Stages of Moral Development

According to Piaget and Kohlberg, moral judgments are related to the stage of cognitive development from which a person is operating when making these judgments. According to Piaget's theory, the development of morality includes several stages. People cannot progress to higher stages of moral development until they have also progressed through higher stages of cognitive understanding. Cognition refers to the mental processes of thinking, reasoning, knowing, remembering, understanding, and problem solving. During the premoral stage (birth through five years of age), children have little awareness of morals. As they grow, children learn about cooperative activity and equality among peers. This cognitive knowledge leads to a new respect for rights and wrongs. At this stage (age six to ten), children cannot judge that Henry is more guilty than John, because they are not capable of understanding the differences in the children's intentions. The only understanding is of the degree of damage done. Therefore, the number of cups broken is the basis for the judgment of the wrongness of the act, regardless of the actor's good or bad intentions.

Finally, as children develop, they learn that rules can be challenged, and they are able to consider other factors, such as a person's intentions and motivation. Once this shift in perception occurs, children's moral development will progress to a higher stage.

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