Carol Gilligan: interpretation of “Feminine Ethics”
To start with a few words should be said about Carol Gilligan as a prominent writer. Nowadays this woman is considered to be one of the most prominent psychologists in the United States and in the world. The author of the “feminine ethics” was born in New York in 1936. Her career as a future psychologist started with the presenting of doctoral thesis in the Harvard University in 1964. For a decade she was working with the great theorist of moral development, Lawrence Kohlberg, but then she began criticize his works. In her famous book “In a different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development” (1982) Gilligan presents a revolutionary idea, she gives women rights to choose and she associates them with care and in some cases with motherhood.
Still there were some reasons why Gilligan began to criticize Lawrence Kohlberg’s work. Firstly, she considered him to have rather narrow approach to the problem of moral values. Secondly, Lawrence Kohlberg examined only men’s moral principles and paid no attention to women’s feeling and in such way Kohlberg showed “biased opinion against women” (). Thirdly, Gilligan felt that women should have voice and she wanted to present a controversial approach to women’s rights and moral values. Fourthly, Kohlberg in his work considered men’s rights and rules to be at the higher stage than women’s ones in “terms of influence on human relationship ()”.
Lawrence Kohlberg was not the only scientist whose works gave Gilligan ground for her future work. While discussing women’s moral senses Sigmund Freud, stressed that they are underdeveloped, because of women’s dependence upon their mothers (). Another famous moralist and theorist, Erik Erickson believed that the process of women’s development is successful only in case of separation from the mother and the family. Thus, the board schools for ladies are a good possibility for a young lady to develop moral senses. Still, Erickson thought that if a woman did not come over the process of self-development she would be lacking some major senses which make her a real woman. ()
Thus, criticizing the above mentioned theories Gilligan understood that her goal was to present a new approach to the women’s moral senses. Her theory comprises three aspects of women’s moral development: selfish, social and principled morality. According to Gilligan “Women must learn to deal to their own interests and to the interests of others” ().
For Gilligan, women exemplify care, which is an important moral characteristic. However Gilligan advocates for inclusive morality, one that strengthens relationships and solves problems without resorting to the binding authority of rules and principles. Gilligan suggests the ethic of care is rooted in the moral frameworks of responsibility and relationships rather than rights and rules and that any care orientation is inseparable from contextual circumstances rather than being a formal and abstract system of thought. Additionally, care is grounded in the daily activity of life rather that a set of universal principles 13.
While early strains of care ethics can be detected in the writings of feminist philosophers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Catherine and Harriet Beecher, and Charlotte Perkins, it was first most explicitly articulated by Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings in the early 1980s. While a graduate student at Harvard, Gilligan wrote her dissertation outlining a different path of moral development than the one described by Lawrence Kohlberg, her mentor. Kohlberg had posited that moral development progressively moves toward more universalized and principled thinking and had also found that girls, when later included in his studies, scored significantly lower than boys. Gilligan faulted Kohlberg’s model of moral development for being gender biased, and reported hearing a “different voice” than the voice of justice presumed in Kohlberg’s model. She found that both men and women articulated the voice of care at different times, but noted that the voice of care, without women, would nearly fall out of their studies. Refuting the charge that the moral reasoning of girls and women is immature because of its preoccupation with immediate relations, Gilligan asserted that the “care perspective” was an alternative, but equally legitimate form of moral reasoning obscured by masculine liberal justice traditions focused on autonomy and independence. She characterized this difference as one of theme, however, rather than of gender.
Gilligan articulated these thematic perspectives through the moral reasoning of “Jake” and “Amy”, two children in Kohlberg’s studies responding to the “Heinz dilemma”. In this dilemma, the children are asked whether a man, “Heinz”, should have stolen an overpriced drug to save the life of his ill wife. Jake sees the Heinz dilemma as a math problem with people wherein the right to life trumps the right to property, such that all people would reasonably judge that Heinz ought to steal the drug. Amy, on the other hand, disagrees that Heinz should steal the drug, lest he should go to prison and leave his wife in another predicament. She sees the dilemma as a narrative of relations over time, involving fractured relationships that must be mended through communication. Understanding the world as populated with networks of relationships rather than people standing alone, Amy is confident that the druggist would be willing to work with Heinz once the situation was explained. Gilligan posited that men and women often speak different languages that they think are the same, and she sought to correct the tendency to take the male perspective as the prototype for humanity in moral reasoning.
Later, Gilligan vigorously resisted readings of her work that posit care ethics as relating to gender more than theme, and even established the harmony of care and justice ethics (1986), but she never fully abandoned her thesis of an association between women and relational ethics. She further developed the idea of two distinct moral “voices”, and their relationship to gender in Mapping the Moral Domain: A Contribution of Women’s Thinking to Psychological Theory and Education (Gilligan, Ward, and Taylor, 1988), a collection of essays that traced the predominance of the “justice perspective” within the fields of psychology and education, and the implications of the excluded “care perspective”. In Making Connections: The Relational Worlds of Adolescent Girls at Emma Willard School, Gilligan and her co-editors argued that the time between the ages of eleven and sixteen is crucial to girls’ formation of identity, being the time when girls learn to silence their inner moral intuitions in favor of more rule bound interpretations of moral reasoning (Gilligan, Lyons, and Hamner, 1990, 3). Gilligan found that in adulthood women are encouraged to resolve the crises of adolescence by excluding themselves or others, that is, by being good/responsive, or by being selfish/independent. As a result, women’s adolescent voices of resistance become silent, and they experience a dislocation of self, mind, and body, which may be reflected in eating disorders, low leadership aspiration, and self-effacing sexual choices. Gilligan also expanded her ideas in a number of articles and reports (Gilligan, 1979; 1980; 1982; 1987).
Green B (2012) Applying Feminist Ethics of Care to Nursing Practice. J Nurs Care 1:111.
Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Ca mbridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982). 3. Carol Gilligan, “Moral Orientation and Moral Development,” in Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1987), 25. 4. Ibid. 5. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Ca mbridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 7. Quoting Freud.
Gilligan and Kohlberg: Implications for Moral Theory Author(s): Lawrence A. Blum Source: Ethics, Vol. 98, No. 3 (Apr., 1988), pp. 472-491 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2380962 Accessed: 14/02/2009 23:01
Dr. C. George Boeree Personality theories: ERIK ERIKSON Psychology Department Shippensburg University Original E-Text-Site: http://www.ship.edu/%7Ecgboeree/perscontents.html