Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Handout 1: Carol Gilligan and a Different Voice

Part of What We Choose

In A Different Voice

In 1982, developmental psychologist Carol Gilligan published a groundbreaking book, In a Different Voice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,1982). In her book, Gilligan challenged the prevailing understanding of moral development, in particular the theories of the person with whom she had studied, Lawrence Kohlberg. Kohlberg had discovered that the boys he interviewed in his studies preferred a morality of rights that emphasized separation and independence, while girls of the same age preferred a morality of responsibility that emphasized relationship and interdependence. His theory posited that children move through stages of moral development much as they move through Piaget's stages of cognitive development, and he assigned a higher level of moral development to those whose moral reasoning is based on rules and moral principle than to those whose moral reasoning was based on empathy for others. Gilligan's work challenged Kohlberg's conclusion that those who based their moral reasoning on rights had reached a higher level of development than those who based their moral reasoning on responsibility. She argued that girls and boys were socialized differently and each reflected the moral reasoning that was most appropriate for their location and for the ways in which they had been taught to understand their role in the world. She further argued that the female perspective and its ethic of responsibility which put relationship first had been ignored by others in her field.

Highlighting Gender Difference

Gilligan included in her book two interviews that were part of Lawrence Kohlberg's 1973 study of individual views on the rights and responsibilities of human beings. Both of the respondents had been 25 years old when they were interviewed.

The first voice, a male person:

[What does the word morality mean to you?] Nobody in the world knows the answer. I think it is recognizing the right of the individual, the rights of other individuals, not interfering with those rights. Act as fairly as you would have them treat you. I think it is basically to preserve the human being's right to existence. I think that is the most important. Secondly, the human being's right to do as he pleases, again without interfering with somebody else's rights.

[How have your views on morality changed since the last interview?] I think I am more aware of an individual's rights now. I used to be looking at it strictly from my point of view, just for me. Now I think I am more aware of what the individual has a right to.

The second voice, a female person:

[Is there really some correct solution to moral problems, or is everybody's opinion equally right?] No, I don't think everybody's opinion is equally right. I think that in some situations there may be opinions that are equally valid, and one could conscientiously adopt one of several courses of action. But there are other situations in which I think there are right and wrong answers, that sort of inhere in the nature of existence, of all individuals here who need to live with each other to live. We need to depend on each other, and hopefully it is not only a physical need but a need of fulfillment in ourselves, that a person's life is enriched by cooperating with other people and striving to live in harmony with everybody else, and to that end, there are right and wrong, there are things which promote that end and that move away from it, and in that way it is possible to choose in certain cases among different courses of action that obviously promote or harm that goal.