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Gilligan's Moral Development Theory

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The work of Carol Gilligan emerged at a response in 1977 to Lawrence Kohlberg’s Moral Development Theory in 1958 Kohlberg’s original theory was heavily based on the experiences of adolescent boys and subsequently found that women were unable to progress beyond stage 3 the conventional moral reasoning stage. From Gilligan’s perspective, Kohlberg’s model was unable to judge the development of women because in the words of Gilligan, “The very traits that have traditionally defined the goodness of women, their care for and sensitivity to the needs of others, are those that mark the most efficient in moral development.” In the following segment we will introduce the theory Gilligan produced which was based off the experiences of women who had sought out abortions. It is important to note that while Gilligan’s work was based off the experiences of women she would argue that this framework is not bound by gender. To illustrate Gilligan’s theory of women’s conceptions of self and morality, let us introduce three women who are contemplating an abortion, Sally, Judith, and Ariana. Level One: Orientation to individual survival. Our first woman is Sally, who is 16. She has recently learned of her pregnancy and decided to seek out abortion services. When asked about her decision, Sally expressed that there is no decision to be made. She intends to have an abortion and that is that. She is not ready for a child and can identify many experiences that would be limited by parenthood. In Level One, individuals’ moral decisions are based on individual interests and survival of the self. Level Two: Goodness as Self Sacrifice. Our second woman is Judith who is 19 years old. Judith is struggling with her decision to have an abortion. She has already experienced an abortion and would like to carry this pregnancy to term. However, Judith’s family and partner believe it is best for Judith to get an abortion. Judith is struggling to balance her needs with the expectations and interests of those she cares about. In the end, Judith decides to have an abortion based on her care for those around her. In this level, moral decisions are made based on balancing care for others with care for oneself. Level Three: The Morality of Non-Violence. Our final woman is Ariana. Ariana has previously experienced an abortion and is considering a second. She feels guilty about this decision at first but comes to understand that her guilt stems from societal expectations of definitions of goodness. Ariana decides to go forward with the abortion because it is what she needs. Level Three is characterized by a move towards understanding that society’s expectations and definitions of virtue are not as valuable as her own needs. Individuals in this level shift their focus from the needs of others to a space where their needs are valued and at the center of their decision-making. In Gilligan’s model, there are also transitions between each level of development. Transition One: From Selfishness to Responsibility. Transition One occurs between levels one and two. The core of this transition is a move from selfishness to responsibility. Individuals in this transition begin to understand how their decisions may impact others. In the context of Gilligan’s original study, women in Transition One were focused on understanding how having a child would affect those around them. “These women prioritize others’ needs over their own.” In the end, their decisions were made on how others would be impacted. Transition Two: From Goodness to Truth. The second transition in Gilligan’s model occurs between levels two and three. The core focus in Transition Two is figuring out how to balance responsibility to others and care for self. Individuals in this transition begin to value their own needs as opposed to valuing the needs of others. Moving towards Level Three, individuals acknowledge their needs and accept the responsibility for decisions based on these needs. While the work of Carol Gilligan was based on the experiences of women, this theory can be readily applied to individuals across gender. Part of Gilligan’s work was to highlight that previous moral development theories were based solely on the experiences of men. She identified this as faulty research methodology. By focusing on experiences of women, Gilligan hoped to expand the conversation on how socialization plays role on moral development processes.

Video Details

Duration: 4 minutes and 27 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Views: 222
Posted by: lolaceituno on Mar 22, 2014

This video is a concise explanation of Carol Gilligan's Moral Development Theory, which is based on the experiences of women, rather than men. Created by Lea Griess, Jessica Martinez and Dith Pamp for our Student Development Theory class in the College Student Services Program at Oregon State University.

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