Carol Gilligan's Ethics of Care
Although twentieth-century feminine and feminist approaches to ethics are distinguishable one from the other, they share many ontological and epistemological assumptions. Whether a “feminine” and/or “feminist” thinker is celebrating or critiquing the virtue of care, s/he will tend to believe that the self is an interdependent being rather than an atomistic entity. S/he will also tend to believe that knowledge is "emotional" as well as "rational" and that thoughtful persons reflect on concrete particularities as well as abstract universals. This is certainly true of Carol Gilligan, whose ethics of care is definitely rooted, in "women's. ways" of being and knowing.' The questions that Gilligan poses about the relationship between gender and morality are similar to the ones that Wollstonecraft, Mill, Taylor, Beecher, Stanton, and Gilman posed. Is virtue the same or different in men and women? What is moral virtue, what is nonmoral virtue, and how are the two related? Does society encourage women to cultivate empowering or disempowering feminine psychological traits? What makes a feminine psychological trait either empowering (positive) or disempowering (negative)? Gilligan's answers to these questions are provocative ones. In her first major book, In a Different Voice, Gilligan claimed that on the aver-age, and for a variety of cultural reasons, women tend to espouse an ethics of care that stresses relationships and responsibilities, whereas men tend to espouse an ethics of justice that stresses rules and rights.' Even though Gilligan has qualified her gender-based claims over the years, she has not given them up entirely. In one of her more recent studies involving eighty educationally privileged North American adults and adolescents, two-thirds of the men and women raised considerations of both justice and care. Nevertheless, these men and women tended to focus on one more than the other of these two ethical perspectives. Whereas the women were just as likely to focus on justice as on 80
care, only one man focused on care.3 Thus, for Gilligan, care retains its connection to the "feminine." Our task is to interpret and assess Gilligan's claims and claims like them. "With focus defined as 75 percent or more of the considerations raised pertaining either to justice or to care,"4 it is, after all, puzzling why only one of Gilligan's male subjects focused on care, while several of her female subjects focused on justice. Could it be that men have good reason not to be carers? Is caring always a risky business? Or is it risky only in certain kinds of societies? Specifically, is it dangerous for women and other vulnerable people to espouse an ethics of care in a patriarchal society?
EXPLANATIONS OF GILLIGAN'S ETHICS OF CARE
Gilligan represents her work as a response to the Freudian notion that men have a well-developed moral sense whereas women do not. As Gilligan sees it, Freud condemned women twice. On the basis of what amounted to little more than his own personal reflections, Freud, simply declared that women "show less sense of justice than men ... are less ready to submit to the great exigencies of life, . . . [and] are more often influenced in their judgments by feelings of affection or hostility."' Later Freud underscored his observations by attributing women's supposed moral inferiority to a developmental difference, namely, "the strength and persistence of women's pre-Oedipal attachments to their mothers,"6 attachments that men successfully break. Freud claimed that girls are much slower than boys to develop a sense of themselves as autonomous moral agents personally responsible for the consequences of their actions or inactions. Because the female id (unconscious desires) is supposedly more resistant to society's rules and regulations than is the male id, women are not as "civilized" as men. Freud's account of women's "moral inferiority" is...