Piaget’s Theory of Moral Development

Jean Piaget used the interview method to find the various stages of moral development of the child. According to him, there are four stages:

  • Anomy Without law (Below 5 years) – At this stage, the behaviour of the child is non-moral or amoral. The regulators of behaviour are pain and pleasure. This is the ‘discipline of natural consequences’ as advocated by Rousseau.
  • Heteronomy—Discipline of Authority (5–8 years) – It may be called the discipline of artificial consequences imposed by adults. Moral development at this stage is controlled by external authority. Rewards and punishments regulate moral development.
  • HeteronomyReciprocity (9–13 years) – There is the morality of cooperation with peers or This stage is regulated by reciprocity which implies, ‘we should not do to others what will be offensive to us.’ Conformity with the group becomes imperative.
  • AutonomyAdolescence (13–18 years) – Piaget termed this as equity stage. The individual at this stage is fully responsible for his behaviour.

Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development

Moral development in human being occurs over age and experience. Kohlberg suggested there are three levels of moral development – pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional, each divided into two stages, which is as follows;

  •  Pre-Conventional Level
  • Punishment and Obedience OrientationThe moral development is determined by the physical consequences of an action whether it is good or bad. Avoiding punishment and bowing to superior authority are valued positively.
  • Instrumental Relativist OrientationRight action consists of behaviour that satisfies child’s own needs. Human relations are considered in reciprocity.
  • Conventional Level
  • Interpersonal ConcordanceHerein, the child begins to like the goodwill of others and tries to please others to obtain their approval in the form of ‘good boy’.
  • Orientation towards AuthorityFocus is on authority or rules. One shows respect for authority.
  • Post-Conventional Level
  • Social Contract OrientationRight behaviour is defined according to the standards agreed upon by the group or society.
  • Universal Ethical Principle OrientationHerein, individual keeps in mind not only the norms of society but also the universal moral principles.

Carol Gilligan’s Theory of Moral Development

Carol Gilligan in her ground-breaking work In a Different Voice, made the generalization of Kohlberg’s theory on morality and highlighted the feminist critique to the theory. Gilligan deemed the research of Kohlberg as biased due to inclusion of only male subjects to conclude his findings.

Women’s development as suggested by Gilligan is more about relationships and caring as opposed to compliance to rules and rights. Gilligan’s theory on moral development consists of three stages that begin from selfish to conventional morality and then post conventional morality which is as follows;

  • Pre Conventional – In this stage, one is only thinking about self that springs from the survival instinct. This is the beginning stage of individual development which is experienced by us all during our childhood. During this phase the attitude of the person is thought upon as selfish, the person views their connection with self and not with others.
  • Conventional – During this stage care for others is shown by the individual. This is depicted in the roles played by Mother and Wife. Often during this stage the individual ignores the needs of self. It is during this phase that the tension between caring for others versus self-care is experienced.
  • Post Conventional – The principle of care is accepted in this stage – both care for self as well as for others.


Kohlberg Theory vs. Gilligan’s Theory

Kohlberg TheoryGilligan’s Theory
Is based on the study on menIs based on the study on men and women
Men give importance to moral ruleWomen always want to keep up the personal relationships with all the persons involved in the situations.
Ethics of rules and rightsWomen give attention to circumstances leading to critical situations rather than rules.

Heinz’s dilemma is used to differentiate these two theories. Heinz being poor could not buy the costly medicine for his sick wife. Initially he begged the Pharmacist to sell at half the price or allow him to pay for it later but Pharmacist refused his prayer. Finally he forcibly entered the Pharmacy and stole the drug.

According to Kohlberg study, men observed that the theft was morally ‘wrong’ at the conventional level, because the property right was violated. But men at the post-conventional level, concluded that the theft was ‘right’, as the life of the human being was in danger. But women observed that Heinz was wrong. They observed that instead of stealing he could have tried other solutions (threatening or payment in instalments) to convince the Pharmacist.