I’d like to start by discussing the theory of Carol Gilligan. First published in 1977, Gilligan was one of the first to publish works specifically regarding the ethics of care and it is very evident that her works prompted those of many who followed her, including Nell Noddings. Gilligan criticizes the Freudian notion of morality and moral development. Similar to many traditional ethicists, Freud viewed women as morally inferior to men, discussing the way in which males and females develop themselves as self-sufficient moral agents and respect for law. Gilligan’s ethical theory cannot be discussed without introducing the moral development process, supported by Freudian principal, proposed by educational psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg.
Level I. Preconventional Morality
Stage 1. Obedience and Punishment Orientation
At stage 1, children think of what is right as that which authority says is right. Doing the right thing is obeying authority and avoiding punishment.
Stage 2. Individualism and Exchange
At stage 2, children are no longer so impressed by any single authority; they see that there are different sides to any issue. Since everything is relative, one is free to pursue one’s own interests, although it is often useful to make deals and exchange favors with others.
Level II. Conventional Morality
Stage 3. Good Interpersonal Relationships
At stages 3 and 4, young people think as members of the conventional society with its values, norms, and expectations. At stage 3, they emphasize being a good person, which basically means having helpful motives toward people close to one
Stage 4. Maintaining the Social Order
At stage 4, the concern shifts toward obeying laws to maintain society as a whole.
Level III. Postconventional Morality
Stage 5. Social Contract and Individual Rights and Stage 6. Universal Principals
At stages 5 and 6 people are less concerned with maintaining society for it own sake, and more concerned with the principles and values that make for a good society. At stage 5 they emphasize basic rights and the democratic processes that give everyone a say, and at stage 6 they define the principles by which agreement will be most just.
Kudos to you if you read all of that and are still stickin’ with me through this. It’s essential, I promise. Her concern with this widely accepted development process is that many use this as reference to say that women are morally inferior to men because they often don’t “develop” past stages two or three, the stages explicitly regarding relativity and relation-based care. This is where an ethic of care serves to question where we derive ethical ideals and values of moral good. If moral deliberation values universality, justice, and rights above all, ethics of the traditional sort fit very nicely into Kohlberg’s process. It’s incorrect, however, to assume this application of value is true for everyone. Many, as Gilligan suggests, would place care and the “well, it depends” factor as valuable moral agents. Gilligan states that the error comes in the obvious neglect of the female voice in the development of ethical theory and the disregard of the value of selflessness, relationships, and care in moral deliberation.
“The moral imperative that emerges repeatedly in interviews with women is an injunction to care, a responsibility to discern and alleviate the ‘real and recognizable trouble’ of this world. For men, the moral imperative appears rather as an injunction to respect the rights of others and thus to protect from interference the rights to life and self-fulfillment. Women’s insistence on care is at first self-critical rather than self-protective, while men initially conceive obligation to others negatively in terms of noninterference. Development for both sexes would therefore seem to entail an integration of rights and responsibilities through the discovery of the complementarity of these disparate views. For women, the integration of rights and responsibilities takes place through an understanding of the psychological logic of relationships. This understanding tempers the self-destructive potential of a self-critical morality by asserting the need of all persons [including themselves] for care. For men, recognition through experience of the need for more active responsibility in taking care corrects the potential indifference of a morality of noninterference and turns attention from the logic to the consequences of choice [refs]. In the development of a postconventional ethical understanding, women come to see the violence inherent in inequality, while men come to see the limitation of a conception of justice blinded to the differences in human life.”
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982. Print.