Philosophical Roots of Gilligan-Kohlberg Controversy, The
The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg (1927–1987) is a modern classic in the fields of moral social psychology and theory of a moral development. His cognitivistic theory of moral development has become a paradigm in the psychology of education. Students of teaching and education in many countries have been taught that there are six universal developmental modes (stages or schemas) of moral thinking, which are an empirical fact verified by Kohlberg and his followers in hundreds of empirical studies. Thus, the Kohlberg theory must be true because it is empirically verified. Nevertheless, one might ask can there be empirical proof on transcendental (philosophical) theory of morality and its development. Jürgen Habermas was the first to note that Kohlberg’s theory of moral stages is a kind of rational reconstruction and that, as such, it cannot be empirically verified or falsified (Habermas 1995). Kohlberg intentionally wanted to do empirical research in the field of moral theory which traditionally has been considered an area of pure metaphysics and philosophical speculation. He believed that his empirical studies can solve the tension between facts and values, as a title of his article implies: From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fallacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development (Kohlberg 1981). If Kohlberg is right, there is no gap between facts (what there is) and values (what there ought to be), and hence human morality is after all a naturalistic phenomenon and not a transcendental (noumenal) entity of the Kantian type. This is strange statement from Kohlberg who wants to follow Kant’s practical philosophy which includes the model of the “two Kingdoms.” Kohlberg sees no contradiction in here. Surely empirical research must have some role in ethical theory, but we still believe there is a gap or a Hume’s guillotine between “Is” and “Ought.” In this matter, we agree with Harvey Siegel who writes that “neither Kohlberg nor anyone else can justify judgments of moral adequacy by appeal to the facts of development” (Siegel 1986, p. 76).
This kind of philosophical critique of Kohlberg’s moral theory does not have much weight within the disciplines of psychology and education, in which empirical evidence is considered the hard currency. Of course, the moral development of a human being is an empirical phenomenon, but it also has a transcendental or philosophical dimension. The most famous opponent of Kohlberg is the feminist thinker Carol Gilligan, who presents both philosophical and empirical counterclaims against Kohlberg’s cognitivistic theory of moral development. Gilligan’s main criticism is that Kohlberg constructs what he considers “the highest stage of moral development” from a male viewpoint and thus it is not neutral and impartial at all. Gilligan claims that the Kohlbergian ethic of justice is only one aspect of moral maturity – Kohlberg rejects the side of moral feelings and sentiments (see entry “ Gilligan-Kohlberg Controversy” in EEPAT).
The so-called Gilligan-Kohlberg controversy touches at the heart of philosophical ethics. The basic question concerns the source of our morality: reason (duty) or love (moral sentiments, virtues of friendship). This was also central issue in Francis Hutcheson’s, David Hume’s, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s, Adam Smith’s, Immanuel Kant’s, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s ethical theories. In order to understand the philosophical root of the Gilligan-Kohlberg debate, it is worthwhile to take overview of the eighteenth century moral theories.
Bernard de Mandeville (1670–1704)
The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed – for lack of a better word – is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.
Mandeville claims that a private vice like selfishness is most beneficial to public welfare. Mandeville declares that people who act for their own benefit do more good for the society than superficial altruists. So, a successful society must be built on the vice of selfishness. There is no point to chase higher virtues, like Lord Shaftesbury does, because the search is a “wild-Goose-Chase” (Mandeville 2004, p. 331). For Mandeville, morality is as uncertain as fashion and is dependent on teaching and the subtle propaganda of dishonest civic leaders. Selfishness is certain and constant because it lies in the essence of man.
Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746)
… but had we no Sense of moral Qualitys in Actions, nor any Conceptions of them, except as advantageous or hurtful, we never could have honour’d or lov’d Agents for publick Love, or had any regard to their Actions, further than they affected ourselves in particular. We might have form’d the metaphysical Idea of publick Good, but we had never desir’d it, further than it tended to our own private Interest, without a Principle of Benevolence; nor admir’d and lov’d those who were studious of it, without a moral Sense.
