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Jean Piaget on Morality - Dictionary of Arguments

Slater I 57
Morality/children/development/Piaget: five-year-old children believe that wrongness of an act depends on how much damage resulted, rather than the intent of the perpetrator. >Cognitive development/Piaget, >Thinking/Piaget, VsPiaget: >Abilities/Klahr, >Context/developmental psychology, >Problem solving/Klahr.


David Klahr, ”Revisiting Piaget. A Perspective from Studies of Children’s Problem-solving Abilities”, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications

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Slater I 164
Morality/Piaget: Piaget (1932/1965)(1) was the basis for Kohlberg’s work on the development of children’s orientations toward a moral order (Kohlberg 1963/2008)(2).
Moral Realism: is the concept for Piaget’s thesis that young children begin with a heteronomous stage of moral reasoning in which they emphasize obedience to authority and focus more on the outcomes of moral actions than the underlying intent.
Heteronomous stage/Piaget: the limitations of children’s moral reasoning at the heteronomous stage are due to a tendency to project one’s own way of reasoning onto others. According to
Piaget, this tendency persists until children gain enough experience with peers that they can appreciate the perspectives of others, as they engage in the social coordination that is necessary to reach mutually agreeable outcomes. As a result, children learn to conceive of morality as a fluid process that is based on negotiations among individuals rather than as a set of fixed rules grounded in adult authority.
Autonomous stage: Between the ages of about 8 and 11, children typically enter an autonomous stage of moral development, in which they critically evaluate moral rules and take into account the perspectives of others when applying the rules. During the autonomous stage, children come to understand that rules are created by people, and can be modified by social agreement.
Piaget: Based on his belief that peer interactions are a particularly important way of learning right and wrong, he set out to observe children in the context of game-playing interactions, and then asked them to reflect on the rules of their games. >Morality/Kohlberg.


1. Piaget, J. (1932/1965). The moral judgment of the child. New York: Free Press.
2. Kohlberg, L. (1963/2008). The development of children’s orientations toward a moral order. I: Sequence in the development of moral thought. Human Development, 51, 8—20.


Gail D. Heyman and Kang Lee, “Moral Development. Revisiting Kohlberg’s Stages“, in: Alan M. Slater and Paul C. Quinn (eds.) 2012. Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies. London: Sage Publications

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Upton I 123
Morality/Piaget/Upton: According to Piaget (1923)(1), understanding of right and wrong reflects increasing sophistication in a child’s thinking processes: children under four years of age have no understanding of morality.
Heteronomous morality: Between the ages of four and seven years, children believe that rules and justice are unchangeable and beyond the control of the individual, and they also judge whether an action is right or wrong by its consequences.
Autonomous morality: From seven to ten years of age, children are in transition, showing some features of heteronomous morality and autonomous morality;
Finally, at around the ages often to 12 years, children’s understanding shifts to autonomous morality, recognizing that rules are created by people and that intentions are as important as consequences.
Piaget believed that, in addition to increasing cognitive abilities, moral development relies on peer relationships. Through the give and take of social interactions and playing games, children experience disagreements that have to be solved, and learn to negotiate the rules of a game, which teaches them to recognize that rules are man-made rather than handed down from a greater authority. >Morality/Kohlberg.


1. Piaget, J (1923) Language and Thought of the Child. London: Routledge.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Piag I
J. Piaget
The Psychology Of The Child 2nd Edition 1969

Slater I
Alan M. Slater
Paul C. Quinn
Developmental Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2012

Upton I
Penney Upton
Developmental Psychology 2011


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-09-20
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