As Psychologists and Philosophers, one of the questions they face are how humans develop moral thought processes, what determines what people believe, and at what age certain thoughts begin to exist. Many people have questioned this, however there are few theories that stand out which I will discuss.
The Piagetian Theory – This theory separates the cognitive development of a child into 4 stages. Birth to 2, 2 to 7, 7 to 11, and 11/12+. Essentially, this theory builds from stage to stage. Nothing is changing, merely adopting and becoming more fleshed out.
The Kohlberg Theory – This theory is much more simple and groups the ages into 3 larger categories. I can accept this pretty easily. The three parts are Preconventional(Birth to 9), Conventional(9 to 20), and Postconventional(20+). Essentially, the first two stages are based on what others think about you and the final stage is based on what you believe personally.
Gilligan Stages – This theory modifies the Kohlberg theory by reducing the generalization even further. Gilligan doesn’t even mention ages and simply defines each stage into goals. She also focuses on how women develop morally, maintaining that they were in no way inferior to men.
Each of these theories have some solid truths inherent in them and no single one is more correct than another. I am most willing to accept the Kohlberg theory as a good balance between specificity and generalization as far as ages go. Piaget’s theory is too focused to accept the many different ways children can develop according to the outward influences. Gilligan is in her own sector of sorts because she was focused more on women and didn’t really develop her own theory, rather fleshed out and added to the other theories that were around.
All in all, I think it is incredibly hard to generalize development of moral decision making for children because there is a stark difference in how the child is brought up that affects the morals. The cognitive process is a little more tried and true according to the science of development, but morals are much more based on environment than anything else.