Key issues in the ‘Kohlberg–Gilligan conflict’ and reasons why Gilligan criticized Kohlberg.
Kohlberg’s research is based on the cognitive development theory in psychology adopting a functional perspective on ethical behaviour which assumes that:
Individual behaviour is directed by moral beliefs.
Moral beliefs enable individuals to understand and evaluate the behaviour of others.
18 year study of 50 US males from 10 to 28 years. Kohlberg concluded that moral beliefs are obtained in a rational way. There are three levels of moral development with two stages at each level.
Level & Stage
Level I: The preconventional
Stage 1 reaction to punishment stage
Stage 2 reward seeking stage
Level II: The conventional stage
Stage 1 ‘good boy/nice girl’ morality stage
Stage 2 The law and order stage
Level III: The post conventional, Autonomous or principled level
Stage 1 contract and individual rights
Stage 2 rational defence of moral actions stage
Level 1: preconventional stage. Individuals are unable fully to understand how rules define and constrain the behaviour of others- a stage of self-interest. At stage 2 the importance of cooperation and reciprocity are grasped.
Level 2: conventional level. Individuals learn how institutions, such as family or government, apply rules to bind individuals into cohesive groups. At Stage 1 right acts comply with rules that enhance the good of the group and receive approval from those in authority. At Stage 2 the individual’s moral orientation extends beyond the immediate small group to focus on a larger institution such as a country.
Level 3: Individuals are able to accept or reject wider universal moral standards and their impartiality, common to Stages 1 and 2, is replaced by a moral detachment that regards all human beings of equal value.
At Stage 1, right acts and policies that enhance the well-being of those affected in an equitable way ma also be distinguished, as the individual recognises that all institutions can behave unjustly and loyalty to rules and groups is conditional on a respect for human beings being maintained.
At Stage 2, the individual rejects the good of all as a moral standard, in favour of right acts that respect the rights of human dignity, as previously held loyalty to laws and groups are rejected. Kohlberg accepted that not all individuals achieve all three levels of moral development.
Care based moral development
Kohlberg’s model has been challenged by Carol Gilligan, who found three levels of moral reasoning based on care. Kohlberg failed to shoe how women take moral decisions. A care perspective emphasises personal relationships, responsibility and care. This is against the Kohlberg model which interprets morality development in terms of individuality, rules and rights. Gilligan says women place more emphasis on relationships, caring roles and responsibility for others. Males are more influenced by principles of justice, abstract rules and a need to adopt an ‘impartial’ viewpoint.
Level 1 differences. Self-interest is understood differently. Kohlberg identified institutions and rules to advance self interest. Gilligan found self interest led to relationships that ward off loneliness and offer the prospect of friendship.
Level 2 differences. Individuals in both studies relied on institutions to define right and wrong moral behaviour. With Gilligan the emphasis was on how institutions structured relations amongst members: Kohlberg’s group were concerned with rights and duties.
Level 3 differences. Women, in the emphasis on care, sometimes neglected their own interests. Non violence and compassion were regarded as universal standards while Kohlberg took fairness, justice and the good of all as universal standards.
McEwan, (2001) Managing Values and Beliefs in Organisations, Harlow FT/Prentice Hall, pages 28 to 30
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