The Moral Judgement of the Child
Piaget believed in two basic principles relating to character education: that children develop moral ideas in stages and that children create their conceptions of the world. According to Piaget, "the child is someone who constructs his own moral world view, who forms ideas about right and wrong, and fair and unfair, that are not the direct product of adult teaching and that are often maintained in the face of adult wishes to the contrary" (Gallagher, 1978, p.26). Piaget believed that children made moral judgments based on their own observations of the world.
Piaget's theory of morality was radical when his book The Moral Judgment of the Child was published in 1932 for two reasons: his use of philosophical criteria to define morality (as universalizable, generalizable, and obligatory) and his rejection of equating cultural norms with moral norms. Piaget, drawing on Kantian theory, proposed that morality developed out of peer interaction and that it was autonomous from authority mandates. Peers, not parents, were a key source of moral concepts such as equality, reciprocity, and justice.
Piaget attributed different types of psychosocial processes to different forms of social relationships, introducing a fundamental distinction between different types of said relationships. Where there is constraint because one participant holds more power than the other the relationship is asymmetrical, and, importantly, the knowledge that can be acquired by the dominated participant takes on a fixed and inflexible form. Piaget refers to this process as one of social transmission, illustrating it through reference to the way in which the elders of a tribe initiate younger members into the patterns of beliefs and practices of the group. Similarly, where adults exercise a dominating influence over the growing child, it is through social transmission that children can acquire knowledge. By contrast, in cooperative relations, power is more evenly distributed between participants so that a more symmetrical relationship emerges. Under these conditions, authentic forms of intellectual exchange become possible; each partner has the freedom to project his or her own thoughts, consider the positions of others, and defend his or her own point of view. In such circumstances, where children's thinking is not limited by a dominant influence, Piaget believed "the reconstruction of knowledge", or favorable conditions for the emergence of constructive solutions to problems, exists. Here the knowledge that emerges is open, flexible and regulated by the logic of argument rather than being determined by an external authority.
In short, cooperative relations provide the arena for the emergence of operations, which for Piaget requires the absence of any constraining influence, and is most often illustrated by the relations that form between peers (for more on the importance of this distinction see Duveen & Psaltis, 2008; Psaltis & Duveen, 2006, 2007). This is thus how, according to Piaget, children learn moral judgement as opposed to cultural norms (or maybe ideological norms).
Piaget's research on morality was highly influential in subsequent work on moral development, particularly in the case of Lawrence Kohlberg's highly influential stage theory of moral development which dominated moral psychology research until the end of the twentieth century.