Many believe that the traditional ethical theories we have looked at are coloured by a dominant
male perspective. Although, many believe that a female perspective on ethics is just as valuable.
The criticism is that the traditional ethical theories demonstrate a bias, reflecting male
preoccupations. These ethical theories simply fail to take into account an equally valid female
perspective. Consequently, these theories are compromised, even wrong.
It has and can be even seen as a huge gap between the two genders.
Why have women been ignored in the field of philosophy- Women= irrational and have no
knowledge, not been acknowledged or have not participated
A helpful way to understand this criticism is to think in terms of the dichotomies that lead to the
difference between male and female ethical perspectives
Three Areas to Look At:
1. The public sphere versus the private sphere-
Traditionally at least men have been the principal agents in the arena of public discourse. They have
been the politicians, soldiers, captains of industry, etc. Women on the other hand have been the
principal agents in the arena of domestic affairs. For example, they are the main rearers of children and
they have most of the power concerning major domestic decisions. Therefore, interests of men and
2. Reason versus passion- There has also the idea to be a difference in the modus operandi of women
and men. They operate on different assumptions, attitudes towards ethical problems in particular.
Men tend to apply reason as much as possible while women take a more nuanced attitude towards
its application. Women think that feelings are often more important in solving ethical problems.
3. Command versus consensus- There is a sense in which women’s general approach to social
interaction differs from men’s. Men are thought to be naturally more aggressive, and consequently
they often resolve conflicts by the use of force- commanding rather than negotiating. By contrast,
women are more amenable to resolving conflicts by agreement, or at least they tend to be less
confrontational, less likely to revert to the use of force.
Are these differences the result of a difference in the nature of the sexes or are they the result of
the cultural roles the sexes have tended to play in most societies? Do these differences reflect sex or
Sex= biological, gender= socially constructed category and is artificial in some sense
Differences are often based on conscriptions and how we ought to behave. Kohlberg
Lawrence Kohlberg, an American psychologist, conducted experiments on children to determine
their moral development. By observing the behaviour of children of different ages Kohlberg built up
a picture of how their moral reasoning progressed.
In his experiment he asked children of different ages the following question: In Europe, a
woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors
thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently
discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what the
drug cost him to make. He paid $200 for the radium and charged $2000 for a small dose of the
drug, The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money, but
he could only get together about $1000 which is half of what it cost. He told the druggist that his
wife was dying and asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said “No I
discovered the drug and I am going to make money from it”. So Heinz got desperate and broke
into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife. Should the husband have done that? (this was
asked to the children)
Kohlberg was not interested in a yes or no answer. What he wanted to know was the
reasoning the respondents used to get their answer.
From these answers he identified the 6 following stages of moral development:
1. Punishment and Obedience
The right thing to do is measured in terms of the avoidance of physical punishment. The immediate
physical consequences of an action determine its goodness/badness
2. Instrumental Exchange
Morality is based on the exchange of favours, summed up by “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch
yours”. The right action consists of what satisfies one’s own needs. In general, people are valued in
terms of their utility.
3. Conformity- is a more selfless act compared to the others, although what good is it for others if
there is a standard? (society’s at large)
The person acts to gain approval of others. The right thing to do is that which pleases or helps others
within the group. One earns approval by being conventionally respectable and being perceived
4. Law and Order
What is right or wrong is measured in terms of obedience to rules, laws and authority. Social and