Moral Selves and Other Women Reflections on some Feminist

By Lois Bradley,2014-05-12 07:24
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Moral Selves and Other Women Reflections on some Feminist

James Gordon Finlayson University of Sussex Draft Only

    Moral Selves and Other Women:

    Discourse Ethics and Feminist Social Criticism

    Que nous veulent les lois du juste et de l‟injuste? Baudelaire

    γυμνωτέος δη πάντων πλην δικαιοσυνύνης… Plato

Gilligan and Sandel

    1. 1982 saw the publication of Carol Gilligan‟s In a Different Voice and Michael

    Sandel‟s Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, each of which exploded onto the academic

    1scene and came to exert an extraordinary hold on political and social theory. Though

    they came out of different disciplines Gilligan‟s book, a critique of Lawrence

    Kohlberg‟s theory of moral development, is a work of developmental psychology, whilst Sandel‟s, a communitarian critique of John Rawls‟s A Theory of Justice [1972], is a work of

    political philosophy both apparently took aim at the same targets, namely at a certain a Kantian conception of the moral standpoint and a related notion of the moral self. Having these common targets enabled feminist social theorists building on Gilligan‟s

    2work to form a formidable alliance with communitarian political philosophers. The

    alliance was fortified by the assumption (made independently by both Gilligan and Sandel) that Kantian moral theory and liberal political philosophy are consanguine. Gilligan inherits this assumption from Kohlberg‟s moral psychology. Kohlberg worked

    in the tradition of the genetic structuralism of Jean Piaget, whose work, The Moral

    Judgment of the Child [1932], was significantly influenced by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kohlberg was a professor at Harvard and a colleague of Rawls‟s. Whilst Rawls had

    emphasised the Kantian and constructivist credentials of his theory of justice primarily in order to distinguish it from utilitarianism and certain kinds of moral realism, many, including Kohlberg, were led to believe that the theory of justice as fairness was a

    3deontological ethics à la Kant. Kohlberg thus happily ranked Rawls‟s theory of justice at

    4Stage 6, along with Kant‟s ethics and the Golden Rule. He argued that these theories

    satisfied these certain internal formal criteria of adequacy of Kohlberg‟s Stage 6, namely

    prescriptivity, universalizability, reversibility and primacy, better than the welfarist, contractual

    and utilitarian theories which he located at Stage 5 to the consternation of their


James Gordon Finlayson University of Sussex Draft Only

    5 Indeed, he maintained that Rawls‟s idea of choosing principles of justice proponents.

    behind a veil of ignorance in the original position met the criteria of universalizability and reversibility better than the categorical imperative, and that it was therefore cognitively

    6and philosophically the most adequate form of moral reasoning. So even though Rawls

    used the term „justice‟ in a narrow, specifically distributive sense, and even though he restricted its scope to the questions pertaining to the basic institutions of society,

    7Kohlberg took justice as fairness to be a general theory of right conduct. Gilligan

    8followed Kohlberg in this, and so did many feminists inspired by her work. For his part,

    Sandel (no doubt influenced by Rawls‟s keenness to play up the Kantian credentials of

    his theory) claimed that Rawls‟s liberalism was founded on, and hence consanguine with,

    Kant‟s “deontological ethic”. He infers from this that arguments aimed at Rawls‟s

    deontological liberalism can do double service as argument against Kant‟s moral theory and

    9vice versa.

2. According to Gilligan the empirical evidence thrown up by Kohlberg‟s

    experiments suggested that women were less likely to reach the higher stages of moral development (5 and 6), which Kohlberg called the “Postconventional, Autonomous or

    Principled Level”, and more likely to remain at the “Conventional Level”, clustering

    10around stage 3, where he situated approval seeking, “good boy/nice girl” behaviour.

    However, instead of inferring from the data that these women had failed to develop into fully mature moral beings (like Kohlberg), Gilligan asked whether it indicated that there

    11was something awry with Kohlberg‟s model. She began to notice that women had a

    recognisably different way of approaching moral problems to men; one that accentuated care, sensitivity to and responsibility for others rather than rights and duties; one that

    12emphasised relationships and interconnections rather than separation and individuality.

