The Relation Between Sex, Gender, and Moral Behavior
Our history is an account of changes, struggles and progress. It mostly contains writings and deeds of great 'men'. However, in this century, many nations' talent pools have been doubled by the introduction of Women's Suffrage. With that event women in many societies have been able to elevate themselves to a point where they can work towards gaining recognition in domains in which they used to be viewed as 'inferior'. One such domain is ethical theory. The following is a discussion on the following gender related ethical issues: Is there a gender-based difference in ethical perspective and reasoning? and, If there is, what is the cause of this difference?
In the late seventies, and early eighties, psychologist Carol Gilligan identified some interesting patterns in women's discussions about their moral conflicts. After analyzing the patterns, she formed the following hypothesis: "(1) that there are two distinct modes of moral judgment-- justice and care--in the thinking of men and women; (2) that these are gender-related; and (3) that modes of moral judgment might be related to modes of self-definition." (Mapping of the Moral Domain; Ed. by C. Gilligan, J. V. Ward, J. McLean Taylor, B. Bardige; Pub. Harvard University Press, 1988) Throughout the history of ethical theory, women were often viewed as 'morally inferior' to men, as Freud noted. Justice has been viewed as the 'higher' moral perspective, and Lawrence Kohlberg found that women had difficulties reaching this stage of moral development (Ethics - Theory and Contemporary Issues; By Barbara MacKinnon; Ed. 2; Pub. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998). Partly, this reasoning could be a consequence of ethical studies focusing primarily on men and their perspective.
To shed some light on these issues, we can examine some empirical data. Research has been done in which hypothetical moral dilemmas have been presented to subjects of both sexes, for the purpose of determining whether a difference in perspective exists. Some studies have been specifically designed to test Gilligan's hypothesis. In one very typical experiment, Jake and Amy, two eleven-year-olds have been faced with the following moral dilemma "...a man named Heinz considers whether or not to steal a drug which he cannot afford to buy in order to save the life of his wife." (In a Different Voice - Psychological Theory and Women's Development; Carol Gilligan; Pub. Harvard University Press, 1982) Jake decided very quickly that Heinz should steal the drug. He took a rational approach by mathematically weighing the value of human life over property. Relying on a social consensus on moral values, Jake decided that stealing the drug would be 'the right thing to do'. Amy's response, on the other hand, was rather evasive and illustrates a failure of simple logical deduction. She held that Heinz should not steal the drug, but that his wife should not die either. While Jake's...