Human beings live in society, interact continuously with their fellow human beings and have their own consequences on others. In this context, a whole code has been written that is not only normative, but also moral based on shared beliefs about what is or is not acceptable or on the values we follow.
Although from the moment we are born we are immersed in it, the truth is that morality does not arise spontaneously but develops little by little throughout our evolution and maturation. This is of enormous scientific interest, and many authors have explored and developed theories on how morality appears in humans. Among them we can find Theory of moral development by Jean Piaget, Which we will talk about throughout this article.
Piaget and mental development
Jean Piaget is one of the most renowned authors in terms of child development study, To be one of the fathers of evolutionary psychology.
One of his most important contributions is his theory of cognitive development, in which the child goes through different stages of development (sensorimotor, preoperative, specific operations and formal operations) in which he reconfigures his own cognition. as well as acquire different mental faculties and capacities and making his thinking more and more complex.
But although Piaget focused on developing mental faculties and thinking / reasoning, he also valued and generated a theory of moral development.
Piaget’s theory of moral development
Piaget’s theory of moral development is deeply linked to his theory of cognitive development. Morality is valued as a set of rules that the child is able to obey and understand to a greater or lesser extent, generally related to the idea of justice.
The author considers that in order to be able to speak of morality it will be necessary to acquire a level of development equivalent to two years of age, equivalent to the preoperative period (previously it was considered that there is not enough mental capacity to speak something similar to morality).
From this point on, human beings will develop an increasingly complex morality as their cognitive capacity becomes greater and capable of abstract and hypothetico-deductive thinking. Thus, the evolution of morality depends on that of its own cognitive capacities: to advance, it is necessary go reorganize and add information to existing diagrams, So that an ever deeper and at the same time critical knowledge can be developed considering that it deserves a certain behavior.
In addition to this, interaction with their peers will be necessary, as the main mechanism for acquiring information and setting aside the egocentricity of the early stages of life. Finally, it is essential that, little by little and as the acquisition and mastery of capacities and hypothetico-deductive thinking progresses, there is a progressive distance and independence from parents and their parents. point of view, which is necessary for the development of a certain relativism. and ability, self-criticism.
Although Piaget’s theory of moral development is not currently the best regarded, the truth is that his studies have served as an inspiration and even as a basis for the development of many others. This includes Kohlberg’s theory, Probably one of the best known.
The stages of moral development according to Piaget
In Piaget’s theory of moral development, the author proposes the existence, as we have said, of a total of three phases or stages (although the last two are those which would be properly moral), that the child goes through as he acquires and integrates more and more information and cognitive skills. The three stages or stages proposed are as follows.
1. Premoral stage or adult pressure
In this first stage, which corresponds to a level of development equivalent to that of a child between two and six years old, the language emerges and they begin to be able to identify their own intentions, Although there is no understanding of the moral concept or the rules.
Patterns of behavior and their limitations depend entirely on external imposition by family or authority figures, but the moral rule or norm is not conceived of as something relevant in and of itself.
2. Solidarity between equals and moral realism
The second of the stages of moral development occurs between the ages of five and ten, by appearing the rules as something coming from the outside but which is understood as excellent and of forced accomplishment, being something inflexible.
Breaking the norm is considered something entirely punishable and seen as a defect, therefore being frowned upon. The idea of justice and honesty arises, as well as the need for mutual respect between equals.
Lying is frowned upon and punishment for dissent is accepted regardless of any mitigating variables or intentions, being the relevant consequences of the conduct.
Over time, they stop seeing rules as something imposed by others but still relevant within themselves without the need for outside motivation.
3. Autonomous morality, moral relativism
This stage occurs approximately from the age of ten, at the stage of concrete operations and even at the beginning of formal operations. At this stage, the child has already reached the ability to use logic to relate information to the phenomena you encounter.
From the age of about twelve, it is already possible to function with abstract information. This gradually leads to a better understanding of situations and the importance of different factors when considering rules, such as intention.
It is at this stage that a critical moral is reached, become aware that the rules are interpretable and whether to obey or not may depend on the situation and one’s own will: it is no longer necessary that the norm always be obeyed but will depend on the situation.
Individual responsibility and the proportionality between action-punishment are also valued. Lying is no longer seen as a negative thing unless it involves betrayal.
- Piaget, J. (1983). The moral criterion in the child. Editorial Fontanella.
- Sanz, LJ (2012). Evolutionary and educational psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 10. CEDE: Madrid.
- Vidal, F. (1994). Piaget before Piaget. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.