Carol Gilligans Theory of the Ethics of Caring (explained and summarized)
A review of the stages of moral development of Gilligan's Theory of the Ethics of Care.
The ethics of care is a theory developed by the American psychologist Carol Gilligan as a moral theory about principles of universal character in human beings with respect to the ethics of justice.
The ethic of care of Gilligan and her collaborators aims to argue for the right of people to care for others and the equality of moral and ethical development between men and women..
This theory emerged as an alternative to Lawrence Kohlberrg's theory of moral development of the 1980s, which will be briefly explained in the following section to get us started.
In turn, some arguments related to both theories will be presented, based on the impartial review of some bibliographic sources on models of moral development.
The precursor of Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development.
Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg elaborated a model of moral reasoning that was divided into six stages and three different levels.He postulated that children reached higher moral levels as their cognitive capacity increased in relation to age and education.
The experiment Kohlberg carried out to elaborate his theory arose from the analysis he carried out in his doctoral thesis on the theory of moral development by Jean Piaget. This experiment was based on the exposition of moral dilemmas to the participating subjects, who had to choose between following the rules or disobeying them for the benefit of another person (for example, Heinz's dilemma, which consists of presenting a situation in which he must decide between stealing a medicine for a sick person, since he is unable to buy it, or respecting the law and that person being left without the medicine he needs).
The following will briefly show the different levels of moral reasoning that Kholberg proposes in developing his theory.
Level I. Preconcenvional Morality (4-10 years)
- Stage 1. They comply with rules to avoid being punished.
- Stage 2. Performs actions to receive some benefit.
Here there is an individualistic perspective, based on a principle of hedonism.. Children are driven by their own interests.
Level II. Conventional morality (10-13 years)
- Stage 3. Wants to please others who are important to them.
- Stage 4. Respects social norms in order to maintain social order.
Here the individualistic perspective of the previous stage begins to merge into a perspective more oriented toward the good of those closest to them, such as friends and family.such as friends and family. They are concerned with being "good kids" and pleasing other people.
Level III. Postconventional Morality (adolescence-early adulthood)
- Stage 5. Genuinely cares about the rights of society.
- Stage 6. Respect for universal rights.
The third level is that of authentic morality. Recognizes a conflict between two moral standards and reasons the decision to carry out one or the other behavior based on the principles of justice and equality.. Likewise, this model was not free from criticism, as we will see below, among which we can highlight the model that Gilligan postulates as an alternative.
Gilligan's ethics of care
The main criticisms made of Kohlberg's model are based mainly on the fact that he did not conduct his research in real situations, but in an experimental context.
Another criticism of this study was that Kohlberg's experiment could be biased, since it showed results in women with intermediate levels of moral development, as opposed to men, who had intermediate levels of moral development.The study also criticized Kohlberg's experiment for being biased, since it showed women with intermediate levels of moral development, as opposed to men, who reached the highest level of moral development in a large proportion.
It is because of these controversial conclusions that Carol Gilligan, who was a student of his at Harvard University and a collaborator in his research, decided to elaborate her theory of the ethics of care, to the detriment of Kohlberg's universalist theory.
Thus, Carol Gilligan's ethics of care emerged as a counterpart to Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning, which had been investigated with values that were not universalistic.which had dealt with values that, Gilligan argued, tended to be more important to men, such as following socially established norms and not harming others, leaving aside values such as the importance of caring for others.
However, Gilligan's research did not receive sufficient support at first, and so he continued his research with the goal of gaining greater strength in his theory.
Gilligan wanted to investigate how women made moral decisions in the face of different dilemmas.. In her research, situations were presented in which acting with morality was seen as a concept of responsibility versus selfishness, responsibility being understood as the obligation to take care of other people and not to cause harm.
After analyzing the results, Gilligan concluded that women focus less on abstract justice and fairness, and think more about the responsibilities they have towards specific people in their environment. in their environment.
As a result of her research, she developed her theory of moral development in women, divided into 3 levels.
Level 1. Personal survival orientation (preconventional)
In this first level, women focus on themselves, on what is best for them.on what is best for them and what is of some beneficial use to them.
Transition 1. From selfishness to responsibility
In this transition to the conventional level, they begin to be more considerate of their relationships with others, becoming less individualistic.
Level 2. Kindness as a form of self-sacrifice (conventional)
At this conventional stage, they are truly concerned about caring for others in a selfless way.
Transition 2. From kindness to truth.
They make sure to weigh their decisions based on the consequences they might have.. They develop their moral reasoning to the point of always taking into account the needs of others, while never losing sight of their own. They begin to find a balance between their self-care and the care of others.
Level 3. Morality of non-violence (post-conventional)
This is the highest stage that can be reached at the level of moral reasoning, postconventional. When they reach this level, they take responsibility for their own decisions because they are in control of their lives.. It is the level where a moral balance between focusing on self and others has been consolidated.
- Related article, "What is prosocial behavior and how does it develop?"
Moral development according to Gilligan
For Gilligan the greatest moral dilemma that a woman had was based on the conflict she had between her needs and caring for others..
In her model Gilligan postulates that women's preference for caring for others as a moral responsibility is based on the fact that they are responsible, to a greater extent, for the care of newborns. The result of this is that one can find in all societies and cultures characteristics in the female personality that are more rooted in connection with other people than male personality traits tend to be.
The fundamental characteristics drawn from Carol Gilligan's theory of the ethic of care are: nurturance, responsibility, community, care, and interdependence.. The driving force is mutual cooperation that is carried out through skills such as empathy and the ability to sustain interpersonal relationships. This is in contrast to the ethics of justice, whose values were more oriented toward individuality, independence, objectivity, freedom, equality and fairness, being driven by reason and compliance with stipulated norms.
Conclusions on Carol Gilligan's theory of the ethics of care
In conclusion, it should be noted that a posteriori research has found no major gender differences in moral reasoning..
113 studies were analyzed in this regard and concluded that women thought more in terms related to care, on a contextual plane; while men tended to do so in terms associated with justice, located on a more formal and abstract plane. They concluded that the differences between the two sexes were small.
Other studies using neuroimaging radiology techniques found that women showed greater brain activity in areas associated with care-based reasoning (posterior cingulate, anterior cingulate and anterior insula), while men showed greater activity in other brain areas associated with justice-related processing (superior temporal sulcus).
In later research, Gilligan postulates that moral development in both women and men evolves beyond abstract reasoning.. Therefore, in his research, he used moral dilemmas applied in real situations that could arise in the people evaluated at some point in their lives.
A striking result of the experiment by Gilligan and his colleagues was the observation that many 20-year-olds were dissatisfied with their capacity for moral logic, considering that it was underdeveloped and that they had a superior capacity to coexist with moral contradictions.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that Gilligan's model has been widely accepted by the developmental psychology community as it was carried out in a real context, and also reflects an alternative value system to that proposed by Kohlberg. It is also noteworthy that Kohlberg added a seventh stage to his model of moral reasoning and his model became more in line with Gilligan's model..
The latest update of Gilligan's and Kohlberg's models posit that responsibility for others is the highest level that can be reached in the development of moral reasoning. Both psychologists agree on the fundamental importance of relationships with other people, as well as compassion and care for others, for both sexes.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)