Carol Gilligan Theory of Moral Judgement

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The Carol Gilligan theory points out differences in moral judgement between men and women.
Is moral development different for men and women? Image by Flickr via Ted Goldring.

Carol Gilligan is considered by many to be a thought leader of difference feminism. We previously talked about what is difference feminism, and today we discuss her contributions to psychology more. Here are details about the Carol Gilligan theory of moral judgement.

Men, Women, and Moral Judgement

According to Carol Gilligan theory, females and males may rate differently on moral judgement because of gender bias instead of any intrinsic differences between them. Gilligan explains that men follow different voices than women.

This explains her 1982 book’s title “In a Different Voice.” Men tend to put relationships into a hierarchical structure, according to Carol Gilligan. Males focus on the morality of rights, while women instead emphasize caring and connectivity over principles of justice. We want to say here that she does insist one way of thinking is better than the other. Instead, she simply points out the differences she feels exists between genders for moral judgement.

In her ideas about difference feminism, Gilligan criticizes moral and personal development theories that were benchmarks in psychology. Why? Because these theories had a male bias. Difference feminism challenged moral stage theories by well-known male thinkers, such as Lawrence Kohlberg. She suggested the men were only basing these theories on their own experiences. In doing so, they ignored half the population. In other words, they left out women.

Criticisms of Carol Gilligan Theory

This study of moral judgement from a psychological perspective is one you may or may not agree with. It’s true that a full analysis of moral development would for many people have to consider more than only the psychological level. But it’s still important, in my opinion, to look at the different ways that people think about the world. So, for Gilligan, men would focus on laws while women would look primarily at relations instead.

It’s also difficult for me to go with the idea that all men are a specific way and women are another way. Doesn’t that take away from how original we each are? Not to mention that generalizations are dangerous. They don’t consider any differences. Instead, they paint everyone with the same brush stroke. This way of thinking doesn’t consider power dynamics and other factors.

And that’s not all. Your morals may not fit with how you actually act in a real life situation. For example, you might not tell the truth about something your co-worker did if you worry you’ll get fired for saying it. While you know lying is wrong, in this case you might do so to keep your job. So, moral judgement gives details about how someone sees the world and also gives insights into rationalization.

Celebrating Women’s Differences

On the other hand, I do like that difference feminism moral development. As per Carol Gilligan theory, women have unique abilities they bring to the table. These skills ought to empower them. I feel the strength in this part of the theory.

Also, it’s important to hear views in psychology from all genders rather than just Kohlberg and other men. Why? Doing so can help make sure that psychology and other areas don’t have a gender bias. It’s not fair that men’s thoughts are superior to those of women. It’s that simple. Or is it?

Care-based or Justice-based Morality

Do you agree with the Carol Gilligan theory that men have justice-based morality while women have care-based? Do women have a different voice than men when it comes to moral judgment? I’d love to hear what you think!

13 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with you… hence disagree to a certain extent with what she says about women being more about connectivity and men about morality of rights as you refer. The hierarchical structure seem to me more a male concern, maybe. But, saying that women put aside those more trascendental things… justice itself… and just serve as connectors, so as to speak… I don’t think so… and maybe it sounds pretty demeaning… I wonder which male and female groups and populations were targeted in her studies, anyway and in that sense 🧐 great post, CB…sending love

    • Great point Aquileana about delving into the studies to learn more about how Carol Gilligan drew her conclusions on differences in moral judgement between men and women. Generalizations are always hard for me to process as I see exceptions a lot of the time. Thanks for making time here to share your smart views and I feel your love xo Hugs!

  2. Thank you for sharing the post regarding Carol Gilligan Theory of Moral Judgement. One of the issues I have with her philosophy is that it places morality into stereotypical buckets. It assumes all women base their morality on their role as caretakers while men’s morality are based on the principles of laws. In truth, both males and females have a wide spectrum of unique attributes and backgrounds that shape who they are and their moral compasses. I agree with the critics of Gilligan that her emphasis on gender differences between men and women serves as a justification for ongoing inequality.

    • Thanks for taking time to share your opinion on this Carol Gilligan theory, Linnea. Gender equality is certainly perpetuated, in my eyes, by generalizations about what men and women are like as a whole. I don’t believe there is a way we all are as a gender, whether we are men or women. I’m nodding at much of what you wrote here.

  3. While I agree that Gilligan over generalizes, over generalization is probably the most common sin in philosophy and perhaps language itself. We don’t need all men or all women to behave in a certain way for it to influence society, just the majorities. Nor does it have to be innate. If we raise boys to be team players and raise girls to raise children, it makes perfectly good sense that they would develop different methods of creating a just society. Especially if that team is a football team and the goal is developing team work to achieve victory, while the goal of being a mother is to cultivate her little team into their best possible selves.

    Having said all that, I wonder how Gilligan would look at Confucianism, which cares more about hierarchy, relationships, and self cultivation than it does about laws or social justice.

    • As you suggest, Paul, society is influencing girls to be a particular way and same for boys. It’s these roles that contribute to gender inequality. I’m thankful for any platform that gives us the opportunity to explore different viewpoints and do so with respect. Ah, you make a good point about how religion can be an impacting factor too.

  4. I’m all about justice…hence the fact that I refused to stand for the pledge in 5th grade because there wasn’t “freedom and justice” for all. Especially not in the South, in the U.S. 😀

  5. I love what you said about taking pride in and loving the differences women have. It always felt demeaning to me when I saw certain sects of feminists declaring that I have to do things (like standing up while peeing, as example) the way a man does it in order to be valid. Isn’t that going back to the archaic view that the way a man does something is the best and only way do it? The more bold we are about doing things in our own feminine way, in whatever healthy manner that looks like, the farther we can stray from the harmful idea that a man’s way is the best way. GREAT post.

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