Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Heart Has Its Reason and the Reason Has Its Heart: The Insight of Kohlberg and Gilligan in Moral Development and Counseling

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

The Heart Has Its Reason and the Reason Has Its Heart: The Insight of Kohlberg and Gilligan in Moral Development and Counseling

Article excerpt

This paper reflects on the work of Lawrence Kohlberg and Carol Gilligan as a missing chapter in the counseling curricula, and discusses the explanatory power of each theory. The paper illustrates how Kohlberg's theory mirrors the "separate" truth of theories of development, and the alternative truths suggested by Gilligan.

For the last 20 years the author has been teaching and lecturing on the work of Kohlberg and Gilligan at various graduate levels of counseling departments both in her own country and abroad. She was able to observe some commonalties in the state of knowledge of her audiences:

(a) Most of the students treated these scholars as psychologists outside the sphere of counseling.

(b) Most had heard about Kohlberg in an undergraduate course in developmental psychology, and could say that it was he who "who invented these 6 stages". Most recalled learning even less about Gilligan in that course

(c) Very few knew about, or were able to articulate, the theoretical ties between the work of these two scholars.

(d) The most frequent remarks of counselors revolve around two issues: Kohlberg is too much of a philosopher, and Gilligan is too much of a feminist.

But the students are not to blame. These scholars are missing, misrepresented, or misinterpreted for the practising counselor. A 1999 text book, for example, by Peterson and Nisenholz (1999) entitled Orientation to Counseling, devotes half a page to each contributor to counseling. Kohlberg's theory of moral development is presented to the readers with references from 1957 and 1958 and with no indication of how the theory is useful for counselors. Yet it is stated without any explanation that in the 7-(!) stage theory "older males tend to respond at stage 4 and women at stage 3. College students tend to have higher levels of moral judgment. This may be due to their high degree of independence and necessity to resolve many value-laden issues as a result of being in a new environment on their own". In some textbooks, Kohlberg's contribution to counseling is thus summed up by the grim fact that women are not only lower in their moral competence than men but also are not as "independent" as college students, as they probably do not face value-laden issues in their lives (Peterson & Nisenholz, 1999, pp. 326-327). Gilligan is often not given an entry of her own, but just enough space for one summary passage: "Gilligan (1979, 1982) noted that Kohlberg's research involved mainly male subjects and the use of male-dominated stories. She suggests that before accurate generalizations about both sexes can be made, more concern for the reasons women make moral judgment is necessary" (Peterson & Nisenholz, p. 327). It is not clear why Kohlberg has been given more room than Gilligan in an introductory book on counseling. Of the two of them, the latter directed her writings to the mental health clinicians more than did the former, who devoted just two out of the 100 articles he published to this audience (Hayes, 1994). The brief reference to Gilligan stands in inverse proportion to her major influence on theories of human development as well as on counseling. In this paper the author reflects on this missing chapter in the counseling curricula, and argues that "the method employed in the analysis of morality cannot be divorced from the moral truth that the method produces" (Hekman, 1995, pp. 5-6).


As a post Holocaust scholar, Kohlberg was puzzled: if values are relative, do we have the right to judge and condone the Nazi atrocities? Are we all capable of being Nazis in the face of authority, as Stanley Milgram (1974) tried to suggest? Intrigued by the client's quest for justice, and captivated by Piaget's (1932/1965) view of the child as a moral philosopher and the possibility of lawful ontogenetic variations in how moral knowledge is formulated, Kohlberg wondered if various forms of moral knowledge could be appraised along a continuum of adequacy (Lapsley, 1996). …

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