Gilligan – Care and Justice

Piaget made major steps forward in the understanding of moral development when he studied how young boys of different ages played marbles with respect to the rules, and how the boys understood their obligation to the rules. Kohlberg later developed on Piaget’s theories. Carol Gilligan worked with Kohlberg on some of this work. This makes her rebuke of his methodology and theory more powerful.

Gilligan’s breakthrough is her integration of women into the sample group from which her theories about moral development derive. Like Piaget and Kohlberg, she found that many women did not fit the framework that was constructed based on the moral development of men. When confronting moral dilemmas, women much more than men ask questions about how their relationships will be impacted, while men usually place more priority on fairness and the rules. Gilligan calls these foci “care” and “justice.”

Men do consider their relationships, and women do consider fairness, but no men in the sample group focused on care, while half of the women that focused on one of the two (over 75% of the responses) focused on care. Gilligan concludes that any theory that derives from sample data excluding women would likely miss entirely that care reasoning through moral issues was a possible alternative type of moral reasoning.

The question is whether care reasoning really is a legitimate form of moral development. Gilligan claims that it does not negate justice reasoning; they temper each other. Without the other each has the possibility of becoming tyrannical.

The duck/rabbit image exemplifies gestalt psychology, which argues that one’s background plays a significant role in determining how one sees the image. It is assumed that one can only see one image at a time. Gilligan theorizes that this applies to justice/care moral reasoning. And the emotions involved in moral decisions makes it difficult for us to see alternative interpretations of moral situations.

Gilligan encourages us to respect that some women may approach moral development different than some men, and she asks us to respect moral reasoning different from our own.


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