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Carol Gilligan (1936– ) is an American feminist ethicist, and psychologist best known for her work with and against Lawrence Kohlberg on ethical community and ethical relationships, and certain subject-object problems in ethics.

In a Different Voice

Her fame rests primarily on In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (1982) in which she criticized Kohlberg's research on the moral development of children, which at the time showed that girls on average reached a lower level of moral development than boys did. She claimed that the results of Kohlberg were biased because the participants in the basic study were largely male, and that the scoring method subsequently used tended to favor a principled way of reasoning that was more common to boys, over a moral argumentation concentrating on relations, which would be more amenable to girls. Kohlberg saw reason to revise his scoring methods as a result of Gilligan's critique, after which boys and girls scored evenly.

Her work formed the basis for what has become known as the ethics of care, a theory of ethics that contrasts ethics of care to so-called ethics of justice.


She has been popularly acclaimed, but criticized as to the soundness of her psychological studies. In particular, Christina Hoff Sommers, in her book The War Against Boys notes that the In a Different Voice studies did not follow standard research protocol. Gilligan used small samples, her findings were not peer reviewed, and decades later, Gilligan has continued to resist letting other researchers see her data.


Carol Gilligan received an B.A. in English literature from Swarthmore College, a masters degree in clinical psychology from Radcliffe College and a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University. Her landmark book In A Different Voice (1982) is described by Harvard University Press as “the little book that started a revolution.” Following In A Different Voice, she studied women’s psychology and girls’ development and co-authored or edited 5 books with her students Mapping the Moral Domain (1988), Making Connections (1990), Women, Girls, and Psychotherapy: Reframing resistance (1991), Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girls' Development, (1992) – a New York Times notable book of the year, and Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationships (1995). She received a senior research scholarship award from the Spencer Foundation, a Grawemeyer Award for her contributions to education, a Heinz Award for her contributions to understanding the human condition and was named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential Americans. Following her research on girls’ development, she studied boys and their parents in relationship.

She was a member of the Harvard faculty for over 30 years, and in 1997 became Harvard’s first professor of Gender Studies. In 1992, she was Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge, in 2002, she became University Professor at New York University. She is now a visiting professor University of Cambridge affiliated with the Centre for Gender Studies and with Jesus College.

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