What is authority in moral judgment

The moral judgment in the child (J. Piaget (1945))


1. Investigation to judge good and bad and different moral concepts.

2. heteronomous and autonomous morality

3. Criticism:
3a. Moral perspective, changeability of rules and contingency of offenses and punishments (dimension 1 to 3)
3b. Objective accountability (dimension 4)
3c. Orientation towards penalties and authorities vs. orientation towards principles of justice (dimensions 5 to 9)

4. Summary


Characteristics of heteronomous morality and autonomous morality

(quoted from Trautner, 1997, Volume 2, page 419)

Heteronomous morality Autonomous morality Absolute moral perspective (recognizing and taking into account one's own point of view). different points of view Your point of view applies to everyone.

Presentation of the unchangeable view of rules and norms as the conversion of rules and norms changeable through (new) agreements Belief in the inevitability Perception of the contingency of the punishment of offenses and punishment (distributing justice), if-then relationship Objective responsibility Subjective responsibility (assessment according to the visible (assessment according to the inferred consequences of an action) action intentions and motives) Automatic punishment The question: Why?

Definition of a misconduct based on definition of a misconduct based on the forbidden and the violation of mutual punishing relationships (relationship of trust)

How much criminal energy is there underneath Victims of failure themselves Support arbitrary rewards Insist on fair or punishments and unequal distribution of equal distribution of goods Goods, provided that they are carried out by authorities (dependency on authority)

Duty is defined as obedience Duty is defined as obeying principles to authorities of the equality and well-being of others

1. Investigation to judge good and bad and different moral concepts.

In general, asks moral judgment about good and evil, the just punishment of offenses, and an understanding of various moral concepts such as stealing and lying.

The method:Piaget and his co-workers told children between the ages of 5 and 13 years of age in which a child either damages something, steals something, lies, etc. The stories were constructed in such a way that they were intended to create a cognitive conflict in the subjects. For some problems, pairs of stories were read aloud. Such as the story couple by Hans and Heinz (quoted from Piaget, 1954, p. 134).

Story A:

A little boy named Hans was in his room. He was called to dinner. He went into the dining room. But there was a chair behind the door. There was a tray on the chair and fifteen cups on the tray. Hans couldn't have known that all of this was behind the door. He went in: the door hit the tray and bang! The fifteen cups broke.

Story B:

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Heinz. One day his mom wasn't there and he wanted to take jam out of the cupboard. He climbed into a chair and stretched out his arm. But the jam was too high and he couldn't get it. When he tried to get it, he struck a cup. The cup fell and broke.

The subjects were asked to answer the following questions:

whether the children in Story A and Story B are equally bad, or if either is worse. In the latter case, it should be stated which of the two children is worse and why.

The first pair of stories is intended to create a conflict between the assessment of the objective size of the damage (sequence of actions) and the assessment of the subjective motivation (intention to act).

The second pair of stories aims to compare the altruistic and egoistic motivation of behavior.

By interviewing a number of similar stories, Piaget wanted to find out

- how different penalties are assessed for an offense,
- what kind of connection is seen between offense and punishment and,
- The extent to which authorities are given greater rights than children.
- He also let the children define various terms such as lying or steal and justify the definition.

The first question (definition of the lie) is related to the problem of objective accountability and moral realism. The point is to know whether the child has understood that to lie is to "knowingly and deliberately to tell untruth".

Web (6 years):

"What is a lie?" - "That is when you say ugly things that you shouldn't say." - ,, What does this mean `ugly things´?" - "That he said ugly things." -

"Tell me ugly words! Do you know any?" - "Carrion." (Charogne. This word is used so often in French-speaking Switzerland as a curse or swear word that very many no longer know its real meaning.) - " Is that a lie? " - "Yes." - ,, Why? "-

"Because it's an ugly word." - "If I say stupid, is that also a lie?"

- "Yes." - "A child threw down a cup, but said it wasn't. Is that a lie?" - "Yes." - "Why?" - "Because it did." Look at this gentleman (a student). I claim that this gentleman is 39 years old. Are you 39 years old? "(The student replies:" No, only 36 ") - (To web):" Is it a lie to say that he is 39 years old when he is 36 years old? "-" Yes, that's a lie. "-" Why? "-" Because he is 36 years old. "

- "Is that an ugly lie or not?" - "Not ugly" - "Why not?" - "Because it is not an ugly word." - "When I say two and two are five. Is that a lie or not? "

- "Yes." - "An ugly one or not?" - "Not ugly." - "Why?" - "Because it is not an ugly word" (quoted from Piajet, 1954, p.156).

