Moral Development Essay Research Paper 1IntroductionCarol Gilligan

Moral Development Essay, Research Paper 1.Introduction. Carol Gilligan (1982) sparked a heated academic debate with her popular book In a different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. In this book Gilligan departs from the traditional sequential stage modals advocated by luminary psychologists such as Piaget (1925) and Kohlberg (1969) and develops her own moral orientation model.

Moral Development Essay, Research Paper


Carol Gilligan (1982) sparked a heated academic debate with her popular book In a different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. In this book Gilligan departs from the traditional sequential stage modals advocated by luminary psychologists such as Piaget (1925) and Kohlberg (1969) and develops her own moral orientation model. Gilligan criticises these theories as she claims they are insensitive to females ‘different voice’ on morality and therefore result in women achieving lower stages, thereby labelling them morally inferior to men.

Gilligan (1982; also see Langdale’ 1986; Lyons, 1983; and Noddings, 1984) proposed that male and females hold different life orientations, with particular emphasis on their moral belief structure. According to Walker et al., (1987) a moral orientation ‘represents a conceptually distinctive framework or perspective for organising and understanding the moral domain’ (p.844). Gilligan’s moral orientation model states that males typically have a justice/rights orientation and females have a care/response orientation. For the purposes of this study a justice/rights orientation and a care/response orientation is operationalised according to the definitions utilised in Brown et al’s. (1990) Reading Narratives of Conflict and Choice for Self and Moral Voices: A Relational Method. A care voice is defined by Brown et al. (1990) as describing ‘relationships in term s of attachment/detachment, connection or disconnection.’ (p.30.). A justice voice is defined as describing ‘ relationships in terms of inequality/equality, reciprocity or lack of respect’ (p.30.).

Gilligan believes that males typically have a justice/rights orientation because of their individualistic and separate conception of the self, their detached objectivity, their basing of identity on occupation and their tendency to gravitate towards applying abstract and impartial principles to situations. Therefore in her theory she claims that males view morality as involving issues of conflicting rights. The other side of Gilligan’s dichotomy believes that females have a typically care/response orientation because of their perception of the self as connected to and interdependent with others, their basing of identity on close personal relationships, their sensitivity not to endanger or hurt, their concern for welfare and care of others and for harmonious relationships in concrete situations. Thus, Gilligan believes that females view morality as involving issues of conflicting responsibilities. (Walker, 1990).

Table 1. presents an example of both a justice and a care orientation. The examples are adapted form Gilligan and Anttanucci’s, (1990) article entitled Two Moral Orientations. These examples are drawn from discussions of real life moral dilemmas. In 1J a peer pressure dilemma is presented in terms of how to maintain one’s moral standards and withstand pressure from one’s peers to deviate from what one knows is right. In 1C a similar decision ( not to smoke) is put in terms of how to respond both to one’s friends and oneself; the rightness of the decision not to smoke is substantiated by the fact that it did not ruin any relationships. Attention to one’s friends, to what they say and how it will affect the relationship is portrayed as a moral concern.

Table 1.

Justice. Care.

1J [If people were taking drugs and I was 1c [ If there was one person, it would be a

the only one who wasn’t. I would feel it a lot easier to say no. I could talk to her,

was stupid. I know for me what is right as there wouldn’t be seven others to think

is right and what’s wrong is wrong…It’s about. I do think about them you know,

like a set of standards I have.] and wonder what they say about me and

what will it mean…I made the right

decision not to, because my real friends

accepted my decision.]

Adapted from Gilligan and Antunucci (1990) Two Moral orientations in Mapping the Moral Domain p.75.

Keefer and Olson (1995) are of the opinion that gender differences in moral orientations are due to women’s propensity to present dilemmas of a relational nature and men have the proclivity to relate dilemmas of a more impersonal nature. They claim that may ‘ indeed focus on different “content” but the modes of thought used in planning action and in justifying courses of action may be the same as men.’ (p.2.)

The research presented here aims to :

1. Investigate if there are any sex-related differences in the moral orientations of members of the Irish Defence Forces and the American Defence Forces.

2. Investigate whether or not males and females have a tendency to present dilemmas with different content and if, so does it possibly account for the difference found if any in their orientations?

