Computers, Information Technology, the Internet, Ethics, Society and Human Values

Philip Pecorino, Ph.D.

Queensborough Community College,  CUNY

Chapter 3 Ethics

Post Modernism - Feminism

Feminist Ethics  

VIEW:Alternative Paradigms: Care Ethics and Feminine Ethics 


Journal :


Feminist Ethics

This theory is based on the assumptions that the world is male oriented, devised by men and dominated on a male emphasis on systems of inflexible rules. The goal of feminist ethics is to create a plan that will hopefully end the social and political oppression of women. It is believed that the female perspective of the world can be shaped into a value theory.

Omonia Vinieris (QCC, 2002) on the  Feminist Theory of Care

            It has been conventionally thought by traditional thinkers of ethics that the moral development of females is slow-paced and secondary to that of males.   Standard ethical attitudes entail hostile, aggressive, and masculine principles of authority, supremacy, and social order.  Feminist opponents consider the latter to incite the debasement of women’s moral capabilities and to demoralize the conception of morality altogether.  The “ethics of justice” is often the terminology used to denote moral duty based on the masculine   traits of reason and aloofness.  Feminists strive for vindication by formulating a theory entitled the “ethics of care” to counter its antithetical parallel, the manly principle, “ethics of justice”.

            Ethics of care focus on the morality and integrity of women which primarily center on interpersonal relationships.  Feminine values such as gentleness, sympathy, and genuine caring are devalued and deemed irrelevant to the public world where self-rule and power thrive.  Carol Gilligan, a feminist theorist and psychologist, presumes that the morality of women is merely different from that concerning men’s and that it is not at all inferior as her male counterparts claim it to be.   She profoundly opposes the theories of moral development devised her colleague, Kohlberg, who only confined his study to males.  His study neglects a woman’s ability to possess self-legislated ethical dogma.

Gilligan, in attempt to refute Kohlberg’s philosophy, composes a scale to illustrate the different stages of a woman’s moral development.  In the first stage, the female is only concerned with herself as she is basically helpless and vulnerable and finds comfort in her seclusion.  She steers clear of any type of relation with others.  In the second stage of moral development, she acquires an awareness of others around her and clings on to various personal contacts that she develops.  She feels a sense of responsibility and devotion to care for them.  She essentially cares for and finds interest in the people she relates with.  She is naturally able to sacrifice herself for these people out of her innate goodness.  Finally in the third stage, she masters equilibrium between the first two stages.  She exhibits self concern for herself and others.  In order to essentially care for others, she must care for herself first, and perhaps the reciprocation of care between her and different people is an indication that she cares for herself.  This universal factor of ethical principle verifies a woman’s ability to control the moral principles concerning her, as it also exemplifies the potency she holds in concurrently providing for others.  

Gilligan further goes on to say that an ethics of care is an essential component of ideal moral thought.  Children must be taught to “value their hearts over their heads” (Gilligan) rather than disregard their natural emotions in fear of resorting to subjection which defies the traditional male-oriented “ethics of justice”.  In sum, women and children may exhibit more moral depth than men (Gilligan).

If women are to tolerate the impersonal and “rational” principles anchored in the “ethics of justice” they might as well become merciless, heartless brutes.  However, women are humane and acknowledge the fact that genuine impartiality requires emotive input in ethical reasoning and assessment.  In order to judge morally, we must identify emotionally with the individual to make sense of his or her motives that triggered their actions.  Yet, masculine or “traditional” ethical principles eschew the idea of involving emotion in moral judgment.  Sarah Hoagland comments that traditional ethics undermine rather than promote individual moral ability and agency because the direction of traditional ethics is impersonal and merely focuses on control and social organization.  Thus it does not uphold individual integrity as social organization is acquired through oppressive and authoritative means. 

Unfortunately, feminists realize that in their own quest to incorporate their “ethics of care” principle into the canons of society, society is much too fixated on the masculine tenets of competition and self-interest.  An environment based on interfamilial relations and mutual communication is one where an “ethics of care” ideology will be embraced by its people.  Human emotional responses are now a low key supplement to traditionalist ethical principles, as sensitivity and kindness were never equated with human goodness.  Yet, it still seems that rationale and intellect overpower these feminine aspects in a male-dominated world.    


Sharon Higgins (SCCC, 2005) on FEMINIST ETHICS

Feminist ethics and care ethics are similar in that both reject abstract rules or principles that judge the morality of certain actions. The feminist ethical focus is on social arrangements and practices instead. One goal of feminist ethics is to reduce or eliminate women being subordinate to men and for gender equality. This is approached by feminist ethics by critiquing practices and institutions that keep women subjected to men and to make society aware of how it is being done. Feminists support efforts to expose the domination of one group by another and view ethics as a continuous effort to help eliminate social inequality. Social equality is the main goal of feminist ethics and there are concerns about social equality occurring in healthcare because women still dominate in positions of nurses, while men dominate in positions as physicians, which leaves women as nurses subordinates on men.

