Presentation on theme: "The Ethic of Care. Carol Gilligan Gilligan's In a Different Voice challenges the male-centered psychology of Freud, Erickson, and Kohlberg. Not only do."— Presentation transcript:
The Ethic of Care
Carol Gilligan Gilligan's In a Different Voice challenges the male-centered psychology of Freud, Erickson, and Kohlberg. Not only do they leave women out of their research but, she argues, they fail to theorize half of the human race. Her account of moral development in women offers a corrective to this situation.
Based upon interviews with women Gilligan concluded females were more concerned about relationships and the caring thing to do than solving abstract questions about justice. This was reflected in women’s lower scores on Kohlberg’s developmental scale, but should not be read as evidence of lesser cognitive power.
The same problem existed in the psychoanalytic account of female development offered by Erickson. Females should not be judged inferior because they stayed attached to their mothers longer than boys. Their socialization was simply different: where boyhood focused on separation girlhood focused on connectedness. The former strengthened the ethics of justice; the later strengthened the ethic of care.
Originally blind to the role of gender, Gilligan had planned to study the development of moral responsibility. She wanted to know the role played by the “I” in the ethical question “What ought I to do in this situation?” Her subject was to be the conflicts related to service in the Vietnam War. But when Nixon abolished the draft in 1973, she turned to the other pressing concern of the day, the Roe v Wade decision granting women the right to an abortion.
Listening to women struggle with the problem of whether or not to get an abortion she was “struck over and over again” by the way tried to balance questions of “selfishness and selflessness” in their decision. They would describe what they wanted to do as selfish, and what others wanted them to do as good. None could explain why it was wrong to listen to their own needs.
Retaining Kohlberg’s pre- conventional, conventional, and post conventional levels of morality she arrived at three levels of moral judgment. The moral agent at Stage I overemphasizes her own interests Stage II overemphasizes others’ interests Stage III strikes a balance between her own and others’ interests
In addition, drawing upon psychoanalysis, Gilligan explains the transitions between these levels in terms of changes in the sense of self rather than changes in cognitive ability.
Indeed, in Mapping the Moral Domain she suggests that the ideal moral thinker might be more inclined to an ethics of care than an ethics of justice and that girls growing into women who put other people first (as opposed to boys who grow into men who put themselves first) “is not a sign of women’s moral inferiority but of women’s moral depth.”
This raises the common assumption that has followed superficial readings of Gilligan’s work—is she advocating biological essentialism? Does she regard men’s view of justice and women’s notion of caring as biologically determined?
She makes a pivotal distinction to clarify this issue. A distinction that is fundamental to a coherent understanding of care ethics.
“Within a patriarchal framework, care is a feminine ethic; within a democratic framework, care is a human ethic.”
She continues, “a thin interpretation of democracy homogenizes difference in the name of equality, whereas thick democracy rests on the promise that different voices are integral to the vitality of a democratic society.” Care and caring are not woman’s issues, they are human concerns. Until this is made explicit the gendered nature of care v justice debate will continue to be misunderstood.
Concerns about fairness and rights intersect with concerns about care and responsibility. Among the moral injunctions we will find both do not harm and do not abandon the other. This she adds includes oneself.
Her critique of the patriarchal system is telling. It aligns manhood with cold and calculating judgment, womanhood with the emotions. But it is plain nonsense to think women cannot reason and men cannot feel. Both are essential human abilities.
The different voice Gilligan wants to hear comes from the alignment of reason and emotion, self and other. She is not just asking for care in addition to justice; she wants care with justice. Rejecting gendered binaries, she wants a world in which everyone has a voice and everyone listens with respect.
According to Gilligan, care and justice are evident in young children’s voices; they seek equal treatment but fear abandonment. But through the patterns of boyhood care is soon extinguished.
Shame and disgrace are used to pressure boys and girls into distinct social patterns. It happens first with boys around 7 or 8; then in early adolescence with girls. In these ways structures of patriarchy become internalized in our very psychological fabric: as part of our nature.
Mapping these features of youth and adolescent development became the main focus of Gilligan’s later scholarly work.
