided a foundation for future theory and research.
A child's moral reasoning ability and behavior expands as emotions, other awareness, and self-awareness develop. People feeling guilt, the emotion of remorse over doing wrong, often feel empathy and are often motivated to confess and compensate. Feelings of guilt, as well as feelings of disgust, sadness, and empathic anger, also coincide with perceptions of injustice and immorality. Those with empathic and sympathetic temperaments or positive moods, in general, tend to exhibit more sharing, supporting, volunteering, helping, and less aggressive behavior, while intense negative emotions tend to lead to destructive or unproductive anger resolution. Feelings of shame that arise from situations in which the self has been challenged appear to be related to antisocial behavior. Shame and embarrassment tend to reflect others' evaluations and play a large role in conformity to social conventions.
The precursors to many emotions are self-and other awareness, which may occur as early as twelve or fifteen months of age. Guilt and other types of mental discomfort about moral and social transgressions begin to develop between fourteen and forty-six months. Additionally, empathic responding, reparative behavior, and awareness of right and wrong are first evident at twenty-four months. Children who demonstrate these feelings and behaviors also demonstrate fewer moral and social transgressions. Between ages seven and eleven the brain has adequately developed so that children can begin to understand moral issues and relate to their own feelings about moral behavior. During adolescence not only does complex moral reasoning increase, but so too does concern for others. Cognitive processing or thinking skills, however, tend to break down when people feel threatened or sad; therefore, it is understandable that adolescents may concentrate on their own needs and desires when the costs of helping others are great.
Some people assert that society should be more concerned about moral behavior than moral reasoning. Children demonstrate prosocial and moral behavior when they share, help, cooperate, communicate sympathy, and otherwise demonstrate their ability to care about others and the community. Ideally, these behaviors are performed without the expectation of reward, as reflected in the later stages of moral reasoning. Moral behavior, however, often provides good feelings, kinship, and interconnection with others. The frequency and type of moral or pro-social behavior vary with the frequency and type of moral reasoning, the child's emotional development, the child's gender, and situational factors, including culture and religion. Human respect, concepts of success, and beliefs fostered by family and peers, as well as negative sanctions, are also related to the frequency of prosocial and antisocial behavior.
Children's ability to restrain unacceptable behavior begins to improve in toddlerhood. Children between the ages of seven and eleven, however, regard allegiance to peers as more important than cultural rules, so they often say that they would cheat, lie, or steal to help a friend in need. It is clear that children think about and make choices concerning morality and that peers have a great influence on moral behavior.
Moral development is also fostered by the adult control and communication of cultural values, beliefs, and ethics. Less obvious types of support, such as role modeling, may also foster children's moral development. Active reflection, however, is more likely to lead to moral action than merely accepting social conventions and laws, so adult and peer discussion are necessary to foster moral development.
Political, academic, and social influences have encouraged schools to augment parent and peer influence. For example, Kohlberg was aware of increased school violence, and he believed that large schools fostered detachment and poor communication between staff and students. He also had observed high levels of moral development in Israeli kibbutzim, so he created Just Community high schools in which student-faculty groups developed their own rules of conduct through discussion, reason, and argument about fairness. Violations of the rules were subject to the group's criticism and discipline. Kohlberg asserted that moral development would occur when students shared in the responsibility of creating a moral environment. In fact, within these schools, the students' complex moral reasoning increased while antisocial behavior declined. The content of the moral issues addressed, however, was not the same from school to school and increased moral behavior did not extend beyond the school environment.
Providing children with opportunities to question their own moral reasoning and behavior will foster moral development, but discussing the intentions, perspectives, false beliefs, and judgments of characters within a moral dilemma may also foster moral development. When promoting moral and prosocial behavior, parents, teachers, and other important adults should employ activities suitable for the child's age. One study suggested that moral dilemmas should concern children doing familiar things in familiar settings so that moral issues are more easily understood. Many teachers recognize this need for age appropriate curricula; differences in age appropriateness, however, vary between cultures. Therefore, not only should maturational contexts be considered when creating moral development curricula, but so should experiential, cultural, and economic contexts.
The benefits of incorporating moral development in school curricula may extend beyond decreased antisocial and immoral behavior. Research suggests that it may also help children develop a theory of mind and enhance their social and academic success. Therefore, in an effort to prepare children for socially acceptable community involvement, schools should continue to develop and use appropriate curricula, and researchers should continue to explore the realms of moral development.
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