Faculty Publications


Moral activity and domain theory: An alternative interpretation of research with young children

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Developmental Review





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This paper explores some developmental issues concerning the theory of moral development as articulated by Turiel and his colleagues and commonly referred to as “domain theory.” We contend that domain theory has difficulty as a theory of moral development for three reasons: (1) lost in a profusion of studies which demonstrate that domain distinctions exist at very young ages, it neglects the question of how the domains develop; (2) it neglects the sociohistorical aspects of the development of domains (e.g., moral and conventional) as well as development within the domains; and (3) it fails to recognize that developmental implications of individual differences in the development and recognition of domains. An alternative interpretation to the findings that young children make domain distinctions at very young ages, drawn from ideas proposed by A. N. Leontiev, suggests that young children′s responses to moral transgressions are based in part on their reactions to the observable consequences of activities, rather than on a conceptual understanding of these activities. We also draw on Vygotsky′s notion of the pseudoconcept and suggest that while children may make domain distinctions that resemble adult thinking, they think about these moral issues in ways that are qualitatively different from adult thought. That is, their thinking is characterized by the moral pseudoconcept, rather than a true conceptual understanding of morality. We suggest future research that pays close attention to children′s perceptions and understanding of the consequences of moral activity and how these perceptions and understandings change and develop over time. © 1995 Academic Press, Inc.

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