Social Interaction and the Construction
of Moral and Social Knowledge
University of Illinois at Chicago
The contemporary study of moral development began with Piagef s (1932) classic studies of children playing the game of marbles. Piaget's assumption at the time was that one could best understand a young child's emerging morality through observation of their indigenous rulegoverned activities. By watching children playing a game transmitted and enacted by the children, one could observe the emergence of normative collective social knowledge within individual children prior to their ability to reconstruct normative understandings at the level of consciousness (the verbal level). In essence, for Piaget, the structures of moral understanding, as in the case of all operative knowledge, begin at the level of activity (Piaget & Inhelder, 1964). Through reflective abstraction, activities are transformed into cognitive operations and self-reflective knowledge (consciousness). In the moral plane, the negotiation of normative regulation and social relations eventually result in the logic of social interactions and an awareness of moral principles.
For Piaget this process of moral socialization was not simply an acquisition of prepackaged cultural messages, but rather the active renegotiation of social relations and the gradual reworking of one's fundamental conceptions of self and other in reciprocal interaction. Thus, Piaget (1932) characterized the emergence of morality in young children as a revolution taking place at two levels. At the cognitive level, the child was described by Piaget (1932) as shifting from a period of egocentrism (in which the child conflates his or her own perceptions and wishes with