Rib (7 years):

"Do you know what a lie is?" - "That is a lie." - "What is lying?" - "Saying ugly words." - "When do you say a lie?" - "When you say something that is not true." - "Is that the same thing, an ugly word and a lie?" - "No, that is not the same." - "Why not?" - "They are not similar." - "Why did you tell me that a lie was an ugly word?" - "I thought it was the same" (quoted from Piajet, 1954, p.157).

The lie is a moral offense committed through language. Speaking ugly words is also an offense committed through language. For the smaller child, who in reality does not feel any inner inhibition against the lie and at the age of 6 still lies roughly as it fables or plays, the two behaviors are on the same level.

2. Heteronomous morality and autonomous morality

From the children's responses to questions about rules and rule violations, Piaget inferred characteristic ways of thinking about moral issues. As the ideal-typical form of early, immature and late, mature moral judgments, he contrasted so-called heteronomous morality, which is also called forced morality, with autonomous morality or cooperative morality.

- AtheteronomousMorally, external authorities (parents, God, state) set the norms and sanction (punish) deviations from them.
- Atmore autonomousMorally, the person decides what is right and what is wrong according to intrinsic standards of value.

TheheteronomousMorality is preceded by a so-called pre-moral state (up to about 4-5 years) in which the children are not yet aware of rules or norms and, above all, do not recognize the social function of rules and norms. The rules are set by authorities who are also authorized to punish deviations. Good or bad or unjust is what the authorities call it. This stage is replaced by that of theautonomy. The adolescents now decide for themselves what is good and right, they agree on the commandments and prohibitions, the rules of the game, with reference to standards of justice. From the elementary school years onwards, one can observe beliefs of this kind.

The six-year-old's answers were not based on a misunderstanding. They knew very well what equal treatment was, and they called for equal treatment among children in other contexts. Piaget related a second story in which children play ball, the ball flies out onto the street more often, and teammates keep asking the same boy to get the ball back. All six-year-olds found this unfair. In this case, they demanded equal treatment. This difference in judgment is an expression of heteronomy in the sense of respect for the moral authority of adults who are recognized as infallible at an early age.

The development from the heteronomous specification to the autonomous agreement of rules is also confirmed in the definition of what is a misconduct. For younger children, misconduct is an objective violation of do's and don'ts or disobedience to an authority; for older children, a violation of trust, mutual respect and the just claims of the partners based on agreement. The younger ones refer to the wording of commandments and prohibitions, the older ones to the meaning of social norms, which they see in the maintenance of communal life.

Accordingly, opinions about what a just punishment are also change. Younger children demand expiatory penalties when they have to judge transgressions. It is not uncommon for draconian punishments to be proposed as a just atonement without any sense of the proportionality of punishment and offense. Older children advocate punishments that include redress, or those that are a natural consequence of the misconduct, thus demonstrating the purpose of the norm violated. A fair punishment for lying is doubting the truth of a statement made by the liar at the earliest opportunity. A fair penalty for negligence is reciprocal negligence at the earliest opportunity. A just punishment is therefore not primarily an atonement, but rather demonstrates the meaning of the violated norm. Pure atonement punishments are often rejected because they "have nothing to do with the wrongdoing".

Moral autonomy is based on an insight into the meaning of norms for community life. Violating a norm is a threat to social bonds, trust and mutual accountability.

3.1 Moral perspective, changeability of rules and contingency of offenses and punishments (first to third dimension)

Piaget says that the egocentrism and realism of pre-operational thinking has to do with the absolutization of one's own moral standpoint. (Your own point of view applies to everyone).

Piaget did not make a clear distinction between understanding the concept of rules and understanding the rules.

Furthermore, Piaget does not strictly distinguish between problems of rule change and rule violation and confuses statements made by children about the origin of rules with conclusions about their convertibility (Turiel, 1983).

Turiel differentiates between social conventions (e.g. table manners, rules of the game) and moral norms (e.g. not cheating or lying). They will develop differently.

3.2 Objective responsibility versus (counter) subjective responsibility (fourth dimension)

According to Piaget, the younger child's heteronomous morality is characterized by objective responsibility; H. Assessment according to the visible consequences of an action (autonomous punishment).

-While at the stage of autonomous morality, the intentions predominantly determine the moral judgment (the question, why did he do it?) - subjective responsibility
-Basis for this conclusion are the answers of the children story pairs like that of Hans and Heinz (in the first example)

3. Criticism

It is based on:

1) that the simple distinction between the intentions and the consequences of an action is too imprecise
2) that the consideration and weighting of the intentions depend on the content and the presentation of the information and
3) that Piaget seriously underestimated the ability and willingness of younger children to use intent to evaluate actions.

