Difference Between Gilligan and Kohlberg Controversy

Psychology- the subject of fascination has paved way for many unanswered questions and theories.

Back then after Professor Jean Piaget actively studied the evolution of thinking patterns and their influence on moral development and structure, many renowned personalities were influenced by it and started forming their theories which may seem to be confusing in layman’s terms.

One such conflicting yet confusing issue was the Gilligan and Kohlberg controversy. Knowing the difference between them will aid in understanding this concept of psychology better.  

Gilligan vs Kohlberg Controversy 

The main difference between Gilligan and Kohlberg controversy is that Gilligan carried the psychological view that in the moral structure and development of a society a female defines morality different from a male, she introduced the female perspective of morality in the society, on the other hand, Kohlberg primarily focused on the male perspective and did not include female perspective in his study.   

Gilligan vs Kohlberg Controversy

Carol Gilligan, an American psychologist began her career as a student of Lawrence Kohlberg assisting him in his moral development study in the branch of psychology.

While assisting him she realized a few issues with his model and pointed it out and questioned if the female gender is inferior in terms of morality and to date, she is known as the pioneer of this revolutionary question.

She voiced out her opinions and formulated a book titled ‘In a Different Voice’.  

On the other hand, Lawrence Kohlberg an American psychologist, influenced by Jean Piaget’s work and study on the evolution of morality, introduced his own ‘Theory of Stages of Moral Development’.

He introduced a model contemplating primarily 3 stages each with 2 substages thus formulating the six-stage sequence.

He is actively known for expanding the work of Jean Piaget’s theory. His theory has an equal number of followers as well as critiques.   

Comparison Table Between Gilligan and Kohlberg Controversy 

Parameters of Comparison    Gilligan    Kohlberg    
Born on    28 November, 1936  25 October, 1927  
Professor in    New York University, University of Cambridge    The University of Chicago, Graduate School of Education- Harvard University    
Expertise in    Humanities and Applied Psychology  Psychology and Human Development    
Best Known For    In a Different Voice- Book    Theory of Stages of Moral Development    
Key Factor  Introduced the Female Morality Perspective    Postulated his theory based on logic and focused majorly on Male Perspective    
Popularly Known as/ for  Originator of Ethics of Care (EoC)  Use of Moral Exemplars, Dilemma Discussions, etc.    

Who is Gilligan?  

Aforementioned, Carol Gilligan (Born 28 November 1936) is a talented psychologist and a former student of Lawrence Kohlberg.

She is one of the pioneer personalities who introduced the concept of feminism to society. She is to date known as one of the most influential personalities of America.   

Career-wise she pursued psychology under the guidance of many scholars and became a Humanities Professor at New York University and a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge.   

She was the first person to oppose the views of Kohlberg and put forward the theory which included the female perspective of moral development.

She voiced her opinions through her book titled ‘In a Different Voice’. The book mainly opposed the theory of Kohlberg and introduced the importance of the inclusion of females in the concept of morality.  

Gilligan majorly emphasized the theory mentioning that female psychology, morals, values vary greatly from that of a male and majorly focuses on decisions taken based on emotions and not only practically.

She mentions that female psychology attains more responsibility and care and a female is naturally sacrificial thus is morally responsible in her way.   

She introduced a three-stage model based on her ‘Ethics of Care’ which consisted of Pre-Conventional, Conventional, Post-Conventional stages.

The pre-conventional Stage primarily means that female morality is self-oriented typically that is she morally does those things which appear correct according to her.

The conventional Stage means that a female mainly focuses on care, responsibility, and sacrifice in this stage.

Post Conventional Stage defines that a female focuses on social issues and the caring part extends from personal to dynamic relationships.

Nevertheless, her entire model brought up the female perspective of care and love into the concept of morality.  

Who is Kohlberg?  

As mentioned above, Lawrence Kohlberg (Born 25 October 1927) is a psychologist best known for his work on the Theory of Stages of Moral Development.

He has expertise in the concept of Moral Development of Psychology and has been a psychology professor at the University of Chicago and Harvard University.

He was known as the 30th most prominent psychologist of the 20th Century.   

Kohlberg was heavily influenced by the works of Jean Piaget, George Herbert Mead, and James Mark Baldwin.

He actively worked to extend the work and theory of these personalities and published the Theory of Stages of Moral Development.

By studying 72 males of the middle and upper class and making note of male patterns, behaviors, morality he formulated the theory.   

Kohlberg considered that women are inferior and should not be included in the theory. He introduced the six developmental stages model which consisted of 3 main stages with 2 substages each.

The major principles of his theory were logic and duty.   

The first stage is the Pre-Conventional Stage that mentioned that decisions in this stage are peculiarly ego-centric and authority based that is fear from elders, while the next stage that is the Conventional Stage primarily means that decisions and opinions in this stage are of the wide spectrum, that is men start understanding other’s perspective and respect their opinions.

The final stage is the Post-Conventional Stage which mentions that men in this stage particularly make judgements and moral decisions based on the universal principle of justice, logic, duty, etc.   

Kohlberg used Moral Exemplars and Dilemma Discussions to explain his theory, specifically the Heinz Dilemma.

Although his model faced many criticisms, he is to date known as one of the most eminent psychologists of the world and is respected hugely for his work in the subject of Moral Development.   

Main Differences Between Gilligan and Kohlberg Controversy  

  1. Gilligan gave huge importance to women in her model on the other hand Kohlberg considered women inferior and did not include them in his model.  
  2. Gilligan’s model was primarily based on care, love, responsibility in contrast Kohlberg’s model was entirely based on rationality, logic, duty, etc.  
  3. Gilligan’s model is female-centric and she is known to be one of the first feminists of her era while Kohlberg’s model was entirely male-centric and his model received enough criticism.  
  4. Gilligan is best known for her book ‘In a Different Voice’ where she voiced her opinions and criticized Kohlberg’s view whereas Kohlberg is known for ‘Theory of Stages of Moral Development’.  
  5. Gilligan focused on the quality of empathy and avoided violence in her model whereas Kohlberg focused on decision making, logic, and practicality in his model.  
  6. Gilligan is known as the originator of Ethics of Care (EoC) while Kohlberg is known for his book titled- ‘Essays on Moral Development Volume 1 and 2’.  


From the above-mentioned points, it is clear that both Gilligan and Kohlberg’s theory are poles apart as the former justifies the women’s perspective in moral development while the latter emphasizes that women are inferior to a man and hence should not be included in moral development theory.  

Although Gilligan opposed her former professor Kohlberg, he never questioned her theory and accepted her point of view as an extension of his work.

Even after she opposed him and published a book criticizing his opinions, they continued to work together and had mutual respect.

Nevertheless, to date, both of them are considered as best psychologists of their era and both of them had successful scientific careers.   


  1. https://www.ceeol.com/search/article-detail?id=262242 
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