In order to understand the evolution of ethical thought, it is important to understand the development of ethical thought. There have been various milestones, ideas and people throughout history who contributed. In this text I will highlight some of the most significant milestones in ethical thought and how they relate to one another.
What is Moral Development?
Moral Development is a term used for the study of moral reasoning and how people progress through ages. Various stages in life are associated with different developmental levels of moral reasoning that is experienced by people. For example, when you are developing from a child to an adult, this will affect your moral reasoning and perception.
Significance of Ethical Thought:
Ethical thinking is important in different aspects of life. Ethical theory is used in various aspects of life including law, business, family and relationships, friendship and even religion. In order to make good moral decisions you must know how others developed from their point of view, as well as how you developed from yours. This way you are able to compare and contrast the different views of ethical thinking throughout history.
Piaget’s theory of moral reasoning:
The idea of moral development as it’s currently understood, is based on the work of Jean Piaget. Piaget conducted observations and experiments that demonstrated how children progress through stages in their development. He also posited that they develop knowledge throughout their lives and that there is a three stage process.
The first stage: the sensorimotor stage
The second stage: the preoperational-concrete operational stage
The third stage: The formal operational stage
Piaget’s theory became influential because it provided a general explanation for how people moved through these stages and viewed morality as a means to predict and understand moral growth. Piaget studied the children and their interactions with other people and objects in order to get a better understanding of how their thought process was developing.
During his studies he discovered that there are 4 central questions that help children understand morality.
What is good or bad?
Who is good or bad?
What is fair or unfair?
What should I do in this specific situation?
Piaget labeled a stage within each category depending on the development of the child. The only problem with Piaget’s theory was that he didn’t observe people past a certain age, so as they got older they continued to develop on their own which caused Piaget’s theory to not be fully accurate.
Kohlberg’s theory of moral development:
The next stage in the development of ethical thought was introduced by Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg conducted studies and observations for his ideas that were related to moral development. His theories also relied on interviews, surveys and observations of various people as well as their interactions with others.
Kohlberg’s theory focuses on the three stages that children go through in regards to moral reasoning. They are: preconventional, conventional and postconventional reasoning.
Preconventional: The beginning stage in the development of morality is when a child explores how they treat other people. For example, a child will treat others fairly because they think everyone deserves the same respect and fair treatment. This is called the ‘egalitarian stage.’
Conventional: This is where children begin to care about what people think of them and do what they are expected to do. For example, a child carries out an act of theft, but doesn’t fear the consequences or is scared of getting caught. This stage is also known as ‘the law abiding stage.’
Post conventional: In this stage, children get a general idea of right and wrong, but have no moral beliefs or principles. They are moral relativists who will do whatever it takes to get ahead. For example, if a child does something bad and finds themselves caught in the act will continue doing it regardless just so they can leave with some money in their pocket.
Ethical theory is a way of thinking about the world and how to treat other people. It has helped in all aspects of life, especially by law makers, policy makers, business people and experts in certain fields. Ethical Theory is important because it makes us able to understand how other people made the same decision we are making, as well as the reasoning behind those decisions that they made.