Explain Carol Gilligan’s conclusions concerning “moral attitude” and how it applies to the ethics of gender. Be sure to include the “risks” involved in her theories.

Gilligan argues that empathy and interpersonal relationships are an important alternative to hierarchical, yes-or-no models of ethics. The risk is that this "open-ended" approach is unable in many cases to provide any real guidance about how to act.

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Gilligan's notion of "care ethics" posits that the act of caring for others and the social relationships such caring creates forms a kind of morality of ethical code at odds with ethical systems based on "justice." For Gilligan, care ethics is feminine in the sense that it values empathy and body awareness over "male" hierarchical systems of right and wrong.

Gilligan's famous example involves the ethical problem of whether a man, Heinz, should steal medicine that will save his wife's life. In Gilligan's analysis, the scenario assumes that the problem is one of magnitude: which is worse, stealing or death? In fact, an alternative point of view sees the problem within a web of relationships. Rather than assuming that stealing or not stealing are the only possible actions, Gilligan posits that the man's wife could be worse off if he stole the medicine and then was caught; by the same token, a better course of action might be for the man to explain his situation to the pharmacist, who then might provide him with the drug.

Gilligan associates this second response with the feminine traits of caregiving and understanding interpersonal relationships. Understanding the problem involves imagining it as a kind of narrative and evaluating all possible outcomes, many of which involve reinterpreting the question or considering solutions which the question would seem to exclude.

The "risks" of this approach to ethics are the subversion of traditional liberal approaches to ethics. That is, in asserting the importance of the caring relationship, care ethics replaces clear methodology with anecdote and ambiguity; because of its situationist approach, care ethics is unable to provide clear guidance.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 14, 2020
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