A little boy called John was in his room. He was called to dinner and went into the dining room. Behind the door there was a chair and on the chair there was a tray with 15 cups on it. John couldn't have known that the chair was behind the door, and as he entered the dining room, the door knocked against the tray and the tray fell on the floor, breaking all of the cups.
One day, a little boy called Henry tried to get some jam out of a cupboard when his mother was out. He climbed onto a chair and stretched out his arm. The jam was too high up, and he couldn't reach it. But while he was trying to get it, he knocked over a cup. The cup fell down and broke.
Piaget asked the children who was naughtier and should be punished more.
Piaget found that even though 5 to 10 year old children were able to distinguish between deliberate and unintentional acts, they still tended to base their judgements on the outcome of the act: the more severe the outcome, the naughtier the act. This is called Heteronomous Morality. Older children were able to make judgements based on the person's motives: Henry was doing something he shouldn't have been doing, so he is naughtier. This is called Autonomous Morality.
Piaget did not see moral development as consisting of separate stages, as in his cognitive development theory; instead, he sees development as progressing through two broad phases that overlap – so sometimes a child's moral reasoning will be in the heteronomous phase and at other times it will be autonomous.
The Heteronomous Phase
- Rules are handed down by authorities, such as God, Parents and Teachers.
- Rules are permanent and unchangeable and require strict obedience.
- Punishment should be proportional to the naughtiness of the behaviour. This is called Expiatory Punishment.
- Naughty behaviour will always be punished. This is called immanent justice – if you do something bad and later slip and hurt yourself then that is your punishment.
Moral understanding in the heteronomous phase is limited by:
1. Adults who have the power to insist that children comply with rules without question
2. The person's Level of cognitive development, particularly egocentrism.
Because children think everybody has the same views about rules they view rules as fixed external features of reality, rather than something that can be negotiated.
The Autonomous Phase
- Intentions are more important than the consequences of action and should be the basis for judging behaviour.
- Understanding that people differ in their moral views
- Rules can be broken in some circumstances
- No longer believe in immanent justice
- Belief in reciprocal punishment – the punishment should fit the crime
Exposure to the views of others and a lack of egocentrism means that older children and adults are able to question their own moral views.