‍What is Morality & How Does it Develop?

‍Well...it depends on who you ask:

(concepts taken from Turiel, 2010)


Concept of Morality & How it Develops

Freud (Psychoanalytical)
Morality is the development of the superego, which allows humans to become "civilized" (i.e. fight against natural instincts like the Oedipus complex). The superego develops unconsciously through an acquisition of societal standards and prohibitions that are handed down from adults to children in a way in which people are not consciously aware (i.e. through religion).
Skinner (Behaviorism)
Moral development is the process of acquiring group standards and values conditioning. Moral behavior is determined by the environment and not by concepts such as states of the mind, purpose, or autonomy.
Morality is the result of instincts. For example some evolutionary scientists believe emotionally based brain functions determine moral decisions or that there is a "built-in universal moral grammer".
Environmentalism (Social Learning & Socialization)
Morality is a set of standards and values determined by society and culture. Thus, morality is relative.
Structural-Developmental (Kohlberg) & Relational Developmental Systems
Morality is a combination of biology and environment. Takes into account such concepts as emotions and cognition. Sees development of morality as bidirectionally because we interact with the environment. More specifically, Kohlberg believed morality was universal.
Domain Approach
Morality is a domain of judgement that can be separated, although it may interact, with other domain (i.e. personal domain, conventional domain).


Mechanisms of Development a.k.a the Development of Domains

Wikipedia defines morality as "the differentiation among intentions, decisions, and actionsbetween those that are good (or right) and bad (or wrong)", but as the table above illustrates, the development of this concept is multifaceted. That is why Turiel (2010) conceptualizes morality by exploring domains. Examples of domains are:
Moral domain: concepts of welfare, justice, and rights as well as issues such as inflicting harm, theft, violation of rights, and unequal treatment.

Conventional domain: tradition, social agreement, and social coordination (passed down from authority figures).

‍Personal domain: personal choices that do not infringe on the welfare of others‍, such as clubs you join, people you date, and your personal preferences.

It is important to note that one concept can exist in both domains, but it is defined differently in each domain. For example, the idea of justifications in the moral domain are based on ideas of welfare, justice, and rights whereas in the conventional domain they are based on tradition, social agreement, and social coordination.

Since the 1970s, over 100 studies conducted in several cultures have shown that at a fairly young age, children make distinctions between the moral and ‍conventional‍ domains. Children do not make these moral judgements ‍based on extr‍insic factors such as punishment or authority, nor do they make them based on personal want or need. Children as young as 6 to 8 years old understand the need to avoid harm to people and promote fairness.


How do domains develop?

Turiel (2010) claims that morality is not innate, but it is also not something that is passed down from parent to child as some theorists argue. Turiel asserts that morality (as well as the other domains) develop through social experiences.

For example, Turiel (2010) points to studies conducted with children (preschool and up). These studies show that children conceptualize interactions with moral transgressions in a different way than situations dealing with social conventional transgressions. Moral transgressions did not typically involve commands or communications about rules and expectations (but do come up when discussing conventional transgressions). Moral transgressions involved discussions about the feelings and perspectives of those involved in the event as well as welfare and fairness.

For example one preschool girl recalls this event with her friend: "...she said she really didn't want to play with me and she um she hit me and um I felt bad and so I asked her mom...if I could go home and she said yes."

Another preschool boy stated: "I said something that really hurt him and he said, 'I don't like that.' And I stopped."

Note that these examples illustrates the importance of social interaction for humans starting at a young age. Concerns with feelings and reactions of others shape our actions and judgements and ultimately our morality.book2_PhilosophicalBaby.jpg

Follow the link below to watch Steven Colbert interview with developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik who explains how babies develop morals:


Overall Turiel (2010) rejects the idea that morality is something that is transmitted from adults to children through formal teaching or that morality is innate. He asserts that children do not need to be "trained" or "socialized" to become moral. "This view of children fails to account for the complex types of moral and social judgements they form," Turiel (2010, p. 563) states, "Children do not operate according to a set of abstract and fixed dispositions, or by incorporated values and actions."

‍Turiel (2010) also believes that Piaget's and Kohlberg's methods miss the complex development of morality. It is hard to put moral development into stages if there is a constant interaction between the domains. (see more in methods ‍section‍)