Carol Gilligan


By: Yam Korine

Carol Gilligan is an American feminist, ethicist and philosopher. She was born in 1936, in the United States and raised in a Jewish family. Gilligan point of view on justice requires itself to be different than the other theories on this topic, from the simple reason that she believes that through history the definition of justice was created by men and men only. The best way to explain her theory on justice will be through a book she published in 1982 “In a Different Voice” and in it the theory of moral development which claims that women tend to think and speak in a different way than men when they confront ethical dilemmas. Carol Gilligan studied under the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg’s theory was that human beings go through 6 levels of moral development (where 6 is the highest level). In level one the reason to do to the “right thing” is because if not you are punished. He called the second level “Instrumental”- the reason to do the “right thing” is that if you do so you will get as a result the things you want to get ( for example- if a child won’t fight with his sister he will get candies). The third level is the “good boy/ nice girl orientation”. This is a level where you will do things because people will tell you that you are good or nice.

The fourth level is the “law and order mentality”. It says that there are rules that you should follow because they are the rules- you are doing your duty and you are showing respect for authority. Level 5 and level 6 are different from the other levels because they look at you as an individual. Level five is the “social contract” a social agreement that you follow because you know that things will be better if everyone follows it. For example, if everyone refused to pay back loans, then our economy would fail. “Universal ethical principle” is the sixed level. Kohlberg did this scale after a research he did in jails. There, he found that most of the people are in levels 1-3 including the prisoners and prison guards. He also found out that to go higher on the scale you need to be in a better environment. Gilligan argue that this scale represent women as less moral than men. If you will look at the scale- it can be divided in to to two parts. Level 1-3 are caused by emotion, and in levels 4-6 are caused by reason. Gilligan believes that women follow things like emotion in their moral decisions therefore they aren’t able to reach further than level 3.

Gilligan’s scale (from 1 to 3, where 3 is the highest) emphasizes care:

1. Emphasis on self and negating others (what will make you happy, what are your needs your desire and so on…)

2. Emphasis on others and negating oneself (for example, what will make others happy, their needs, their desire and so on)

3. Mixed emphasis- self and other.

Gilligan says that Kohlberg ignored the simple fact that many women see moral dilemmas as a narrative of relationship that extends over a time. A famous example for it is an experiment when Amy a young girl had to answer a moral dilemma – should a husband steal a drug that he can’t afford for his ill wife? By that, she was basically asked if it okay to take care on other people at the expense of things like property. Amy replied that the husband shouldn’t steal because maybe if they speak about it they might find a better solution that will help for a longer term. So as you might understand Amy is been motivated by the “care” scale when she is thinking on what will better for the husband (self) and for the wife and the drug store (others).


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