The Maternal Instinct As Gilligan criticized Kohlberg for not examining women’s ways of knowing, so Nell Noddings cites evolutionary psychologists for failing to examine the female experience in their investigation of moral sentiments. In contrast to Gilligan’s psychoanalytic perspective, she argues that care ethics can be traced to a maternal instinct.
Would it be surprising that after thousands of generations of caregiving, some traits— including sensitiveness to the needs of others, openness to subordination, lack of physical and spatial knowledge, perhaps abstract reasoning— should be inherited?
Surveys constantly reveal that women are more concerned about social conditions and care within the community. They also perform weaker on math and science tests. Of course social learning clouds these patterns, but Noddings argues that striking male/female distinctions seem pervasive across many social communities.
Perhaps we can compensate for these female disadvantages. Equally, Noddings claims, we may be able to nullify the destructive tendencies of male aggression and violence.
If women can become as successful as men in the professional world, can men not become as compassionate and caring as women in the social? An equally important question for Noddings is why male traits are valued more than female traits?
The Evolution of Morality Noddings grounds her account of the maternal instinct in evolutionary psychology. It is undeniable that women, and females of other species, are born with a maternal instinct: an innate desire to care for offspring.
In caring for an infant a mother has to read its needs and be sensitive to its comfort. They must employ empathy, the ability to understand and sympathize with the experience of another. Traditionally, empathy meant understanding another’s situation; sympathy meant to share their feelings.
However, in care ethics empathy is used to describe the process of receiving the messages of others—not projecting ourselves into their place as justice theory demands. And this involves both emotional and intellectual skills.
Evolutionary psychologists offer explanations about sexual selection that picture women choosing males for their ability to protect her and the young. Conversely, men are said to bond with women in order to ensure ready sex.
For Noddings such contracts are insufficient to explain empathy. She argues that women also had to read men and provide for their needs in order to ensure continued protection. While this expanded the power of empathy, it also contributed to subservience and a willingness to be dominated.
Do these biological traits mean that women should embrace such roles? Noddings thinks not. But she does believe that maternal instincts can be the foundation of a caring and just society.
Noddings follows Alistair McIntyre in arguing that morality has to be understood as part of a social tradition. It cannot be reduced to biological instincts. McIntyre claims that philosophers have mistakenly left the specifics of a situation in the search for abstract universal principles of conduct.
Against McIntyre she asks where these traditions and practices come from? She notes that most of the cultural forms he points to are the products of the male experience—not the traditions of women and family. She also criticizes the role of institutionalized religion whose traditions, she claims, have been highly damaging to the lives of women. Noddings seeks spirituality outside of the Church and also points to caring relations as the basic fabric out of which all human values must emerge— even our sense of justice.
Noddings argues that we should not depart from the fundamental context of social life. But instead of focusing on the traditions, customs, and practices of a culture, she starts with what she terms natural caring. This socially rich set of relationships comprises a communal set of bonds that promote people to consider and respond to one another’s needs and feelings. Social rules and laws then emerge as a way to expand this original community of natural caring.
To demonstrate how moral theorists have neglected this bedrock experience in their search for moral principles she targets the Trolley Problem and the kind of reasoning it promotes.
As Gilligan argued against the Heintz story, Noddings sees such abstract dilemmas as mathematical games that force participants into false choices. The most obvious reaction, especially among women, is to reject the whole scenario.
They want a different puzzle. Women seek ways to protect the individuals involved and avoid harm. Such experiments are no more than distractions from the real problems of social life, which center on caring for one another.
Noddings’ inquiry into natural caring rests upon some important conceptual distinctions. Understanding these distinctions is essential if we are to correctly situate her argument.
Is caring a moral concept? Kant thought not. He argued that care has to do with feelings that make us happy, not the imperatives of reason. It is only when an agent submits to a moral principle that their act can be considered moral.
Kant believed that women were naturally inclined toward the good and the beautiful. They did not need to draw upon the obligation of duty in order to do right; such actions came spontaneously. As such their behavior had no moral standing in his terms.
