Review: Mapping the Moral Domain: A Contribution of Women’s Thinking to Psychological Theory and Education

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5.0 out of 5 stars 1988 Precious Gem–Richly Deserves Appreciation Today
September 3, 2009

Carol Gilligan

Amazon appears to be depriving customers of top reviews from the past–part of a concerted effort they have been making to ease the path for new reviewers, never mind the cost in lost wisdom. I am personally appalled that this incredibly important book, obviously in a new edition, has no reviews carried forward.

1988 is when this book was published, which for me means that in very personal terms, I have been “out of touch” and “unknowing” of the deep social relevance of this work and its focus on the caring voice of women (as opposed to the “justice” voice of men) in both psychology and sociology.

In a nut-shell, this book is a collection of edited works ably integrated by the contributing editors, which pioneered the “voices” discussion from the female point of view. While there have been many books about the voices of the oppressed, the indigenous, and other marginalized groups, this book focuses on the voices of women in their dialectic with men–women as “caring” men as focused on rational “justice.” I am reminded of Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West and E. O. Wilson’s book,Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge.

Underlying the female focus on caring is the female focus on intangibles such as community and good will…..so much so that I have a note, women may be the archetype of what it means to be human. The book opens very ably with observations about how detachment and dispassion are in fact moral choices with tangible outcomes and consequences.

The contributing authors make the next logical point, which is that the male moral archetype over-emphasizes the individual and leads to the Culture of Narcissm while de-emphasizing, even disparaging, any culture of community.

The varied authors make the obvious but important point that how we teach our young will impact on every single discipline and endeavor, i.e. on we perform both the social sciences and the sciences, and how we manage our organizations and networks. In the absence of BOTH the female caring morality and the male justice morality, we are half-human and therefore ill-equipped to achieve what Barbara Ehrenreich calls Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential and Steve MacIntosh Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution

I am totally engrossed by the discussion of how the same terms have different meanings depending on the perspective, e.g. “improving the city” means investing in tangible infrastructure for the male view, while the female view is more focused on intangible relationships. Similarly, the female view of land is one of “ours” versus the male view of “mine,” and one can easily understanding why Mother Earth is female rather than male as it engenders the more sustainable proposition.

I have a note to myself; this book is a definitive and vital step in establishing the urgency and necessity of integrating women’s voices as a counter-balance to men’s voices, not just in psychology and education, but across every aspect of human life.

The contributing authors cause me to realize that “dependence” can be reinterpreted as “inter-dependence,” which is certainly more consistent with Whole System thinking, and that in this frame of reference, dialog is REQUIRED, CONTEXT matters, and blind obedience is idiocy. I have note from the book, “Morality is consciousness,” FULL consciousness.

The authors teach that morality is not just individual choice in the moment but also choice in the social context (aggregation of moral choices, a very interesting concept meriting more research).

I feel connected to both Gandhi and Martin Luther King as well as Bonhoffer as the book’s varied contributions make the case of a theory and practice of love, of human RELATIONSHIP as central to moral theory. In many ways I feel that Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom backed into this area from a male perspective, and that love is a wealth-producing practice.

The book as a whole furthers my deepening regard for DIVERSITY as an essential foundation for adaptation in complex rapidly-changing environments. I quote from the book: “Attention to differences in interpretation, thus, is central to making connections with others.”

Further on I am impressed by a discussion of morality for the whole, noting that the “least painful choice for the largest number of people” demands both an awareness of pain, and an inclusion of all people, not just the few making the rules and hoarding the gold.

The core take-away from this book for me is that relationships define humans much more so than rights or things. The female and male morality frames of reference determine how individuals and aggregations of individuals respond to conflict, make decisions, and carry on with both minute individual and larger social responsibilities.

Ways of knowing matter–this book, from 1988, is a compelling indictment of our continued discrimination against women and our continued social disdain for the female voice of caring. I cannot help but feel that the elevation of women and the restoration of balance is an essential pre-condition to eradicating the ten high-level threats to humanity from poverty to crime–threats that have NOT been contained by the male-dominated system of “justice” and in all probability could be more properly addressed by the female emphasis on caring.

Beyond 5 stars, at least half in part because of its impact on me as an unbalanced male. Better late than never. It would be good to see this book re-issued, and in the process, to see the authors and publishers expand to embrace all forms of dispossessed voices, mapping that terrain with the female perspective perhaps central, but then various forms of marginalization around the edge.

As an afterthought, I find a REMARKABLE, almost devine, convergence among the three books I took on vacation this week, the other two being Conscious Globalism: What’s Wrong with the World and How to Fix It and Wave Rider: Leadership for High Performance in a Self-Organizing World. All three emphasize the inherent good in community and the terrible cost that we all bear when the male, the scientific or rational, the industrial paradigms, submerge the voices, feelings, and perceptions of the larger group.

A couple of other recommendations:
The Manufacture Of Evil: Ethics, Evolution, and the Industrial System
Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage (Critical Perspectives Series)

To be reviewed tomorrow:
Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling

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