Carol Gilligan

Interview on June 21st, 2011

1. Where are you working at this moment?
I am a University Professor at New York University, teaching in the School of Law, the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. (Carol Gilligan on Wikipedia)

2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to the ethics of care?

My research on identity and moral development led me to identify the ethics of care as a “different voice”—a voice that joined self with relationship and reason with emotion. By transcending these binaries it shifted the paradigm of psychological and moral theory. The ethics of care starts from the premise that as humans we are inherently relational, responsive beings and the human condition is one of connectedness or interdependence.

3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care? 
I came to write about an ethics of care after listening to the ways in which people speak about experiences of moral conflict and choice that they face. My research focused on actual rather than hypothetical situations of moral conflict and choice and explored how people construct moral conflicts and choices, what they see as the moral problem or question, and how moral language comes into play in shaping the choices they consider and the actions they take. I was impelled to write about an ethics of care by the disparities I heard between the voice of moral theories and the voices of people on the ground.

4. How would you define ethics of care?
As an ethic grounded in voice and relationships, in the importance of everyone having a voice, being listened to carefully (in their own right and on their own terms) and heard with respect. An ethics of care directs our attention to the need for responsiveness in relationships (paying attention, listening, responding) and to the costs of losing connection with oneself or with others. Its logic is inductive, contextual, psychological, rather than deductive or mathematical.

5. What is the most important thing you learned from the ethics of care?
That morality is grounded in a psychological logic, reflecting the ways in which we experience ourselves in relation to others and that the origins of morality lie in human relationships as they give rise to concerns about injustice and carelessness. Studying development, I realized that concerns about oppression and concerns about abandonment are built into the human life cycle, given the differential power between children and adults and the fact that care is essential for human survival. An ethics of care speaks to these concerns.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?
The people who participated in my research along with great artists—playwrights, novelists and poets—who have enhanced our understanding of the human condition across cultures and time. In developing my thinking about the ethics of care, I also learned from the writings of moral philosophers, including Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Iris Murdoch, Suzanne Langer, Martha Nussbaum, Stanley Cavell and David Hume.

7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?
Currently, the writings of Michael Slote, and the work being done in Paris by the moral philosopher Sandra Laugier and the sociologist, Patricia Paperman.

8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?
Joining the Resistance (2011), especially the first and last chapters, and also In a Different Voice (1982) andThe Birth of Pleasure (2002).

For the alignment of care ethics with democracy and with resistance to patriarchy, I would also recommend my 2009 book with David A. J. Richards (my NYU colleagues and a constitutional law scholar and moral philosopher): The Deepening DarknessPatriarchy, Resistance, and Democracy’s Future (Cambridge University Press).

9. What are important issues for the ethics of care in the future?
To address the question of why the ethics of care is still embattled (especially in the U.S.) but also now in Europe), to consider the ethics of care in light of new evidence in the human sciences that as humans we are by nature empathic and responsive beings, hard-wired for cooperation. Rather than asking how do we gain the capacity to care, the questions become how do we come not to care; how do we lose the capacity for empathy and mutual understanding? It is also crucial to clarify that within a patriarchal framework, the ethics of care is a “feminine” ethic, whereas within a democratic framework it is a human ethic, grounded in core democratic values: the importance of everyone having a voice and being listened to carefully and heard with respect. The premise of equal voice then allows conflicts to be addressed in relationships. Different voices then become integral to the vitality of a democratic society.

A feminist ethic of care is an ethic of resistance to the injustices inherent in patriarchy (the association of care and caring with women rather than with humans, the feminization of care work, the rendering of care as subsidiary to justice—a matter of special obligations or interpersonal relationships). A feminist ethic of care guides the historic struggle to free democracy from patriarchy; it is the ethic of a democratic society, it transcends the gender binaries and hierarchies that structure patriarchal institutions and cultures. An ethics of care is key to human survival and also to the realization of a global society.

10. In Tilburg our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?
Only that your efforts may flourish.

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