To conduct this investigation, 4 members of the Irish Defence Forces (2male, 2 female) were interviewed by the researcher and asked to discuss a real-life personal dilemma and a further three members of the American Defence Forces were recruited via an Internet military website and were interviewed asynchronously through email. Real –life dilemmas were chosen to be discussed as;

1. Hypothetical dilemmas may obscure moral orientations because the researcher has preconstructed the moral problem unlike real-life dilemmas where the participant constructs the problem as well as evaluates it’s resolution. (Gilligan et al.,1982).

2. Real-life dilemmas were also chosen to investigate Keefer and Olson’s (1995) claim.

The interviews were then analysed using Brown et al’s., (1990) Reading Guide proposed in their article Reading Narratives of Conflict and Choice for Self and Moral Voices: A Relational Method.

2.Literature Review.

Gilligans’s claims in her 1982 book In a different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. has received heavy criticism from a number of researchers over the years. Walker et al. (1987) challenge the empirical validity of her theory. They criticize her use of anecdotal data and her original (1977) study, which was limited to female participants and a single context dilemma (i.e. abortion). Nails (1983) also reproaches Gilligan for her selective and biased analysis of data. Oser and Alhof (1994) write that Gilligan’s empirical approach lacks the necessary ‘theoretical foundation as well as philosophical stringency’ (Cited in Luedecke et al., 1998, p.605)

Ford and Lowery (1986) conducted a study in which undergraduate college students were asked to describe a moral conflict, read a paragraph outlining the care/justice orientations and then asked to rate the extent to which they had used these orientation in thinking about their chosen conflict. Results of this study did show that men and women have a tendency to differ in the predicted directions in the use of justice and care, but these differences were very small and statistically insignificant.

Nunner-Winkler (1994) reviews a number of studies (130). Most studies found no gender differences and when differences were present, they were confounded with a number of other main effect variables (e.g. level of education and occupation). Research by Walker, (1989) and Walker et al., (1987) in a sample of participants which ages ranging from 5-63 years found sex-related differences only in adults in real-life generated dilemmas. Thus providing evidence for Keefer and Olson’s (1995) claims that women tend to present dilemmas of a more relational nature.

Lyons’s (1983) study shows strong support for Gilligan’s hypothesis however. Lyons (1983) conducted open-ended interviews on 36 participants (18 male, 18 female) ranging from the ages 8-60+ and asked them to discuss a personal real-life moral dilemma that they had faced. Results showed that the care consideration was predominant for 75% of females and that the justice orientation was predominant for 79% of males. Pratt (1985) replicated this pattern in his study of 62 participants. He found that 53.6% of women held a predominantly care orientation and 73.5% of men showed a rights consideration.

Gilligan (1986,a, p.10) claims that most people ’focus on one orientation and minimally represent the others.’ This claim however has little empirical evidence to support it. To this test single orientation consistency Walker (1989) adopted an arbitrary criterion of 75% (Same as the criterion adopted by Gilligan and Anttanucci, (1988b)) , his results show that approximately 50% of participants met this criterion when examining a single real-life dilemma. Gilligan and Anttanucci, (1988b) reprted that only 66.3% met this criterion. Pratt, Golding and Sampson (1988) found only 60% of participants used the same modal orientation when asked to discuss two real-life moral dilemmas. Whilst Gilligan’s claim of single modal orientation consistency may not be strongly supported what is evident from the research is that both care and justice orientations exist. Whether these reasons are due to gender differences or not is debatable.

Lollis, Ross and Leroux (1996) found that in dialogues between parents and children during sibling sharing disputes mothers tended to make more comments regarding caring and feeling, whereas fathers made more comments about justice and rights. Comments were made regardless of the sex of the child. Is this perhaps an explanation of where these orientations develop?

Lugt-Tappeser and Junger (1994) designed a study which had six dilemma stories which were dichotomized into ‘abstract’ (regarding value conflicts) and ‘concrete-interpersonal’ ( regarding the conflicting wishes of two people). They found that men and women’s judgment in the professional field were on the same level, while in a family context the female subject voiced a more care orientation. (One of two t-tests however was not significant). In a neutral context significant gender differences were observed. Luedecke et al., (1998) suggest that perhaps a ’different voice’ is perhaps an inaccurate term and a more suitable view would be to see differences in moral orientation as a result of a ‘different role’ for they argue that as long society holds gender specific role orientations, gender differences will be found. These two studies are interesting in terms of the research in question here. Will female soldiers have a more justice-orientated view if they present dilemmas regarding work? Will female soldiers have a more male justice-orientated view due to the intense training and male dominated environment in which they are working in? Do gender specific roles exist in an army environment?