    She concluded that in moral matters women had a “different voice” to men and that

    Kohlberg‟s six stage theory of moral development was skewed towards male

    13development. Kohlberg‟s Stage 6 morality – the Kantian-Rawlsian conception of the

    moral standpoint that privileges rights and duties may represent the highest stage of

    male development, but not, she claimed, the highest stage of child development. Women

    appear to develop along different lines and though their moral reasoning might seem less adequate judged by the formal criteria of universalisability and reversibility, in other respects, such as the awareness of the complexity of moral situations, it seemed more adequate. Gilligan concludes by suggesting that her study of women‟s experience and of


James Gordon Finlayson University of Sussex Draft Only

    what she calls the “ethic of care” has helped to expand “the concept of identity” to include “the experience of interconnection” and to enlarge “the moral domain” (at the post-conventional level - GF) to include the aspects of responsibility and care in

    14 relationships.

3. Gilligan‟s In a Different Voice is a profound, original and suggestive study but its

    15conclusions are not very clear. What did the thesis that women have a different voice mean?

    It meant at least that when faced with moral dilemmas women sought different solutions to men, that they had a different order of priorities, that they were sensitive to different evidence and to features of situations especially their complexities - often ignored by

    16men, and that for these reasons they had “alternative conception of maturity”. It also

    implied that they had an alternative conception of the moral standpoint, conceived not as a hierarchy of ever more general principles, but as an interconnected web of substantive

    17reason-giving considerations, the force and relevance of which are context dependent.

     Gilligan Kohlberg

     Women Men

    Stage 6 6. Universal Ethical Principles.

     5. Prior Rights and Social Contract or Stage 5 Utility.

    4. Social system and conscience Stage 4 Maintenance

    3. Mutual Interpersonal Expectations, Stage 3

    Relationships and conformity.

    Stage 2 2. Individual Intstrumental Purpose


    Stage 1 1. Punishment and Obedience

    What follows from all this, if it is correct? Gilligan oscillates between two different conclusions. She sometimes suggests that women and men have fundamentally different and incompatible ways of moral reasoning in a later essay she explicitly argues that

    what she calls an “ethic of care” is “fundamentally incompatible” with an “ethic of

    18justice”. (This conclusion, however, outruns the slender basis of empirical evidence she


James Gordon Finlayson University of Sussex Draft Only

    19) At other times, she argues that they are complementary presents in In a Different Voice.

    post-conventional moral outlooks and that the Kohlbergian model needs to be adjusted

    20if it is to adequately account for women‟s as well as men‟s moral experiences. There is a

    further ambiguity in Gilligan‟s work. Is she merely arguing that Kohlberg‟s model of

    post-conventional morality is incorrect, because not sufficiently inclusive (of women‟s voices), and that his moral phenomenology is incomplete? Or is she making the deeper normative criticism that moral selves who only think in terms of rights and duties are somehow deficient? Is the upshot of her critique that there is something wrong with moral theory, or is it that there is something wrong with actually existing Stage 6 moralities?

    4. Gilligan‟s dispute with Kohlberg is in the first instance a dispute within the theory of moral development, and is best understood as a correction of the latter‟s model of moral development. Gilligan‟s hypothesis is that there exists a complementary path of moral development for women (see 3. above). If true, this view raises some tricky

    21questions for deontological normative ethical theory. 1. Is care a genuinely moral

    concept? 2. Is the ethic of care a rival to an ethic of justice, i.e., are they competing and incompatible conceptions of what morality is? Or is the ethic of care complementary to

     the ethic of justice?3. Is care particularistic and personal (unlike justice) or impartial and universalisable (like justice)? 4. How do considerations of care relate to the kind of impartial and universalisable concerns that, on Kohlberg‟s schema, characterise Stage 6

    2223morality. Which is prior, if any, justice or care?

     24 4.1 Vieles wäre/Zu sagen davon as Hölderlin once wrote. One thing that may be

    said is this: the idea that the relation between care and justice is a salient question, makes

    sense only if, like Kohlberg, Gilligan and Sandel, one assumes that „justice‟ is roughly

    equivalent with the general notion of moral right and wrong. It cannot be Rawls narrow

    sense of distributive justice that is at issue here. Another pertinent point is that even if we grant this (mistaken) assumption, answering such questions is difficult in the absence of any further specification of the concept of care. For example, it is nearly always assumed

    regarding activity, but the activity of caring can be, and that caring is an exclusively other

    often is, self-regarding. There is nothing essentially altruistic about care. Care of the self as much as care of others has since ancient times been considered as a peculiarly

    25feminine activity. Morality and justice in the Kantian and liberal traditions, by contrast,


James Gordon Finlayson