Piaget + Kohlberg

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Piaget’s view on the conscience was that before the age of ten children followed the morality of their parents, teachers, society and so on. This he termed heteronomous morality. After the age of ten he believed that people took their own decisions as opposed to ones told to them. This he called autonomous morality. After the age of 16 are people able to take decisions without being able to be affected by external factors one bit! Lawrence Kohlberg added to Piaget’s model by suggesting for this development to take place six stages need to be fulfilled. He argued that most people do not go through these six stages to achieve an ethical conscience for the wrong reasons e.g. being caught.  The six stages put forward by Kohlberg are:

  1. Obedience and punishment - how can I avoid punishment?
  2. Self-interest- What will I gain?
  3. Conformity - good-girl/good-boy attitude
  4. Law and order
  5. Social contract - whats in it for society?
  6. Universal ethical principles
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Strengths and weaknesses


  1. A truly universal theory can apply to those of religious faith as well as those of secular faith.
  2. The theory is logical.
  3. It explains why people make mistakes even though they follow their conscience. This makes the theory realistic and practical.
  4. Agrees with Aquinas ideas that the conscience is manufactured from experiences and external conditions and that children do not have fully formed consciences.


  1. It seems incorrect to say accurately that by the age of ten children will start to acquire autonomous morality. Is it fair to compare someone with learning problems the same with someone who has none?
  2. Even though his theory is based of psychological findings many psychologists claim his findings to be flawed as the data did not take into account enough factors.
  3. There is no psychological evidence that the six stages exists.
  4. Religious believers also argue that there is a third stage of morality which Piaget fails to take into account - theonomous morality where they abode by certain rules for the agapeic love of God.
  5. The origin of the conscience is still vague. 
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