Moral Development

Elizabeth C. Vozzola, Sharon Lamb and Amie Senland

in Education

ISBN: 9780199756810
Published online December 2011 | | DOI:
Moral Development

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Moral development and moral education are difficult topics to separate, since many individuals who have theorized on and researched moral development have work that extends into moral education. While early-20th-century psychologists and philosophers were interested in altruism and conscience, the field of moral development began after World War II and as a response to fascism and the Holocaust. Its scholars asked what forces influence moral decision making, and how we raise children to grow up resistant to forces such as Nazism. We see this in Piaget’s seminal work, which describes moral growth as arising naturally in interaction with peers who are equals and away from a mere acceptance of the rules handed down by elders. Following Piaget, there were attempts to tie moral development to democracy, attempts to naturalize it, and attempts to look at the context in which this natural development could be produced. Kohlberg applied Piaget’s work to a theory of stages of moral development, using for his first sample adolescent boys. In his theory, children are said to develop from thinking that gives too much sway to external forces to reasoning that is more contractual and autonomous. There also have been several challenges to Kohlberg’s theory, for example regarding the unchangeability of the direction of the stages. Indeed, the work of the anthropologist Shweder is an important challenge to moral development in its entirety. The most discussed and controversial challenge to Kohlberg’s theory of moral development came from Carol Gilligan, who developed the idea of an ethic of care that exists alongside an ethic based on rights and justice. Moral education derived in part from Kohlberg’s work and his development of a school program called the “just community,” where students increased their moral reasoning through democratic participation in the running of the school. As a more Aristotelian, virtues-oriented philosophical approach took hold in the 1990s, the character education movement began to flourish, and for some it existed as an alternative to education that emphasized movement in stages. For some character education programs there is deep knowledge of the processes of development, while for others there is a more didactic approach. Psychological research that investigates empathy, altruism, and prosocial behavior can also be considered part of the field of moral development. New trends in the field come from several sources: evolutionary perspectives, Haidt’s theory of moral judgment, and neuroscience. There are also a number of ways in which moral development theory has become applied—to education in the professions, to sex education, and to anti-racism education, to name a few areas.

Article.  13654 words. 

Subjects: Education ; Organization and Management of Education ; Philosophy and Theory of Education ; Schools Studies ; Teaching Skills and Techniques

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