Cognitive Structure of Moral Reasoning, Development, and Evolution With Age and Pathology

Cognitive Structure of Moral Reasoning, Development, and Evolution With Age and Pathology

Veronique Salvano-Pardieu (University of Tours, France), Leïla Oubrahim (University of Tours, France) and Steve Kilpatrick (University of Northampton, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1811-3.ch002


This chapter presents research on moral judgment from the beginning of the 20th century to the present day. First, the authors will present the contribution of Piaget and Kohlberg's work on moral development from childhood to adulthood as well as the work of Gilligan on moral orientation and the difference observed between men and women. Then, the authors will analyze underlying structures of moral judgment in the light of the Dual Process Theory with two systems: system 1: quick, deontological, emotional, intuitive, automatic, and system 2: slow, utilitarian, rational, controlled, involved in human reasoning. Finally, the model of Dual Process Theory will be confronted with data from moral judgment experiments, run on elderly adults with Alzheimer's disease, teenagers with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and children and teenagers with intellectual disability in order to understand how cognitive impairment affects the structures and components of moral judgment.
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Pioneer Work On Moral Reasoning

Piaget’s Theory

In studying moral reasoning through “rule games” with children, Piaget (1932) distinguished three stages in children's awareness of rules related to their age: “pre-moral judgment” (up to 4-5 y/o, in which rules cannot be understood); “moral realism” (from 5 to 10 y/o, in which rules are seen as coming from a higher authority and cannot be changed); and a “moral subjectivism”, (after 10 years old, in which rules are seen as mutually agreed by the players, and can be changed through mutual consent). Cognitive development leads to the decline of egocentrism and the growth of perspective taking of others. Consequently, the unilateral respect of the higher authority (usually an adult), evolves into an agreement in which equality between peers and an autonomous morality of reciprocity prevail. In a further study of moral reasoning, Piaget asked children to judge within the context of a story, the behaviour of a person according to his intent and the consequence of his action. Children had to give a verbal explanation of their judgment. Piaget’s results showed that before 10 years old children judge on the basis of the consequence rather than on the basis of intent because the consequence is objective and does not require perspective taking of others. On the contrary, less egocentric older children take the perspective of others into account and judge according to the subjective intent of the actor. However, Piaget’s method has been criticised. Karniol (1978) for instance, has shown that children as young as five years old are able to judge on the basis of intent if intentional actions are explicitly contrasted with accidental actions with equal consequences. More recently, Cushman, Sheketoff, Wharton, & Carey (2013) have shown that between the ages of 4 – 8 years, moral judgments become increasingly intent-focused. However, their judgements differ between accidental harm with a negative consequence and attempted harm with a benign consequence. In the first situation children tend to punish the action while they do not in the second. Therefore, during childhood the decisive element in the moral judgment process shifts from consequence to intent. Piaget’s theory has recently been reviewed, and it has been shown that children from 4 years old are able to take intent into account, and children from 4 to 8 years increasingly take intent into account (Cushman, et al., 2013).

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