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Carol Gilligan An Ethic of Care. What is the Ethic of Care?. Carol Gilligan Interested in stages of moral development. The Ethic of Care is Critical response to the work of her mentor, Lawrence Kohlberg. Lawrence Kohlberg.

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what is the ethic of care
What is the Ethic of Care?
  • Carol Gilligan
    • Interested in stages of moral development.
    • The Ethic of Care is Critical response to the work of her mentor, Lawrence Kohlberg
lawrence kohlberg
Lawrence Kohlberg
  • Developed a stage theory of moral development patterned after Piaget.
  • Asked young men to describe their moral reasoning processes
  • Kohlberg showed that young Western males tend to morally develop toward higher and higher levels of moral reasoning: from absolute self-interest to realization of rights and justice for everyone equally*.
    • Stage 1: Pre-conventional (self-interest)
    • Stage 2: Conventional (social harmony)
    • Stage 3: Post-conventional (universal ethical principles)
rights justice are terms developed during the enlightenment
Rights & Justice are terms developed during the Enlightenment
  • What were the assumptions about the nature of human existence in the worldview of enlightenment liberals?
  • According to Enlightenment liberalism, man is…
    • Rational
    • Free (liberty; liberal)
    • Equal
    • Unencumbered
    • Autonomous
    • Rights-bearing
    • Individual

In a Different Voice, Gilligan noted…

  • that Kohlberg’s sample almost entirely consisted of young western European men.
  • that he based his interpretation of results on one kind of moral reasoning: enlightenment liberalism

Her own research suggests…

  • Women tend to struggle with moral dilemmas in a different way. That little voice they hear is “A different voice” than the one men tend to hear.

Women tend to…

  • Value social relationships before individual freedoms
  • Emphasize connection more than detachment
  • Consider social responsibility and obligation before individual rights
  • Emphasize the particular before universal
  • Consider lived experience to be a more important guide to future behavior than philosophical abstractions

…reason through an Ethic of Care as opposed to an Ethic of Justice


This fundamental world-view underlies many different modern critical approaches.

  • It is a re-current and underlying theme of this course in practical moral reasoning.
  • A familiar refrain
    • We exist
    • We’re connected
    • We’re obligated
    • We ought to care
some questions
Some Questions?
  • Are “Care” and “Justice” really diametrically opposed to one another.
    • Care is not the opposite of justice
    • Care is not the only alternative to justice
    • They are both worthy ends
    • They are both goods, and rights, and virtues
    • Can you conceive of a moral decision that is both ‘careful’ and ‘just’?
  • Are Care- and Justice-based approaches mutually exclusive?
    • Who is to say we can’t care and realize justice? Care toward justice?
    • "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" - Dr. MLK Jr.
  • Is there a coherent Ethics of Justice?
  • Do men and women really develop in moral stages?
  • Do men and women really reason all that differently?
  • Are men capable of caring? Women of justice?
  • Who or what is deserving of care?
    • People? (what about a zygote?)
    • Animals? (Gorillas? Whales? Frogs? Mosquitoes?)
    • Plants? (Food crops? Beautiful flowers? Knapweed?)
    • Rocks? (The eye of the needle? Mt. Rushmore? Minewaste rock?)
    • Systems? (Ecosystems? Economic Systems? Political Systems?)
extending the circle the ethic of care
Extending the circle…the Ethic of Care

“Until he extends the circle of compassion to ALL living things, man will not himself find peace.”

Albert Schweitzer


All of us

Me and you