COGNITIVE APPROACH TO MORAL EDUCATION
 

                  COGNITIVE-DEVELOPMENTAL THEORY OF MORAL DEVELOPMENT:  STAGES OF ETHICAL REASONING OR 'SOCIOCOGNITIVE STAGES'

theme: Biology of ethics in terms of the natural development of moral consciousness or 'morality' of 'social intelligence' i.e. 'moral development'...  Moral development is a function of stages of ethical reasoning... the successive elaboration of complicated and differentiated cognitive structures out of simpler ones... i.e. moral stages or 'sociocognitive stages'. Sociocognitive stages... an order of increasingly differentiated and integrated structures for fulfilling a common function... are the product of the process of natural or 'holistic' learning. Cognitive and moral development go together... natural development of morality is a function of the process of education of the person as a whole i.e. 'holistic education'.

According to the cognitive-developmental theory of mora l development or 'morality', moral judgement has a basic structural component, an underlying thought pattern, a mode of moral reasoning which is a function of the sociocognitive stage of moral development. The approach is called 'cognitive' because it recognizes that moral education, like intellectual education, has its basis in stimulating the active thinking of the child about moral issues and decisions.The approach is called 'developmental' because moral education is seen as movement through stages - the moral stages or sociocognitive stages. The stages involve the cognitive as well as the affective aspect of understanding. The age-development stages of moral development are parallel to the age-development stages of cognition... This is known as 'cognitive-affective parallelism'.  

"The existence of moral stages implies that moral development has a basic structural component. While motives and affects are involved in moral development, the development of these motives and affects are largely mediated by changes in thought patterns." (Lawrence Kohlberg. Stage and Sequence: The Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Socialization. In D.A. Goslin (ed.) Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research. Chicago: Rand McNally 1969, page 390).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           home

Moral development  Moral development can be described in terms of the successive elaboration of increasingly complicated and differentiated integrated cognitive structures out of simpler ones i.e. moral stages or sociocognitive stages'. Sociocognitive stages are stages of moral reasoning . the stages of moral development, are modes of moral judgement and moral behaviour. . The sociocognitive stages are different and sequential modes of thinking... organized systems of thought or 'modes of thought'... modes of thought-organization which form 'structured wholes'... structural organizations ...... stages are 'hierarchical integrations'... modes of organizing experience... modes of moral or 'ethical reasoning'. Cognitive stages imply distinct and qualitative differences in modes of thinking about solutions to the same problem. They represent different ways of tracing out implications and integrating considerations. In individual development the different stages form an order, or succession which is not changed - an 'invariant sequence'. Stages are not skipped and the sequence is not changed by cultural factors though it may be speeded up, slowed down or stopped  Movement is always upward except under extreme traumatic conditions. The earlier developmentally 'lower stages' are less difficult and are attainable before the later more complicated 'higher stages'. The higher stages deal more effectively with problems of wider scope and intricacy than do the lower stages. They do a better job of analyzing and solving problems. Thinking at a higher stage includes lower-stage thinking. The individual prefers to function at the highest stage available... is consistent on a given level of moral judgement. As part of mental maturation, an individual progresses through six sequential sociocognitive stages of moral development... stages of moral reasoning.

 The behaviour of an individual is consistent with the given level of moral moral development moral judgement which they have reached.

During the growth process of moral development...in children.. 'mental maturation', the individual progresses through six sequential sociocognitive stages of moral  or 'ethical' reasoning according to the classification of Lawrence Kohlberg  based on s research and observations of Jean Piaget. The six moral stages can be divided into classes of three levels of moral development. Each level comprises two stages. Each stage is described in terms of a concept of 'justice' as the basis for forming social contracts.

First level comprises the first and second stages (up to age four). The first level of social or moral development and behaviour comprises the first and second stages and is called the 'preconventional' or 'premoral' level. At the premoral level, the concept of justice is defined in terms of the equal exchange of punishment for wrong doing i.e. of the type 'eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth'. The organism is motivated by biological and social impulses with no sense of obligation to rules. In the first stage, moral value is defined by obedience to rules and authority in order to avoid punishment. In the second stage, moral value is defined by conformity to the practice of equal exchange of favors and goods in order to obtain r... 

Second level comprises the third and fourth stages (ages four to eight). The second level of behaviour which comprises the third and fourth stages of moral development is the 'heteronomous' or 'conventional' level. At the conventional level, the concept of justice is defined in terms of the equal exchange of favors and goods. The organism has a sense of obligation and obedience to conventional rules for treating people as they desire and accepts with little critical reflection the standards of the group. In the third stage, moral value is defined by maintenance of the social order by filling the correct roles and meeting the expectations of others i.e. the 'good-boy orientation'. In the fourth stage, moral value is defined by conformity to shared standards, rights and duties... to expectations in order to avoid dislike followed by censure by authority disruption of order, rejection by others and resulting guilt i.e 'duty orientation'
 

Third level comprises the fifth and sixth stages (ages eight to twelve). The third level of behaviour which comprises the fifth and sixth stages of moral development is the 'autonomous' level  At the autonomous level, the concept justice is defined in terms of conformity to a set of given standards, rights and duties which are shared by the members of the group. The organism recognizes that arbitrary rules and laws are the result of a social contract between the governors and the governed ...that they are designed to protect the equal rights of all... accepts them in order to maintain the common good. In the fifth stage, moral value is defined by the recognition of the value of contracts....and active consideration of rules ... and the necessity of arbitrariness in formation of the rules to maintain the common good... 'legalistic orientation'. In the sixth stage, moral value is defined by conscience with primary allegiance to the principles of choice, which can overrule law in cases where the law is judged to do more harm than good. The organism recognizes that personally chosen moral principles are also principles of justice. The chosen principles are the same which any members of the society would choose if they did not know what their status would be, even if they would be the most disadvantaged... the organism is guided by its own thinking and judging for itself whether a purpose is good and does not accept the standard of its group without reflection... depends on its own developed conscience for the guiding principles of ethical behaviour... 'principle orientation.

Children reach stage six if they are educated in a social environment which encourages self-responsibility, self-discipline, freedom of expression, opportunities to take responsibility, make decisions etc.

Implications for education:

Educator as 'facilitator'. The function of the educator as facilitator is to foster to facilitate the development of the stages - to stage 6 - in the development of conscience for mature moral judgement.
 

 Ethical and psychological principles can aid the school in the greatest of all constructions - the building of a free and powerful character. The principles of the cognitive-developmental theory of moral development  provide the foundation for education of character. Only knowledge of the order and connection of the stages in psychological development - the sociocognitive stages - can insure this. Education is the work of supplying the conditions which will enable the psychological functions to mature in the freeest and fullest manner... to stimulate development step by step through the stages... To foster stage development, chil...
 

Education based on the knowledge of the sociocognitive stages is the work of supplying the necessary conditions for mental maturation in the social context of freedom and responsibility...  encourages self-responsibility, self-discipline, freedom of expression, opportunities to take responsibility, make decisions ... depends on a social environment which stimulates development step by step through the stages.

The individual prefers to function at the highest stage available... To foster stage development, children must be exposed to a stage of reasoning at least one stage higher than the stage which they have reached.

 The natural development of morality is directly connected to the process of natural or 'holistic' learning which engages development of the conscience.

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