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Piaget’s Theory of Moral Development

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Autonomous; Heteronomous; Imminent justice; Moral constraint; Moral realism


According to Piaget’s theory, there are three broad stages of moral development. In the first, the child is still mastering motor and social skills and unconcerned with morality. In the second, the child exhibits unconditional respect for rules and submission to authority. In the last stage, the child recognizes that rules are arbitrary and can be changed with group consensus; the intentions of an actor (rather than just the consequences of the action) should be considered in judging the morality of an act.


Overshadowed by both his own theory of cognitive development as well as the more elaborate moral development theory of Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987), Jean Piaget’s theory of moral development has both inspired empirical research and attracted scholarly attention in its own right. While Piaget (1896–1980) spent much of his career refining his theory of cognitive development and...

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Correspondence to Daniel Patanella .

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Patanella, D. (2011). Piaget’s Theory of Moral Development. In: Goldstein, S., Naglieri, J.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development. Springer, Boston, MA.

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