International Journal of Applied Philosophy

Volume 13, Issue 1, Spring 1999

Lisa Hill
Pages 21-46

Homo Economicus, ‘Different Voices,’ and the Liberal Psyche

This paper extends the sensibilities of the Gilligan-Kohlberg debate into classical political economy and makes links with modern psychotherapeutics and the psychological development of individuals. The model of moral maturity represented in contemporary psychological theories is posited as the direct descendant, not only of Immanuel Kant, as is generally argued, but also of the universal, homogenous agent of classical economics; the ‘rational economic man’ represented in the writings of Adam Smith and J. S. Mill. Both thinkers lent their support to the creation of an order which produces (masculine) actors who are ’rational’ self-governing, separative, competitive, self-asserting, self-interested, acquisitive, pecuniary and driven to success by a desire for the social recognition afforded by consumerism; the same order which typically designates women moral failures and which renders them largely invisible. Liberalism generates conditions which enable it to sustain and reproduce itself at the psychic level. The assumption of the market as the paradigmatic social interaction and its status as the analytical and moral starting point in liberal capitalism infects the putatively private domain of ‘self-governance’ and contemporary psychotherapeutics; the development and management of the self in contemporary culture is a direct reflection of the imperatives and assumptions of market society. The separative self is the ‘healthy’ self, hence the parallel emphasis in modern therapy on ‘individuation’ as the highest level of psychological evolvement. Gilligan’s ‘care ethic’ is approached with some scepticism, nevertheless, her critique of Kohlberg guides us towards a more comprehensive critique of the ‘pneumatic’ and political assumptions of liberalism.