What Is Piaget’s Theory of Moral Development?

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Piaget’s theory of moral development describes how children transition from doing right because of the consequences of an authority figure to making right choices due to ideal reciprocity or what is best for the other person. Piaget ties moral development to cognitive development. Piaget published his work in the 1920s, though it took several decades to become prominent.

According to Piaget, children between ages 5 and 10 make moral decisions based on what an authority figure believes is right. Rules from parents or teachers are unchangeable, and the child follows them out of fear of punishment.

Piaget teaches that beginning at about age 10 children base their morality on a cooperative society. They see morality involves social agreement and rules are for the common good. They also begin to understand that others have different rules concerning morality. The child develops a sense of reciprocity and fairness, although it is initially limited.

During the early teen years, the youth’s sense of morality matures to ideal reciprocity, where he attempts to understand the decisions of others by understanding their circumstances. Piaget felt that ideal reciprocity was maturity in moral decision. In 2014, research indicates that morality continues to grow and develop into adulthood and that Piaget overestimated the age at which children begin developing their own sense of morality.