Gilligan’s Perspective on Ethics of Care

The twentieth-century feminine and feminist approaches to ethics share many ontological and epistemological assumptions. They tend to believe that the self is an interdependent being, that knowledge is emotional as well as rational, and that thoughtful persons reflect on concrete particularities as well as abstract universals (Kohlberg, 1971; Chodorow, 1978; Gilligan, 1982; Turiel, 1983; Yow, 1994; Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis, 1997; Perks and Thomson, 1998; Bryman, 2001;Noddings, 2005; Hills and Watson, 2011). This is certainly true of Carol Gilligan, whose ethics of care is definitely rooted, in “women’s ways” of being and knowing.’

Feminine writers began questioning the assumptions behind many traditional ethical theories way back in 70’s and 80’s. Gilligan (1982, p371) in her moral psychology work challenged justice-based approaches and introduced the discussion that men tend to embrace an ethic of rights using quasi-legal terminology and impartial principles whereas women tend to affirm an ethic of care that centers on responsiveness in an interconnected network of needs, care, and prevention of harm. She further argued that women have the notion of taking care of others.
In her philosophical account of an ethics of care Baier (1985, p371) recommends that we make room for an ethic of love and trust, including an account of human bonding and friendship rather than discard categories of obligation.

What is synonymous with both Gilligan’s and Baier’s accounts is the criticism directed towards the Traditional Liberal Theory and its emphasis on impartiality and universality. Beauchamp and Childress (2001, p.373) criticize the Traditional Liberal Theory and its universal principles that rough generalizations can be produced regarding the way physicians and nurses respond to patientsbut these generalizations are not subtle enough to give helpful guidance for the next patient.

They further consider that each situation demands a new set of responses. The proponents of ethics of care place emphasis on the mutual interdependence and emotional response. These proponents such as Gilligan and Beauchamp and Childress believe that mutual interdependence and emotional response play a crucial role in people’s moral lives. “…many human relationships involve persons who are vulnerable, dependent, ill, and frail … [and] the desirable moral response is attached attentiveness to needs, not detached respect for rights” (Beauchamp and Childress, 373). Besides, it is important for individuals to have insight into other people’s needs and alert to their circumstances out of emotion. According to Beauchamp and Childress, emotions play a cognitive role that allows us to understand a situation much better than those viewing it from merely a justice perspective.

The subject of ethics of care is becoming increasingly important. Researchers such as Gilligan have done a good job in exploring the subject of ethics of care. Others have outlined the methods of collection of data from an oral history perspective (Slim and Thompson, 1993) In this study, we will investigate how oral history methods have been used to investigate teaching via the ethic of care and the implications and/or limitations of these methods for teacher research.

Gilligan’s Perspective of Ethics of Care

In her work, Gilligan responds to Freud’s idea that men have a well-developed moral sense than women do. Gilligan’s argument is that Freud has condemned women twice by declaring that women show less sense of justice than men and they are less ready to submit to the great exigencies of life, and that women are often influenced in their judgments by feelings of affection or hostility. Freud attributed his observations of women’s inferiority on a developmental difference that men successfully break. As such, he further argued that girls are slower than boys to develop a sense of themselves and they are less responsible for themselves. These attributes are responsible for the supposed resistance to change and civilization by women than men.
While many psychologists have had an andocentric perspective of women’s inferiority, an emerging school of feminists such as Gilligan views the issue differently.

My research suggests that men and women may speak different languages that they assume are the same, using similar words to encode disparate experiences of self and social relationships. Because these languages share an overlapping moral vocabulary, they contain a propensity for systematic mistranslation, creating misunderstandings, which impede communication and limit the potential for cooperation and care in relationships (Gilligan, 1982 p.173).

Gilligan’s work is particularly important because it sets to correct the misunderstandings that contribute to falsification of women’s morality. Her arguments and the methodology for research in ethics of care are crucial for the present study, which we must understand.
Carol Gilligan’s criticism is mainly directed towards Lawrence Kohlberg – a well-known educational psychologist and her mentor. Kohlberg’s model suggests that moral development occurs in six stages. He calls the first stage “the punishment and obedience orientation which insists that a child is done as s/he is told either to avoid punishment or to receive a reward. T

he second stage constitutes the instrumental relativist orientation the children will do things that satisfy their needs and occasionally the needs of others. The third stage involves the interpersonal concordance orientation whereby adolescents will seek the approval of others and in the process conform to existing way of life. The adolescents will then begin to perform their duties in the fourth stage by showing respect for authority to gain some honor. The fifth stage of moral development is the social contract legalistic orientation. During this stage, an adult adopts a fundamentally utilitarian moral. The last stage of moral development is the universal ethical principle orientation. Here the individual is in position to any conventional morality. The person is now self-legislated and self-imposed universal principles (Kohlberg, 1971).
Gilligan questions this six-stage methodology presented by Kohlberg perhaps out realization that the model does not represent the true picture of human moral development even though it appeals to many people schooled in traditional ethics.

