Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg on Moral Development

Both Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg have made vital contributions to the study of human psychology, especially pertaining to the development of children.  One aspect of the child psychology elaborated by both theorists is their moral development.  While Piaget is the modern pioneer in the subject, his predecessor Kohlberg extended and modified the former’s theories to accommodate new evidences.

Piaget’s views on moral development of children are not given under a tightly-knit theory, but are put together in his seminal work The Moral Judgment of the Child, published in 1932.  According to Piaget, the moral makeup of a child is a product of his/her own conception and understanding of the world.  This view is contrary to the conventional view that children are taught what is right and wrong by parents and teachers.  While moral preaching inevitably goes on, children made moral judgments based on their own observations of their environment.   Further, morality is a product of interaction with peers and authority figures do not influence it much.  Key moral concepts like fairness, equality, justice and mutual reciprocity were all largely constructed through their interactions with other children.  Moreover, as per Piaget’s definition of morality, contemporaneous social norms do not matter much to children, but instead morality comprises of universal, generic principles.  Of course, while these tendencies are evident during early childhood, the nature of moral development matures and becomes more sophisticated as they grow up.

Lawrence Kohlberg’s work modifies and refines several of Piaget’s theses.  Kohlberg noted that the moral evolution of children is a lot more gradual and complex than what Piaget had proposed.  Kohlberg identified a total of six stages of moral development, grouped under three major levels. Each of these levels represents a fundamental shift in the social-moral understanding of the individual.  The six stages are pre-conventional, conventional, post-conventional and further stages.  He also added a possible seventh stage of Transcendental Morality or Morality of Cosmic Orientation, which has spiritual connotations.  Kohlberg’s work had many radical implications during the time of their publication, for they rejected traditional character education practices, which were base morality on ideas of virtues and vices.  Without getting stuck in simple qualities such as honesty, patience, kindness, generosity, etc, (which were part of traditional view of morality), Kohlberg suggested that the goal of moral education should be to help the child reach the next stage of moral development.

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) is a neurobehavioral developmental disorder that affects young children.  This condition involves learning difficulty, poor concentration, impulsivity, restlessness, behavioral problem, among others.  Children identified with ADHD tend to do poorly at school and their symptoms may not fully resolve as they become adolescents and later adults, requiring therapy and management throughout life.  Although more prevalent in boys than girls, the illness is estimated to affect nearly 5 million American youth presently.  The causes of this disorder are not properly understood and some of the treatment options have attracted controversy.  Treating the disorder includes behavior modification, psychological counseling, some life-style changes and psychiatric medication.  While medications help alleviate symptoms in the short term, they do not have a lasting impact on symptoms.  Hence, behavioral treatments are vital to significant long-term progress.  Parents and teachers can play crucial roles in helping the child by participating or conducting therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), family therapy, etc.  They can also train the child in learning social skills.  But in the end managing ADHD is going to be a life-long challenge for children, parents and educators alike, for the condition cannot be completely cured.

References:

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1981). Essays on Moral Development, Vol. I: The Philosophy of Moral Development. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-064760-4.

Bringuier, J.-C. (1980). Conversations with Jean Piaget (B.M. Gulati, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Original work published 1977) ISBN 0-226-07503-6.

Barkley, Russell A. Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete Authoritative Guide for Parents (2005) New York: Guilford Publications.