Feminists have questioned the value of healthcare because if food and shelter were equally distributed to everyone, that would help eliminate the need for expensive health care because more people would be kept healthy.

There is controversy between feminists with assisted reproduction. Some feminists feel that the technology that permits otherwise infertile women to have children empowers them while other feminists argue that reproductive technology causes male dominance and can force women to have children.

There is not a lot of consistency with feminist ethics, there are many different opinions and claims from different feminists. This has caused feminist ethics to be criticized fro not being a coherent ethical theory like traditional ethical theories. The relevance of feminist ethics is questioned with traditional ethical theories because some argue that social equality is irrelevant when deciding to terminate life support.

Feminist ethics is about equality of women and to resolve conflicts that arise and to learn about the many different factors that influence the varied views of different feminists.


Virtue Ethics | Ethics Defined

Virtue Ethics

Kathy Krisman (SCCC, 2005) on CARE ETHICS

Care ethics is a strand of feminist care ethics. Like feminist ethics the basis for ethics rejects the idea of abstract principles. More accurately it is a conglomerate of beliefs of how values should be seen in people’s character and how they act. Carol Gilligan was a psychologist whose research on morals development contributed to the philosophical ideas of care ethics. She researched the idea that women have a different style of moral reasoning then men have. Women tend to focus on details and personal relationships. Away to resolve conflict for woman would be to avoid harming anyone and to keep everyone in the situation as happy as possible. Men on the other hand tend to analyze the situation and then use abstract rules to guide them in finding a conclusion. Care ethics share general ideas and a point of view as feminist care ethics, but does not concern themselves with feminism as much.

The main idea of care ethics is values not principles. Care ethics says it is not appropriate to think with rules of principles where a type of relationship is concerned. For example a mother should not use a principle to decide to help her child or a friend help another friend. Certain relationships likes these do not need a rule or principle to tell the person what the right decision is. Care ethics understand that situations are complex. The point to care ethics is to resolve the problem with everyone’s concerns in mind. They do not care who is wrong or being treated unfairly. Their main concern is to instill values such as the importance to personal relationships, the respect of individuals and the respect for responsibility. Care ethics sees there as being an obligation to teach all in our society to respond correctly to moral situations with the values above in mind.

When faced with medical issues, care ethics believes everyone should know everyone’s views who are involved in the conflict. Each side should present their concerns and the possibilities of care. Once all the information is provided it may be easier to come to a decision. The decision may be one that they arrive to together completely different from the original two conflicting decisions. Although the outcome is not for certain an educated, informed decision is arrived at. Each person in the situation might get a greater understanding of why the other has the beliefs they have. Care ethics is based on the traditional beliefs that traits like compassion, sympathy, kindness and willingness to take responsibility should be present in human character. Such things like medicine, nursing, and other simpler areas should have these values. We should rely on values of care and not on a principle or a rule to resolve our conflicts.

Although care ethics sounds like a good way to resolve conflict it too has its problems. It has been found that Gillian’s’ research on woman and men’s reasoning is a bit out dated. It has been found though that Gillian’s claims are not detrimental to care ethics. The importance of values is enough to show how care ethics can be used in life situations. Some feel that the basis of care ethics is what traditional philosophical ethics is about. Disclaiming any evidence that care ethics even exists. The biggest reason care ethics is criticized is because there is no obvious way to resolve conflicts. There may not be enough time in a situation to debate it and in the end no real decision can be concluded. The person having to make the decision may have their own reasons for why they choose the decision they do. Many will find the decision based on the care ethics to still be unfair.



1. Some philosophers argue that the ethic of care is based on traditional women's values in a quest for new virtues.

2. Beings other than women may not agree because humans often only understand what they can relate to.

3. Gender free morality may be impossible, according to Nel Noddings. Traditional philosophers believed that women were inferior to men and female goddesses were involved in silence, obedience and service. These female roles can be shaped into an ethnic of care according to many women philosophers.

4. It is politically imprudent to associate women with the value of care. 

5. The theory ultimately disempowers women.

6. A  person cannot truly care for someone if she is economically, socially, and/or psychologically coerced to do so.

7. Criticizes the inconsistency of modernism but hold inconsistent norms themselves.

8. Stresses the irrational.

9. Feminists contradict themselves by relinquishing truth claims in their own writings.

10.Calls for behavior that is tailored to each individual situation. If this is the case, then there is no true theory of ethical behavior because you are changing your view of what is acceptable and what is not to suit your needs at the time. 

11.Feminist theories do not allow for the natural tendencies of men. They do to men exactly what they claim was wrongly done to women for centuries.

12. Cared based approach clouds the basic moral code. Emotions and feelings make it easy to break moral codes.


Post Modernism and its Critics

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Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.                @copyright 2006 Philip A. Pecorino                       

Last updated 8-2006                                                              Return to Table of Contents