However, it is important to understand the Kohlbergian methodology in order to determine the truth of Gilligan’s claims. Researchers applying the Kohlbergian methodology utilize moral dilemmas to determine how their subjects will resolve them. Kohlbergs first formulation is what is known as the “Heinz Dilemma”. In this dilemma, Heinz goes to a drug store to find medical help for his ill wife with the little money he could find but the druggist has overpriced the drug. The druggist refuses to help Heinz on account that he invented the drug to sell for money. In desperation, Heinz breaks into the store and steals the much needed drug. Two eleven year-old children – a boy and a girl were asked, “Should the husband have done that? Why?” (Gilligan, 1982, p.29)

The researchers observed the children’s responses to the question as they provided the different views. The boy provided an answer consistent with the Kohlbergian mathematical perspective. He said that the husband should steal the drug because his wife’s life is worth more than the drug store owner’s business. In the boy’s view, right to life is more important than right to property. However, the girl did not pass the Kohlbergian scale because she failed to look at the problem as an equation needing a solution one way or the other. She did not make comparison between the value life and property instead reasoning a relational point of view. The girl focused on the consequences of the husband’s actions on his relationship with his wife.

If he stole the drug, he might save his wife then, but if he did, he might have to go to jail, then his wife might get sicker again, he couldn’t get more of the drug, and it might not be good. So, they should really just talk it out and find some other way to make the money (Gilligan, 1982 p.164).

The girl’s answer did not satisfy the researchers in Kohlberg’s school of thought because they insisted that she answer the question at hand. Nevertheless, the researchers marked her down when she hesitated to answer the question.
In the eyes of Gilligan and supported by interviews with 29 women with various backgrounds, women’s ontologies, epistemologies, and ethics typically differ from those of men. Because women tend to view the self as an interdependent being and morality as a matter of responsibilities for others, women do not do as well on Kohlberg’s scale as do men, who tend to view the self as an independent, autonomous being and morality as a matter of ranking individual’s rights.

Gilligan bases claims on the differences in ontologies, epistemologies, and ethics on Nancy Chodorow’s theories of object-relational experiences people have when they were infants with their parents. According to Chodorow, boys have a sexually charged pre-Oedipal stage advantage over girls. Sons are sexually attached to their mothers at a tender age out of recognition that their bodies are different from their mothers’. However, these changes at the Oedipal stage when the son realizes the perceived weaknesses in the mother and tends to gravitate towards the father even though he still loves the mother. The tendency to like the father as time goes by is thought to be associated with the notion that men symbolize power and prestige. Chodorow recognizes the role played by the society’s contempt for women in defining the boys’ opposition to the female sex that mothers represent.

The prolonged symbiosis and egotistic over-identification characterize the mother-daughter pre-Oedipal relationship.While the same-sex factor between mother and the daughter leads to a continuous sense of gender and self, it begins to weaken at the oedipal stage. Again, the girl begins to associate with what her father symbolizes – independence.

According to Chodorow, the profound social differences between boys and girls have the root in the different psychosexual developments. She argues that the boy is unable to relate deeply with others because of his separation from his mother but also prepares him for work, which requires single-minded efficiency, a business attitude, and competitiveness. However, the girl’s close relationship with the mother increases her relatedness capacity. This makes researchers such as Chodorow to view women with low self-individuation while men with low intimacy.
Based on the intimacy and self-individuation between both sexes, Gilligan  notes that the importance of separation and autonomy for men often leads them todiscuss justice, fairness, rules, and rights, whereas the importance of interrelationships for women often them leads to discuss wants, needs, interests, and aspirations.

She is also of the view that moral development for women encompasses integration of self-centered concerns with other demands. Gilligan notes that women invariably move in and out of overemphasis on self, overemphasis on others, and proper emphasis on self in relation to others stages of moral development. A woman morally matures as she moves from one stage to another.
According to this model, a woman is self-centered at Level One characterized by a feeling of powerlessness and disappointment, and prefers isolation to connectedness to avoid being hurt. A woman explained in one of Gilligan’s studies that survival is the most important thing in life. As such, some of the subjects in the study held the view that having a baby would help them survive by sheer show of love. However, when teenage woman were asked their views on abortion it became apparent that some of them would not want to have a baby because of lack of means to take care of them.

