In the nineteen fifties, Lawrence Kohlberg produced a theory of moral development. The three main levels are pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional. In nineteen eighty-two, Carol Gilligan published In a Different Voice that claimed to add a more feminine perspective to Kohlberg’s theories. Gilligan noted that all the subjects in Kohlberg’s scientific studies were boys. Gilligan wondered what would happen if girls were included.
There are some problems with Gilligan’s research. It seems likely that she never conducted any research. She has been asked to produce the data upon which she based her conclusions but Gilligan refused on the basis of privacy. The requester replied that she would be quite happy to have all the names redacted if in fact there were any names or any details that could lead to identifying the research subjects, but Gilligan declined. So, we have no evidence that any studies were actually conducted.
That being said, Gilligan’s claims have some plausibility. Gilligan contends that little boys tend to favor abstract rules of justice and fairness and imagine that morality can best be served by having one rule that applies to all. The example given is of boys playing baseball. Three strikes and you are out. This is just and fair because the same rules apply to each participant with no favoritism. However, sometimes a participant might cry and be particularly inept. When girls were playing, they were more likely to want to make an exception. They felt sorry for the lame duck. Gilligan contends that the girls tended to favor empathy and compassion over impartial abstract rules. Girls’ moral development would tend to go from selfish, then empathetic within the group, to compassion for all in general.