Gender & Morality Research Paper Starter

Gender & Morality

In recent years, discussions of moral development have centered on the question of whether or not male and females develop within different frameworks and hold different moral values. Carol Gilligan outlined her critique of Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development in her book "In a Different Voice." She argued that Kohlberg's work discounted women's views of morality, and offered the theory that women tend to hold an ethics of care, rather than justice. Since publishing her book, Gilligan has received considerable criticism. Over the past few years, some scholars have pushed to broaden the field to study the roles religion, culture, and biology play in moral development.

Socialization > Gender & Morality


Kohlberg's Theory of Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg studied psychology at the University of Chicago and wrote his dissertation in 1958. He was intrigued by the work of fellow theorist Jean Piaget and sought to explore how children respond to moral issues (Crain, 1985). Piaget was a well-known psychologist who focused on human cognition, which is the manner in which people think and understand. Piaget was interested in studying what people know and how they use their knowledge to understand and operate in the world. His four stages of cognitive development describe how biological maturation and social experiences help shape a person's understanding of the world. Believing moral reasoning to be as important as moral development, Kohlberg elected to build on the foundation of Piaget's work and explore how the moral development process correlates with issues of morality and justice over a person's lifespan (Kohlberg, 1958).

Kohlberg's theory of moral development is based on his study of 72 boys who grew up in middle- and lower-class environments in the Chicago area. The boys were all either 10, 13, or 16 years of age. Kohlberg presented each boy with a series of moral dilemmas and asked him to state what the characters in each dilemma should do and why. Kohlberg (1963) provided an example of one of these scenarios:

Heinz Steals the Drug

In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2,000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman's husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but he could only get together about $1,000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, "No, I discovered the drug and I am going to make money from it." So, having tried every legal means, Heinz gets desperate and considers breaking into the man's store to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz steal the drug? (p. 19)

Kohlberg was not interested in whether or not the children thought Heinz ought to steal the drug. Rather, he wanted to find out the reasoning the boys used to arrive at their decisions. From these studies, he identified six distinct stages of moral development, which he grouped according to the moral reasoning each employed. He later grouped these six stages into three levels.

Table 1: Kohlberg's Six Stages of Moral Development

Level Classification Stage Focus

1 Pre-Conventional * Obedience and punishment orientation * Self-interest orientation * Children think about how to avoid punishment (the consequences of a negative action) * Children think about what they will get out of the situation and weigh the benefits and consequences of an action 2 Conventional * Interpersonal accord and conformity * Authority and social order * Children think about the type of behavior that is expected in society in relation to either their peers or their cultural norms 3 Post-Conventional * Social contract orientation * Universal ethical principles * People are guided by a principled conscience

Level 1 - Preconventional Morality

Stage 1: Obedience & Punishment Orientation: Kohlberg believed that this is the earliest stage of moral development. At this stage, the child views rules to be absolute, without room for compromise. A person can avoid punishment if he or she follows the rules that have been established. The child is not concerned with whether or not the decision is morally right or wrong, but rather with whether or not it will be punished.

Stage 2: Individualism & Exchange: Kohlberg believed that individuals are able to rationalize at this stage. The child considers his or her individual needs or best interests to determine what type of action to take. Interpersonal relationships at this stage are based on the needs that others can fulfill for the child. In essence, there is a mentality of "you do for me and I will do for you." Children at this stage have some notion of fairness, in the sense that one ought to return favors, but they see themselves as individuals rather than as members of a larger community or society.

Level 2 - Conventional Morality

Stage 3: Good Interpersonal Relationships: At this stage, emphasis is placed on what a person needs to do in order to live up to a group's standards. Children at this stage focus on meeting the expectations of their established roles in order to be seen as good and nice people. They feel a strong desire to fit in and make choices that will maintain good relationships. Behavior is based on intention. For example, a person can gain approval from the group for being nice and "meaning to do the right thing."

Stage 4: Maintaining the Social Order: Kohlberg believed that this is the stage in which people start to think about how their actions are viewed in society as a whole. People in this stage are concerned with staying within the boundaries of what is considered normal behavior and want to follow the law. Following the law can be defined as following the established rules, doing one's civic duty, and respecting authority. People at this stage focus on maintaining an orderly society.

Level 3 - Postconventional Morality

Stage 5: Social Contract & Individual Rights: At this stage, people look to the world outside of themselves and their immediate communities or societies to make moral decisions. They take into consideration that fact that other societies in the world have different values, opinions, and beliefs. However, people at this stage also believe that most just societies protect people's basic rights and allow them some power to govern themselves. In essence, law and order are maintained while also taking into account people's diversity.

Stage 6: Universal Principles: In the final stage,...

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