Thursday, June 25, 2009

Morality- Piaget

Jean Piaget was a Swiss Psychologist who studied childhood development and how children develop morality. Through studying children and how they related to the rules of games that they played where he lived, he developed the idea that children move through two stages of morality.

Piaget calls the first stage heteronymous morality. Heteronymous morality is characterized by the child's belief that the rules have their own innate authority, or more simply put, the rules are the rules and that's it. In this stage, children are primarily motivated by a fear of punishment. Piaget believes that this kind of relation to the rules is a result of the child’s relation to people in positions of authority. Since adults are in a position of power over the young children and command that the child know and follow their rules, the child’s primary mode of relating to these rules becomes one of grasping what is given, and using it as his/her own (1932, p. 36).

Piaget calls the second stage autonomous morality. Piaget found that this stage begins to enter in at around age 10. Autonomous morality is characterized by the child's understanding that rules are made by people, for people. The child using autonomous morality is motivated by the spirit of cooperation, and tries to take into account the needs, wants, and feelings of others. Piaget believes that this kind of relation to the rules develops out of cooperative activity between peers in equal relationship, in contrast with the one-way power relationship of authority to child that is present in heteronymous thinking.

So why does this matter? Piaget finds that Heteronymous morality persists to the extent which the individual remains in an unequal relationship with the rules, when the authority of the rules is taken for granted and accepted into the individual’s understanding of their world (these rules are the way the world works- think religious or ideological fundamentalism).
Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini walking in f...Image via Wikipedia
Heteronymous morality can persist into adulthood, and is the morality of unequal power. When people give away their own power by following the rules of authority without critical and rational examination, life becomes a game of follow the leader, and depending on the leader, this game can be a very dangerous one. However, when people stand by the spirit of cooperation and the acknowledgement of the rights of others as equals, rules presented by leaders are examined, and ultimately rejected as immoral.

Much of this information was summarized from Piaget's The Moral Judgment of the Child. (1932).
To read selected sections of it, check it out here on google books, or buy it from Amazon!