Hutcheson agrees with Shaftesbury that God has given us a moral sense and along with it the feeling of nobler pleasure which comes from intending well for others and that by doing so “we undesignedly promote our greatest private good” (Hutcheson 2004, p. 75; Shaftesbury 2004, p. 88).
David Hume (1711–1776)
Since morals, therefore, have an influence on the actions and affections, it follows, that they cannot be deriv’d from reason; and that because reason alone, as we have already prov’d, can never have any such influence. Morals excite passions, and produce or prevent actions. Reason of itself is utterly impotent in this particular. The rules of morality, therefore, are not conclusions of our reason…’tis in vain to pretend, that morality is discover’d only by a deduction of reason. An active principle can never be founded on an inactive; and if reason be inactive in itself, it must remain so in all its shapes and appearances, whether it exerts itself in natural or moral subjects, whether it considers the powers of external bodies, or the actions of rational beings. It would be tedious to repeat all the arguments, by which I have prov’d, that reason is perfectly inert, and can never either prevent or produce any action or affection.
Hume agrees with Mandeville that human beings possess primary self-interest, but unlike Mandeville, Hume thinks that there exists also sympathy (Hume 2004, p. 337): “…we naturally sympathize with others in the sentiments they entertain of us. Thus self-interest is the original motive to the establishment of justice: but a sympathy with public interest is the source of the moral approbation, which attends that virtue.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778)
We must not confuse egocentrism (amour-propre) with love of oneself (amour-de-soi), two passions very different by virtue of both their nature and their effects: Love of oneself is a natural sentiment which moves every animal to be vigilant in its own preservation and which, directed in man by reason and modified by pity, produces humanity and virtues. Egocentrism is merely a sentiment that is relative, artificial and born in society, which moves each individual to value himself more than anyone else, which inspires in men all the evils they cause one another, and which is true source of honor. With this well understood, I say that in our primitive state, in the veritable state of nature, egocentrism does not exist.
The sense of being hurt is possible only in a social context in a civilized State in which a struggle for property (distribution) and a struggle for recognition exist. If an action happens in a nonsocial context, no feelings of hatred or desire for revenge can emerge.
Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
Hume, Rousseau, and Smith, due to their eloquent rhetoric and enormous knowledge on the history of philosophy, made an impressive contribution to the theory of moral sentiments. The contemporary philosophers did not have a chance in the debate against these two friends. Only a hermit form Königsberg could really compete with Hume and Rousseau in every area of philosophy (epistemology, aesthetics, social philosophy, logic, rhetoric, philosophy of religion, and ethics), and also in fashion. He is, of course, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) – the greatest representative of rationalistic ethics of all times.
The most fundamental concepts in Immanuel Kant’s practical philosophy are the presupposition of freedom of will and the notion of duty. Kant concludes that although natural necessity covers all happenings (at the level of appearances; the phenomenal world) in the world, human beings possess an inherent transcendental freedom. The causality of freedom exists alongside the causality of nature. The human being is simultaneously a member of two kingdoms: the kingdom of necessity (natural causality in the sensible world) and the kingdom of freedom (causality of freedom in the intelligible world) (Kant 1971, p. 104; Kant 2002, p. 80). The causality of freedom simply means that a human being has the capacity (faculty) to begin a process in the world just by the power of his or her will. This capacity exists despite the lack of empirical proof (proof at the level of appearances).
The causality of reason in its intelligible character does not arise or start working at certain time in producing an effect. For then it would itself be subjected to the natural law of appearances, to the extent that this law determines causal series in time, and its causality would then be nature not freedom.
Kant says that a human cannot comprehend without contradiction the paradoxical relationship of the causality of freedom and the causality of nature. Kant calls this the third antinomy of pure reason (Kant 2007, pp. A446–447/B474–475).
As a member of the kingdom of freedom, the human being – or at least the transcendental ego – can exercise his or her freedom of will and choose to follow a duty. Kant thinks that a morally worthy action means following a duty. From the moral point of view, the significance of the motive behind an action surpasses that of its outcome. The motive of a morally worthy action is duty, and duty is derived from the so-called categorical imperative. Dishonest persons occasionally act according to the categorical imperative, while virtuous persons do so all the time. Nevertheless, a dishonest person does not employ their freedom of will and choose to follow the categorical imperative, which is why their actions have no moral worth. Only a person that is rational and free and possesses good will can act morally. Rationally oriented will inserts the moral dimension into an action. Without the moral dimension, an action is irrational and unfree – but the action could still be carried out in accordance with the categorical imperative.
