By Theresa M. Martin
Posted October 16, 1997, Updated August 1, 2014.
What is Moral Development?
Morality comes from the Latin word, 'moralis', which means, customs, manners, or patterns of behavior that conform to the standards of the group; (Hurlock, 1973). At every age, the individual is judged by how closely he conforms to the groups; standards, and he is labeled moral or immoral, accordingly (Hurlock, 1973). What the social group expects is defined in its rules and laws; both are based on the groups prevailing customs Langford, Peter E. (1995) . Moral development involves the formation of a system of values on which to base decisions concerning “right” and “wrong”, or “good” and “bad” Langford, Peter E. (1995) .
How Does Morality Develop?
While there are many theories concerning moral development, this paper will focus on the cognitive development approach. This approach views the child as taking an active part in his or her own moral development, rather than being a passive recipient of external influences and teachings (Kurtines). It suggests that young people formulate moral ideas from organized patterns of thought (Kurtines3). These patterns do not come directly from the culture, and they go through a series of qualitative transformations or stages as the child develops (Kurtines 3).
What is a Stage?
Who Says So?
One of the first psychologists whose work remains directly relevant to contemporary theories of moral development is Jean Piaget (Nucci). “According to Piaget, all development emerges from action; that is to say, individuals construct and reconstruct their knowledge of the world as a result of interactions with the environment” (Nucci, p. 1). Piaget’s work was modified and elaborated by Lawrence Kohlberg, who laid the groundwork for the current debate within psychology on moral development (Nucci5).
Stages of Moral Development by Lawrence Kohlberg
I. Pre-conventional Level
Stage 2: The instrumental relativist orientation. Right action consists of what instrumentally satisfies one's own needs and occasionally the needs of others.
II. Conventional Level
III. Post-Conventional, Autonomous, or Principled Level.
The individual makes a clear effort to define moral
values and principles that have validity and application apart from the
authority of the groups of persons holding them and apart from the
individual's own identification with the group. The level has the two
Can Morality be taught??
Kohlberg believes that in order to teach morality you must encourage the individual to develop to the next stage of moral reasoning Nucci, Larry 1997 . In order to do this he developed a program called the Just Community Kohlberg 1981 . It utilizes stage-appropriate discussions of moral dilemmas, democratic role making, and the creation of a community context where students and teachers can act on their moral decisions Kohlberg 1981. The theory is that exposure to moral questions and the opportunity to practice moral behavior in a supportive community will foster deeper moral reasoning and more constructive behavior Kohlberg, 1981.
1. Kohlberg, Lawrence, Stages of Moral Development, 1971. (October 18, 2001).
5. Nucci, Larry, "An overview of moral development and education. Moral development and education home page. October 16, 1997. MoralEd/overview
6. The Domain Based Moral Education Lab at the Graduate School of Education, 4609 Tolman Hall #1670, University of California, Berkeley. Content assembled and maintained by Larry Nucci, Adjunct Professor at the University of California, Berkeley and Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago, Copyright © 1995-2014 Larry Nucci Last modified June 8, 2014. Domain Based Moral Education, UC Berkeley