Of the four possible combinations of good and bad intentions with minor and major damage, Piaget only used the two combinations in his stories:

a) good intentions with great harm and

b) bad intention with little harm.

Intentions and consequences are thus confounded and the respective damage is more the accidental result of negligence than the direct consequence of the intended action. Rather, the reported good or bad intention relates to an action other than that which results in harm.

Piaget does not compare damage caused intentionally with accidental damage, but rather large damage (eg breaking 15 cups) in connection with a positive action (eg following an invitation to come to eat)) and minor damage related to misconduct (eg secretly snacking on jam ).

Story Intention of the action 1 Causing an amount of damage

Damage by action 2

A well happens to be great

B bad random low

* If only information about good and bad intentions is given and not about the consequences of actions, the intentions are weighted very heavily in the judgment (Surber, 1977).

3.3 Orientation towards penalties and authorities against (versus) orientation towards principles of justice (fifth to ninth dimension)

Heteronomous morality is based on penalties and authorities, and autonomous morality is based on principles and justice. Piaget describes the transition from heteronomous to autonomous morality as the growing ability to recognize reciprocity and equality (justice) as the basis of social relationships.

Instead of one-sided respect for authorities, there is mutual respect between equals.

Critique by William Damon (1977/1984, 1980): (quoted from Damon, 1977).

Damon asked four- to ten-year-old boys and girls about the limits of parental and peer authority and what legitimizes someone to exercise authority.

“This is Peter (Michelle for girls) and this is his mother, Ms. Johnson. Mrs. Johnson wants Peter to clean up his room every day and tells him not to go out to play until he has cleaned up his room and put his toys away. One day Peter's friend Michael comes by and tells Peter that all the children are getting ready for a picnic and that they want to go straight away. Peter wants to come with me, but his room is in utter disorder. He tells his mother that he has no time to clean his room now, but that he will do it later. His mother says no! He has to stay at home and skip the picnic "(quoted from Trautner, 1997, p. 426)

Following the story, Damon et al. the following questions: What should Peter do? Why? What his mother right not to let him go? What if he can go away unnoticed?

From the children's responses, Damon concluded six levels of understanding of authority and obedience:

1) The child does not distinguish between experiences of authority and their own needs.
2) The child recognizes the conflict between demands for authority and their own needs,
but obey to avoid trouble or punishment. Authority is legitimized by physical superiority.
3) Obedience is based on the child's respect for omnipotence and the omniscient of socially and physically superior authority. (Admiration, admiration)
4) The child obeys out of gratitude for what the figure of authority has done for them in the past. (Honor)
5) Authority is understood as a relationship between basically equals with equal rights, but a different degree of experience and knowledge. (Honor)
6) Relationships of authority are viewed as reciprocal relationships between parties, with one party temporarily exercising authority to serve the well-being of all. Obedience is more situation specific than a general attitude towards a superior person.

4. Summary

Piaget (1932/1954) tried to combine the child's moral and general cognitive development. While the child goes through the stages of cognitive development, it weights the outcome and intention of the action in different ways. A child at the preoperational level (Heteronomous morality) judges someone who accidentally breaks multiple cups as more evil than someone who breaks a single cup on purpose. Once the child is a little older, they will be more likely to incorporate the agent's intention into their judgment (Autonomous morality). Piaget named the one-sided respect for adults or authorities as the second reason for heteronomous morality. The transition from heteronomous to autonomous morality has to do not only with the cognitive development of the child, but also with experiences of social equality in the group of their peers, as well as the accompanying detachment from submission to adult authority. Piaget’s critics say that in his underdivisions, moral problems have been limited too much to judging people for good and bad and for the punishability of their behavior. It is mostly about judging how bad a person is who behaves in a certain way in a given situation. Piaget, however, did not ask how a person should behave in a certain situation and why they should behave in this way, what gives them the right to do so or what obliges them to do so. These are central questions raised by Lawrence Kohlberg in his analysis of moral development.


Piaget, J. (1932/1954). The moral judgment of the child, Zurich: Rascher & Cie. AG

Trautner, H.M. (1997 Volume 2). Textbook of developmental psychology, Hogrefe-Verlag

William, K. (1970/1975). The moral development of the child, Pädagogischer Verlag Schwann, Düsseldorf.

Damon, W. (1977). Self-understanding and moral devolution from childhood to adolesence.

In W.M. Kurstines & J.L. Gewirtz (Eds.), Morality, moral behavior, and moral devolpment (pp. 109-127). New York: Wiley.