“Whether there could be a gendered difference in moral thought seems to raise the question of whether there’s a foundational difference between some parts of women’s thinking and some of men’s. To say that the question of gendered differences in thought has attracted some attention recently is a staggering understatement. And one problem is that just a few days after one partisan side has declared that they have the new and decisive theory answering the question, the other side charges them with fallacies in probabilistic reasoning or in interpretations of brain scans or in the interpretation of pre-natal hormone releases, etc. And as a philosopher, unfortunately, one has to wait to see how experts are going to respond to the question of the possible scientific errors”
- From Feminist Philosophers elist, referencing Karen Grove at a conference on David Hume in Australia
Is there a ‘foundational difference’ between women’s moral thinking and men’s?
Here is my take on it.
To me the answer comes from looking at Marx’s base and superstructure distinction, not from biology. If morality is due to the economic engagements towards which we are socially destined, if the gift economy is necessary for bringing up young children, and if it is mainly female people who are socially destined to bring them up, the ‘moral’ superstructure for people who are mothers would derive from the economic base of the maternal gift economy.
Moreover, since we all live in the gift economy in early childhood and our identities emerge at that time in interaction with our motherers, we all have an original giving and receiving character coming from our early socialization, whatever our sex. Survival is the first biological commandment and survival comes from receiving the gifts of the motherer, not directly or originally from exchanging in the market. In fact the patterns of the market are imposed after childhood on those who participates in it. The fact that women give birth is taken socially to mean that they should care for the children and therefore practice gifting. The fact that men do not give birth is taken socially to mean that they can and should practice another non-gifting economy.
If mothers also participate in the market, their values will in part be determined by that economy. The values of people (mainly males), who are socially destined as adults not to participate in the gift economy but to participate mainly in the market economy, will be determined by that base, which has a different logical and psychological structure.
The reason for the female and male differences in ‘moral’ thinking is that the gift and the exchange patterns on which they are based are different and even contradictory. Both sexes are born into the gift economy practiced by motherers. The assignment into one economy or the other is socially and circumstantially determined.
Morality is a framework that is applied when both economies are in place, to explain the differences in behavior without referencing the underlying economic patterns. In that light if anything, the economic patterns seem to derive from different morals.
(I talk about material culture in The Gift in the Heart of Language Ch 5.2)