Intersections with Attachment

By Jacob L. Gewirtz; William M. Kurtines | Go to book overview

12
A Cognitive-Developmental Approach to Moral Attachment

Lawrence Kohlberg

Rhett Diessner


ABSTRACT

A cognitive-developmental approach to moral attachment is presented, subsuming processes commonly termed attachment and identification, and drawing on both James Mark Baldwin's theory of the imitative "ideal self" and Ausubel's theory of "satellization." Five components of attachment and five components of identification are described to form the moral self. Moral identification arises from (1) natural tendencies to imitate the parent or other model, (2) a desire to conform to the parent's normative expectations, (3) a perception of similarity to the parent (intensified by imitation), (4) a perception of the greater competence or higher status of the parent, and (5) an idealization of the parents' competence or virtue. Moral attachment is comprised of (1) an emotional dependency on parents and empathy with them, (2) vicarious self esteem derived from the parents' competence or status, (3) the ability to derive self esteem from the parent's approval and affection so as to forego other sources of success or competence, with associated security or self esteem, in the absence of direct signs of success, (4) reciprocity and complementarity in this relationship, and (5) a feeling of obligation to persons and relationships characterized by attachment processes. The relationships that characterize the attachment processes are not necessarily limited to the biological parent, but may be to any significant other. The moral attachment process begins in early childhood, usually with a parent as the object, develops with experience, advances in cognition in the 2- to 8-year age span, and later is found aimed toward admired others (e.g., peers, teachers, coaches). This concept of moral attachment attempts to supplement Kohlberg's structural-developmental stage theory of moral-judgment development with a theory of the moral self that Kohlberg deliberately excluded from his earlier work.

For the last 25 years, there have been three prevalent approaches to moral development. The most recent approach is that of situational social learning

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