Model of an Annotation

Carol Gilligan

“Concepts of Self and Morality” from In a Different Voice



MoralityThough never explicitly defined by Gilligan, one might infer from her various comments that the “moral” is equated with the “good” and that morality presents a system by which an individual might think through and determine the “best” position to take in situations of conflict (see p. 64-66). As she explains: “The essence of moral decision is the exercise of choice and the willingness to accept responsibility for that choice” (67).

Ethic of Care: Though never clearly defined by Gilligan in the chapter, she does note that “the logic underlying an ethic of care is a psychological logic of relationships, which contrasts with the formal logic of fairness that informs the justice approach” (73) and that within such an ethic “the expression of care is seen as the fulfillment of moral responsibility” (73).

Abortion Decision Study: This study, which forms the basis for Gilligan’s theorizations in the chapter, was “designed to clarify the ways in which women construct and revolve abortion decisions” (71) and “focused on the relation between judgment and action rather than on the issue of abortion per se . . . Thus the findings pertain to the different ways in which women think about dilemma in their lives rather than to the ways in which women in general think about the abortion choice” (72). Further discussion of the details of how the study was conducted are found on p. 71-72. As she explains, the study of women’s moral reasoning when considering an abortion is particularly telling because the then-newfound legality of abortion had introduced the moral issues of choice and responsibility into “the most private sector of the woman’s domain” (68) and engendered a space in which “woman have the power to choose and thus are willing to speak in their own voice” morally (70).


Key Themes/Passages:

a) Critique of the Patriarchal Bias of “Justice” based theories of morality and moral development

Gilligan notes that Kohlberg’s earlier studies of moral development used all-male participants in order to formulate standards and that “as long as the categories by which development is assessed are derived from research on men, divergence from the masculine standard can be seen only as a failure of development. As a result, the thinking of women is often classified with that of children” (69-70). Based on her research with women, however, Gilligan suggests that in light of women’s newfound abilities of choice in the wake of Roe v. Wade, a distinct “voice” of women’s moral reasoning is increasingly apparent if one only actually “listens” for it and recognizes it not as inferior but as different. In that “voice” there is a “construction of the moral problem as a problem of care and responsibility in relationships rather than as one of rights and rules” (73). More specifically, she notes:”the moral imperatives that emerges repeatedly in interviews with women is an injunction to care, a responsibility to discern and alleviate the “real and recognizable trouble” of this world. For men, the moral imperative appears rather as an injunction to respect the rights of others and thus to protect from interference the rights to life and self-fulfillment” (100).


b) Correspondingly Divergent Models of Moral Development

Building on the work of Piaget, Kohlberg suggested a model of moral development in which on the way to achieving a fully realized sense of morality one passes through three stages:

Preconventional: the initial stage in which one is inherently “egocentric and derives moral constructs from individual needs” (73)

Conventional: a secondary stage that results from an understanding of “the equation of the right or good with the maintenance of existing social norms and values” (73)

Postcoventional: In which an individual ultimately “adopts a reflective perspective on societal values and constructs moral principles that are universal in application” (73)

In response to this model of moral development, which she argued is based on an implicitly gendered notion of justice-based morality, Gilligan offers an alternative model of moral development based on the results of her abortion decision study, because as she notes: “to admit the truth of the women’s perspective to the conception of moral development is to recognize for both sexes the importance throughout life of the connection between self and other, the universality of the need for compassion and care” (98). In this alternative model of moral development, one progresses towards realizing an “ethic of care” rather than universal principles of justice through an alternative set of three stages:

Caring for the Self: the initial stage in which one’s only goal is “to ensure survival” (74).

Responsibility and Development of Maternal Morality: a secondary stage premised on an “understanding of the connection between self and others” and the responsibility that understanding entails – as well as one’s former selfishness- this stage culminates in what Gilligan designates as the generation of a “maternal” desire “to ensure care for the dependent and unequal” (74).

Recognition of Interdependency: In fully recognizing the notion of interdependency, one comes to see that: “in order to be able to care for another, one must first be able to care responsibly for oneself” and thus reimagines their “moral obligation” to include themselves (76)