According to Kant, people have two kinds of imperatives: hypothetical and categorical imperatives. A hypothetical imperative is a rule of action in the pursuit of a particular goal. A hypothetical imperative dictates “if you want X do Y.” Kant claims that reason also produces the absolute maxim of moral action, the categorical imperative. A categorical imperative is unconditional. It simply says “do X.” This law applies to all rational beings, not only human beings. Again there is no proof or deduction involved in this law. It is exclusively a “fact of Reason.”
Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.
Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
Kant’s practical philosophy contains many paradoxes and difficulties. The most famous paradox concerns teaching and moral development. It is called the pedagogical paradox (see Kant 2015). This is one way to present the paradox. If we truly follow the categorical imperative in school education, we must treat pupils as free persons and not as a means for bringing up mature adult persons (i.e., childhood is the means and adulthood the end). Then again, the purpose of education is to educate a pupil – by means of the use of power, which is an inappropriate way of treating a person – so that she can become an enlightened mature person in the future. If a pupil is not a free and mature person, how can we treat her like one? If we do not treat her as a free person in education, we will treat her only as a means to an end, although that end is the pupil’s future adult personality. Thus, if we treat her only as a means, how can she ever be more than a mere means? This is a specific situation in which two different duties can be seen to be in conflict – a teacher has both the duty to make use of power in education and the duty to respect his or her pupils as persons. Kant himself strongly opposed the view that a moral duty could sometimes exist in conflict with another moral rule. Nevertheless, we are not prepared to jump to the conclusion – like MacIntyre does – that Kant’s project of Enlightenment is a total failure. Kant’s practical philosophy is a major resource for modern theories of law, ethics, and education, but it is one-sided. It underestimates the role of moral sentiments and moral virtues subordinating them under the practical reason and cognitive elements of human morality. In his last opus magnum Metaphysic of Morals, Kant (1996) writes about a plenty of virtues (doctrine of virtues) and morally relevant feelings, but the core of his argument remains unaltered.
Adam Smith (1723–1790)
Adam Smith is well remembered because of his concept of “invisible hand” which illustrates how the market mechanisms work in civil society (e.g., economy). At the time of Adam Smith a new economic order (capitalism) was rising and this new economic order based on economic exchange between isolated self-centered individuals. Thomas Hobbes’s, John Locke’s, and Bernard de Mandeville’s egoistic moral theories (e.g., British moral egoism) created suitable ideological ground for this new capitalistic mode of production. Nevertheless, Adam Smith surely did not want to support the moral theory of British egoism although his book The Wealth of Nations (Smith 1973) suits well into the world view of British moral egoism. In the book The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Smith 1976; later TMS) Smith presents a moral theory which is the total opposite of moral egoism.
So there is inherent contradiction or at least a tension in Adam Smith’s social philosophy. This contradiction is known as Das Adam-Smith-Problem. On one hand, Adam Smith defends the free market and faceless economic exchange relationships, in which egoistic and rational individuals strive only for their material interests. The sphere of this egoistic economy is called civil society, and there is no place for compassion and humanity in the civil society. On the other hand, Adam Smith claims that human morality is based on such feeling as sympathy and benevolence. Adam Smith himself of course did not think that there is any contradiction in the situation in which the individual acts egoistically in the economic sphere (civil society) and feels humanity and compassion toward his fellow men in the ethical sphere. Adam Smith considers moral sentiments to be a precondition for a free market society. There rich and healthy people take voluntary care of the drop-outs, invalids, elders, etc., without a State-founded social policy. Thus in no way Adam Smith would support any form of Social Darwinism or nowadays cold hearted global capitalism.