While there is great power in Kant’s moral theory—especially for the defense of social justice at the heart of the modern democratic state—philosophers have been reluctant to eliminate feelings from the moral equation. But emotions play a part, alongside reason in our judgments. The ethic of care needs to be reconciled with the ethic of justice. For Noddings Kant’s theory is a one-sided rational abstraction, removed from the animal basis of life. All thought and action must be grounded in the emotional life generated by human relationships.
Is caring a distinctively female trait? Those who maintain it is are often labeled essentialists. Noddings clearly embraces the notion of feminine traits; without them we could not have social (or biological) life! But she is sensitive to the feminist critique of efforts to separate abilities by sex. After all this argument has been the key historical justification for assigning women to inferior roles in society. Her position is complex.
While she talks of innate differences she also points to the powerful role culture plays in shaping behavior and even suggests that the brain itself is still evolving. Thus, while accepting that characteristics and tendencies exist we can avoid an overly deterministic view; through enculturation we can reflect upon and change our nature in progressive ways. Perhaps it could be put this way. While there are biological differences between men and women, we are not so different that we cannot come together under a common ethic of care and justice.
Evolutionary theory points to two mechanisms of selection. Natural selection, that shapes species traits, and sexual selection that shapes differences between mean and women. On this account relevant differences between men and women Species selection typically looks traits such as kinship bonds and reciprocity— that generates considerations of welfare, rights, and justice. The secondary claim is that sexual attraction may explain mate choice based upon traits related to parenting abilities and partnership. These characteristics then produce emotions related to caring and even what Noddings characterizes as the unfortunate feeling of dependence women have toward men.
Importantly, she argues that the concept of caring need not imprison women, limiting their strong spheres of opportunity; it can in fact empowered them. To this end she distinguishes “care” from “caregiving.” The later involves a moral relationship within a form of labor that may or may or may not involve caring-for. We will return to this important distinction later.
Noddings then does not think that care ethics is the only moral theory. It cannot answer all moral questions. But she does believe it is fundamental. She would also say it is foundational in the sense that other ethical theories can be built upon it.
This is the basis of her attack on rights-based theories. Care ethics suggests that human needs are primary. Out of these people grant each other rights and take them away. In this she agrees with Bentham who famously called the doctrine of rights “nonsense on stilts.”
Against Rawls and other contractualists she denies that individuals exist before society, and that morals can be understood as rationally agreed conventions to promote self-interest. Justice cannot be reduced to rational choice theory. Individuality is only possible within a community: humans are social animals who have always lived in groups. We need to understand that individuality emerges from certain kinds of community constructed relations. And this, Noddings concludes, implies a sense of care is foundational for justice.
Noddings also points out that care ethics is less concerned with moral judgments than it is with a moral life—with what proceeds and follows our decisions. The most important thing is to maintain caring relationships when some act causes pain.
Is caring a virtue, or a religious duty? Some have argued that caring is a virtue, a feature of an individual’s personality. Nel is such a caring person. While Noddings argued that they have much in common, indeed that a caring person is virtuous, she nonetheless sees important distinctions between the two approaches to ethics. Virtues are individualistic attributes: Caring is a primary relation between people. It is a set of social relations that constitute the basis of life: character develops out of this nexus.
Her goal is to broaden this natural order into a civic ethic that will help human life and society flourish. As for spiritual calls to service Noddings has little time for organized religions and the revengeful male gods that dominate them.
Let me use her words: Why do so many people believe in a male deity—”God the father?” What evidence is there for God’s goodness? Would and all- good God liberate his favored people by killing all the first-born of their captors? Would an all-good God permit anyone to suffer in hell for eternity? It will be a day fo genuine liberation when women insist upon an apology from the religious authority that has so oppressed them, If the apology is not forthcoming, they should reject institutional religion on and feel comfortable in devoting their caring to life on a for this earth.
In the next lecture I will look more closely at Nodding’s analysis of caring and discuss her arguments for the development of a caring society. I will also consider the status of caregiving and its place in gendered professions such as teaching and nursing.