The Differences Between Kohlberg's & Gilligan's View

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The Differences Between Kohlberg's & Gilligan's View
Together, Kohlberg and Gilligan advanced constructivist theory and helped define gender uniqueness. (Polka Dot RF/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Lawrence Kohlberg, a developmental psychologist who studied the constructivist theory of Jean Piaget, developed his own series of cognitive development that extended beyond the earlier constructivist theory. His student, Carol Gilligan, contrasted his additions and provided her own justification for the later developments in human cognitive development, which considered gender identity.

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Kohlberg's Justice

Kohlberg developed his stages of cognitive development that began at a child's birth and continued throughout life. In Kohlberg's view, the founding principle of development was a recognition of the value of justice, an acceptance of justice as a governing factor of your actions and a philosophical understanding of justice. For instance, the first question in Kohlberg's stages of development involves the simple question of how can you avoid being punished, which focuses on justice from a punitive point of view.

Gilligan's Caring

Carol Gilligan objected to Kohlberg's strict use of justice as an implied moral foundation on the grounds that it failed to consider female cognitive development adequately. After performing her own careful studies on female development, she designed a paradigm of female development founded on the central idea of caring as a formative virtue. Gilligan centred her view on a development that focused on the individual growing to better understand and care for other people. As an example, her earliest transition stage of development suggests a move from self-interest to a responsibility for others.

Kohlberg's Study Group

As Gilligan began studying Kohlberg's earlier work, she discovered that his initial focus group for his studies consisted of only male participants. While earlier constructivist views of cognitive development suggest little difference between men and women, she observed that her alienation from Kohlberg's views were the result of his studies having a skewed perspective towards only male development. The result of this skewed perspective was a formative foundation for male cognitive development. Kohlberg's discovery was that male subjects develop in relation to their understanding of justice, developing from simple punitive avoidance to a fulfilled philosophical understanding for the meaning of justice.

Gilligan's Study Group

Carol Gilligan developed a study, similar to Kohlberg's original study, but included only women in her focus groups. Her intention was to duplicate his study but with an alternate focus, allowing her to compare their studies for any significant differences in gender development. As a result, she observed that female subjects followed a different trend of cognitive development, one focused around caring and a respect for life. Gilligan's discovery was that female subjects develop in relation to their understanding of humanity, developing from simple obedience to a universal philosophical understanding of morality.

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