Carol Gilligan

Carol Gilligan’s General Ethic of Care

  • Gilligan argues that men and womyn have fundamentally different approaches to making decisions about morality. Gilligan characterizes this difference as lenses.
    Carol Gilligan
    Carol Gilligan
  • Example: two men work for a company that has a strict policy about missed work. Each employee may miss 12 days in a given year before being fired. Roger, a largely ineffective worker who is frequently absent, has just missed his 13th day. Steve, a hard-working, consistent worker, has missed 13 days because he contracted a serious illness. Would it be right to fire both? One? Neither? Your answer to this question probably determines your outlook on justice.
  • Student treatment at the office? Traffic violations?
  • The male approach to morality is that individuals have certain basic rights, and that rights must be respected by others. In other words, morality imposes restrictions on what you can do. (Justice)
  • The female approach to morality is that people have responsibilities towards others. In other words, morality is an imperative to care for others. (Care/Responsibility)
  • Gilligan argues that these differences can best be understood as voices—from a feminine perspective, one is more likely to accept the possibility of options for resolving an ethical dilemma.
  • In making ethical decisions, men tend to look for universal solutions. Womyn tend to look for “tailor-made” solutions focused on care of the individual.

Differences Between Men’s Moral Voices and Womyn’s Moral Voices


  • Justice/Care
  • Rights/Fairness
  • Treating Everyone the Same /Caring About Suffering
  • Impartiality /Preserving Emotional Connections
  • Rules and Abstract Codes of Conduct/ Responsibility towards Individuals

Differences Between Men’s and Women’s View of the Self


  • Autonomy /Relatedness
  • Freedom /Interdependence
  • Independence/ Emotional Connectedness
  • Separateness /Responsive to Needs of Others
  • Hierarchy /Web of Relationships
  • Rules Guide Interactions /Web of Relatedness

Gilligan’s Three Stages of Moral Development

  • Selfish stage—female children start with a selfish orientation
  • Belief in Conventional Morality—they learn to care for others, and that selfishness is wrong. They equate concern with themselves with selfishness
  • Post-Conventional—they learn to understand that it is just as wrong to ignore their own interests as it is to ignore the interests of others.


  • Womyn are less likely to assert their own position, and often assume a subservient role in relationships. In the conventional morality phase, they accept traditional gender roles
  • Men are taught that an orientation about autonomy and selfishness is more acceptable than it is for womyn

Nel Noddings

  • Caring should be the foundation of all ethical decision-making
  • Natural caring comes from a “longing for goodness”
    Nel Noddings
    Nel Noddings
  • Caring should be about receptive attention
  • A caring encounter has three elements, according to Nel Noddings:
    1. A cares for B, that is A’s consciousness is characterized by attention and motivational displacement –and–
    2. A performs some act in accordance with a), and
    3. B recognizes that A cares for B.
  • Important to consider the difference between caring for (a specific case) or caring about (the more general concern about problems)


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