The Different Voice
Gilligan’s claims about a different moral voice have changed over the last decade in response to critics and as a result of the further development of her own research. I want to highlight two aspects of this change: the empirical, which includes the evidence for the different voice and the issue of developmental stages, and the theoretical, which centers on the conceptual use of the terms justice and care. From an empirical perspective, Gilligan’s early stage sequence was frustratingly ambiguous. The origin of these stages in the deliberations of women troubled over an abortion decision lent them a degree of particularity that made comparison with Kohlberg difficult and hindered generalization beyond Gilligan’s original sample. It was not clear how these stages would play themselves out in women who personally do not have to face the experience of abortion. Now, this argument corresponds with Gilligan’s later assessment of her stage sequence. She writes:
The development sequence I had traced … did not jibe with my observations of younger girls. In short, the sequence that I had traced by following the adolescent girls and adult women through time and through crisis did not seem to be rooted in childhood. Instead, it seemed a response to a crisis, and the crisis seemed to be adolescence. Adolescence poses problems of connection for girls coming of age in Western culture, and girls are tempted or encouraged to solve these problems by excluding themselves or excluding others—that is, by being a good woman, or by being selfish.10
Rather than indicating an alternative notion of morality with its own developmental logic, the moral issues revealed in In a Different Voice reflect the particular problems women face in dealing with issues which force them to confront gendered role expectations.
On the theoretical level, in her early work Gilligan employed an extremely rigid and atomistic conception of justice, setting it off against an exaggerated notion of care and connection. She interpreted the ethic of justice as premised on the values of autonomy and equality, with autonomy implying that persons are separate and detached.11 Furthermore, she argued that the ideal of autonomy excluded difference: insofar as selves are said to be autonomous, they are considered as fundamentally alike, as possessing a set of general characteristics. This assumption of similarity is reinforced in the justice perspective’s emphasis on equality. Equality requires that “everyone should be treated identically” and is embodied in the concept of rights. Since rights guarantee that the autonomy of each individual will be respected, that the claims and interests of each will be weighed, justice reasoning focuses on the identification and prioritization of these rights and claims.12
Gilligan sharply distinguished the ethic of care (or the ethic of responsibility; she uses the terms interchangeably) from the morality of justice. From the care perspective:
… the moral problem arises from conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing rights and requires for its resolution a mode of thinking that is contextual and narrative rather than formal and abstract. This conception of morality as concerned with the activity of care centers moral development around the understanding of responsibility and relationships just as the conception of morality as fairness ties moral development to the understanding of rights and rules.13
Her shift from competing rights to conflicting responsibilities began with the discarding of the notion of autonomy. Rather than stressing our ultimate similarity as autonomous individuals, Gilligan argued in her early work and continues to stress that an understanding of the moral features within a given dilemma requires the recognition of the difference between self and other. Once we have recognized the essential difference of the other, she claimed, we cannot appeal to the fundamental similarities of individuals to ground a notion of basic rights when making a moral judgment. Neither can we justify treating everyone identically by evoking some standard of equality, since we no longer have a basis for determining which characteristics are to be given equal consideration. Instead, the recognition of difference leads to an appreciation of the ties and relationships binding us to one another. Not only do we find connection with an other essential to our own experience of self, but we perceive that, given the very fragility of connections predicated on difference, our relationships can only be sustained by attention and response.14 For Gilligan, then, the fact of our mutual dependence itself takes on normative significance in moral dilemmas. She stressed that from this initial recognition of the interdependence of self and other the ethic of care proceeds to an emphasis on nonviolence, found in the injunction “that no one should be hurt.” So, when viewing a dilemma from the perspective of care one tries to identify the needs of those concerns and attempts a creative “solution responsive to the needs of all.”15 Finally, Gilligan argued that in the process of caring for others as well as for oneself, one becomes aware of multiple truths and the contextually relative nature of moral judgment.16
Now, this stark opposition between justice and care appears as a parody because of the depiction of the extremes of justice. Clearly, justice, like care, relies on the presumption of relationships and connections among people. As Susan Moller Okin points out, Gilligan conflated the principled conception of rights and justice with individualism and selfishness.17 Similarly, Habermas observes that Gilligan focuses on the problems of moral rigorism and intel – lectualism which emerge at the post-conventional level, but that she tends “to misconstrue these deficiencies as characteristic of a normal stage of post – conventional formalism.”18 In her more recent work, Gilligan has taken these critiques into account. She writes:
… one can see “bad justice” in the rigid or blind adherence to moral principles of rules and “good justice” in the attentiveness to differential power and the potential for oppression which it creates. And one can see “bad care” in the strategies of exclusion which often are valorized in the name of care-the sacrifice of self or of other-just as one can see “good care” in the search for inclusive solutions that are responsive to everyone involved.”19
Thus, Gilligan has moved away from the stark juxtaposition between justice and care to claim that care, too, can be principled.20 While she acknowledges “the universal ground of moral problems in the often divergent aims of equality and attachment,” that is, in the childhood experiences of both boys and girls which lead to the moral understanding of fairness and of care, she chooses to focus less on issues of justification than on practical dilemmas of application.21 Gilligan writes:
To move away from the framing of moral questions in terms of the contrast between a unitary view of moral truth and endless moral relativism, we have shifted the focus of attention from abstract moral truths to the observable world of social relationships where people can describe something that happened which they thought was unfair or situations in which someone did not listen.22
Gilligan’s new focus elucidates the strengths of the early argument. Now her emphasis on the context-sensitivity of moral judgments can be seen not as opposed to the universalist claims of the justice perspective, but as an explication of the types of considerations involved in the application of moral principles. Furthermore, her attention to relational and evaluative concerns, rather than the result of a failure to distinguish between issues of justice and issues of the good life, can be interpreted as reflecting a concern with the relationships of mutual recognition necessary for moral development, on the one hand, and an awareness of the ethical context in which application discourses are always situated, on the other.23
This helps to clarify the contrast she draws in In a Different Voice between the emphasis on “right answers” she sees as constitutive of the justice perspective and the fluidity which gives the ethic of care its moral strength. The former is “geared to arriving at an objectively fair or just resolution to moral dilemmas upon which all rational agents could agree”; while the latter “focuses instead on the limitations of any particular resolution and describes the conflicts that remain.”24 To this extent, the care perspective draws attention to the problems arising in the application of norms in complex situations, problems only capable of resolution when “dialogue replaces logical deduction as the mode of moral discovery, and the activity of moral understanding returns to the social domain.”25 Gilligan’s current understanding of the ethic of care underlies a commitment to a communicative process of investigation and discovery, of learning about the interests and concerns of the other while simultaneously gaining awareness of the complexities of relationships and one’s own needs and responsibilities.
Gilligan’s recent research signifies a substantial rethinking of her earlier claims: a new way of interpreting the empirical position of her earlier findings and an abandonment of a contextual relativist position in favor of a differentiated understanding of the relationship between the application and justification of universal principles. Furthermore, her communicative reinterpretation of care and her focus on the relationships of mutual recognition necessary for moral development now cohere with the conception of morality found in discourse ethics. Indeed, Gilligan’s assertion that the recognition of difference leads us to an appreciation of our intersubjective ties suggests precisely that understanding of universality through plurality which underlies discursive universalism. However, Gilligan’s work does more than confirm the status of discourse ethics as a rational reconstruction of the moral intuitions of competent subjects. In fact, it indicates the ways in which Habermas’s reconstruction remains blind to the concerns of women and, hence, calls for a series of revisions.