Women and Moral Theory

Women and Moral Theory

Women and Moral Theory

Women and Moral Theory

Excerpt

In recent years, we have seen major advances in moral and political philosophy. John Rawls published his comprehensive, seminal work, A Theory of Justice, and numerous thinkers have grappled with urgent social issues. Coinciding with this renaissance has been another important development in the treatment of social and ethical issues—the growth of feminist theory. Feminist research has posed a challenge to both traditional and contemporary assumptions underlying moral theory. In particular, Carol Gilligan's psychological work on moral development purports to offer empirical evidence that undercuts standard assumptions about moral autonomy, moral principles, and the universality of moral doctrines. The essays in this book explore the potential of this recent feminist research to redirect and enhance moral theory.

These articles were largely created for or inspired by the conference on Women and Moral Theory, held at The State University of New York, Stony Brook, in March 1985. In formulating the issue to be addressed at the conference, we relied on Carol Gilligan's thesis that women undergo a moral development distinct from but parallel to that of men. In her articles and in her book, In a Different Voice, Gilligan has distinguished a morality of rights and formal reasoning, which she now labels the "justice perspective," from a morality of care and responsibility, the "care perspective." The morality of rights and formal reasoning is the one familiar to us from the liberal tradition of Locke, Kant, and, most recently, Rawls. It posits an autonomous moral agent who discovers and applies a set of fundamental rules through the use of universal and abstract reason. The morality of care and responsibility is an alternate set of moral concerns that Gilligan believes she has encountered in her investigation of women's moral decision-making. Here, the central preoccupation is a responsiveness to others that dictates providing care, preventing harm, and maintaining relationships. Gilligan believes that what we have here are two distinct domains of moral concern empirically linked to a gender difference. She suggests that the former moral system typically dominates the moral development of men, which Lawrence Kohlberg has outlined, whereas the latter is found predominantly in the moral development of women, which she describes. In privileging the justice perspective, Kohlberg's approach to moral development comports with recent moral and political philosophy in which the moral domain uncovered by Gilligan's research on women has largely been eclipsed. The fact that . . .

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