Unlike Hume, Adam Smith did not believe such thing as “moral sense” and considers such notion as bad usage of English tongue (TMS vii 3.3.15). Instead of moral sense Smith speaks about sense of propriety (TMS i.1.3.-4.). Tronto explains Smith’s sense of propriety as following (Tronto 1993, p. 46): “Propriety refers to the sentiment we share, being by nature sociable, that makes us eager to be sure that others perceive us as proper. If we did not develop a sense of propriety, perhaps we would be able to ignore the situations of others. But our desire to be accepted, our sense of propriety, causes us to develop an ability to put ourselves in others’ positions.”
Sense of propriety is related to Smith’s idea of the impartial spectator. Smith claims that moral point of view is the moral sentiment of impartial spectator. If we are engaged in moral conflict our instant moral feelings might be more or less biased. In social interaction we learn to imagine the reaction of the others who have no particular favorable emotion towards any engaged party. We learn to imagine what kind of moral feelings the impartial spectator would feel. We also have to assume that the impartial spectator is well-informed and sympathetic to somewhat normal degree (TMS, iii.2.31–32). When we examine the morality of our own action we should examine like the impartial spectator would examine (TMS iii.1.2.). The voice of the impartial spectator is a voice of conscience. It is a proper way to judge ourselves (TMS iii.1.3).
Besides the sense of propriety Smith presents even more demanding ethical maxim. He wants also to speak about universal benevolence in the spirit of Stoic cosmopolitanism. Notion of universal benevolence goes far beyond the ordinary sense of propriety which could at best include all the citizens of our own country (TMS vi.2.3.1). It also presuppose benevolent God.
Man’s has natural inclinations towards self-interest with underdeveloped sense of propriety
Sense of propriety with different degrees
Universal benevolence which presuppose benevolent God
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831)
In the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were two major alternatives in moral theory: the Scottish theory of moral sentiments and the Kantian ethics of duty. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel read carefully the texts of David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Adam Smith. He wanted to create a synthetic practical philosophy which would resolve the antithetical contradiction of love and reason in moral theory. From his early work Das Leben Jesu (Hegel 1906) to his last opus magnum The Philosophy of Right (Hegel 2001), Hegel tries to create a grand synthesis that would “overcome” (Aufheben) the tension of love and reason both in society and in human consciousness.
In his early text System of Ethical Life (System der Sittlichkeit) (Hegel 1979), Hegel introduces a three-level model of society, which consists of the family, the civil society, and the State. A sittliche State means a community of reciprocally well-behaving and caring citizens. In Philosophy of Right, Hegel (2001) creates a grandiose theory of society based on these three instances. The family is the sphere of love within which man takes care of his beloved. In this sphere, love “rules” and overcomes reason. The civil society is the sphere of private contracts and egoistic economic exchange. This sphere is ruled by cold reason and Adam Smith’s invisible hand. According to Hegel, society cannot manage only with these two instances. Hegel calls for a value community called the sittliche (ethical) State which is ruled by rational feeling. This rational feeling surpasses the contradiction between loving one’s family and the egoistic reason of civil society. For Hegel, the sittliche (sitte means custom or habit) State is a sphere of reciprocal good behavior and caring for each other. In the sittliche State, people feel solidarity and compassion toward the “abstract other,” toward another citizen of the State. In the level of the state, familial love is extended towards all citizens and is cultivated into rational feeling which ties up the individuals into a reciprocal ethical community.
On the one hand, Kant and his followers defend a version of the moral standpoint, that consists in formal and universally valid principles, which have their basis in rationality. On the other, Hegel and his followers claim that formally valid moral principles are themselves historically and socially situated; that they only accrue validity within a set of distinctively “modern” cultural practices and political institutions, which are the product of an historical evolution…
In Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel (1977) uses Sophocles’s play Antigone to illustrate the social and historical nature of human morality or Sittlichkeit (ethical life; decency). From the Hegelian or communitarian point of view, Kant’s categorical imperative is just an empty formula which does not help in concrete moral conflicts. In Sophocles’s play, there are two ethical powers in contradiction: the paternal morality of Creon and the maternal morality of Antigone. In Sophocles’s play, and also in real life, following purely a heartless cognitive moral reasoning might lead to a disaster or at least to coldness of the heart.
Thus behind the Gilligan-Kohlberg controversy is the over 200-year-old debate concerning the role of reason (duty) and love (moral sentiments) in morality.
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