If a baby would help them survive, why would then they want to abort them?
This is a classic example of shift from self-centeredness to caring of others. These women thought that having a baby in the absence of the proper means to take good care of them is an act of selfishness. Such transition from ‘wishful thinking’ to responsibility of moral choice represents transition to the second level of moral development. The woman is motivated to relate with other s when she move to Level Two of moral development. One of the challenges a woman faces at this stage is that of making invidious choices. In Gilligan’s abortion study for example, one pregnant woman was faced with two choices – either she aborts to please her lover who did not want the pregnancy or keep the baby and hurt the lover. The woman reasoned that her action or in action was either way going to hurt somebody (the lover or the fetus). Each of these decisions was going to label her as selfish. In the end, she decided to terminate her pregnancy. However, the feeling of bitterness of denying the fetus the chance to live made her angry which made the relationship with the lover sour and unbearable.

These feelings of bitterness can be averted if the woman moves from Level Two to Level Three. According to Gilligan, Level Three represents a point in woman’s life where she learns how to take care of herself and others – a move Gilligan calls transition from goodness to being truthful with self. This is attainment of moral maturity.

When we compare Kohlberg’s account of human moral development with Gilligan’s account of women’s moral development, it is easy to see why Gilligan thinks we can begin to appreciate why she thinks Kohlberg’s account describes men’s moral development rather than women’s moral development. The two accounts are informed by separate sets of reasoning and style of discourse. The Kohlberg account uses scale structures related to rights and rules while Gilligan’s relationships are associated with of responsibilities and connections. Although both models address the human moral development, Gilligan’s fundamental argument is that women moral development is different from men’s moral development. As both women and men undergo different pathways of moral development, considering both using alternative ways needs both rights and responsibilities.

Gilligan’s work on the behavior of adolescents is another keyeye-opener for adolescent psychologists. While the language of rights and responsibilities is clearly applicable to adults, it is a different story for adolescents’ moral development altogether. In fact, it has been shown that most children by the age of elevenare able to use either a justice approach or a care approach to solve moral-related issues (can apply both rights and responsibilities) although it cannot be taken to imply that they are using the preferred moral language. In any case, it may be an indication that the child is using a language that is preferred among the peers. Gilligan partly blames teachers who do not communicate to children about the need for caring but instead those teachers urge students to analyze argumentsfrivolous manner. As such, they grow up accumulating strategies and skills for competitive life rather than those of communal life. She urges educational psychologists to encourage students to be more responsive to other people’s needs and wants. In recognition of this factor, this study also uses the Gilligan method in order to assess moral development among subjects through various stages of life.

Nel’s Ethics of Care and Education

Nel Noddings is one of the most outstanding professionals advocating for the ethics of care. In her arguments, she recognises that caring is a foundation of ethical decision-making. In her ‘feminine approach to ethics and moral education’, Noddings begins with the view that care is basic in human life and that everyone wants to be cared for. She also notes that although ‘natural caring’ can have a significant basis in women’s experience even though both men and women are guided by the ethic of care. In other words, ‘natural caring’ does not require to be motivated by an ethical effort. Therefore, natural caring is a moral attitude that arises out of the experience of being cared for.  On this basis, she refers to ethical caring as a “state of being in relation, characterized by receptivity, relatedness and engrossment” (Noddings, 2002, p. 11).
In terms of schooling and education, Noddings perceives education as the foundation for caring in society. She says education is “a constellation of encounters, both planned and unplanned, that promote growth through the acquisition of knowledge, skills, understanding and appreciation” (p.283).

Moreover, Noddings emphasises the role homes play in education and that this calls for reorientation of social policy. Homes are where the moral values are honed out of natural caring. In the “Philosophy of Education,” Noddings refers to Aristotle’s thinking that “moral life grows out of the practices in our communities and the demands these practices make on us” in which Aristotle insists that children should be trained in morally appropriate modes of conduct. Recently, other models such as the highly influential Lawrence Kohlberg cognitive development model have come to the fore (Noddings, 2011).

The arguments of Noddings are related to Chodorow’s arguments in that children are shaped by the society surrounding them. For Chodorow, the role of parents plays an important role in the character of their children when they grow up. Noddings suggests that the moral fabric of children is shaped at home and that social policy should be reoriented to consider this. Gilligan is of the view that boys and girls perceive caring differently and blames teachers for not encouraging children on the subject of care.

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