I. Dualism (Perry 1981), Received Knowledge (Belenky et al. 1986), Absolute Knowing (Baxter Magolda 1992)

A. Perception of Knowledge:

Knowledge is outside the self.
Knowledge is quantitative, a collection of facts to be acquired from Authorities.
Knowledge is absolute—there are Right Answers, there is Truth.
True Authorities have the Right Answers and they are all-knowing.
Some Authorities are Wrong; they are frauds.
Some things aren't known yet, but Authorities are working on them to get the Truth.

B. Student Attitudes:

I must listen and learn from Authorities: teachers, textbooks, experts.
If I put in honest effort, read everything, and do the work, I'll be okay.
Grades should be based on amount of "rightness" and amount of effort.
Authorities should just tell us what they want, what is important amongst the welter of information.
Writers should say what they mean.
Something that is partly wrong is worthless.
Facts are true; opinions don't count.

C. Patterns Related To, But Not Dictated By, Gender (Baxter Magolda 1992):

1. Receiving knowledge: Focus on listening and receiving knowledge. Students may respond to Authorities with silence if previous authorities in their lives have demanded silence and obedience. Words are weapons, Authorities are unpredictable. (Authorities = They)

2. Mastering knowledge: Focus on talking, assertion of unquestioned beliefs, mastery of material. Tendency to identify with Authority (Authority = we)

II. Multiplicity (Perry 1981), Subjective Knowing (Belenky et al. 1986), Transitional Knowing (Baxter Magolda 1992)

A. Perception of Knowledge:

Knowledge is the property of everyone, not just Authorities.
No one can know anything for certain.
Authorities don't know everything and when that happens, everyone has a right to their own opinion.
There's no pattern or system to knowledge.

B. Student Attitudes:

Rejection of Authorities.
I have my opinion and you have your opinion. They're equally valid. There's no way to judge between them.
They have no right to grade us on our opinions.

C. Patterns Related To, But Not Dictated By, Gender (Baxter Magolda 1992):

1. Interpersonal approach: Collects ideas from others (peers, teachers); resolves knowledge conflicts by personal judgment. Knowledge is personal and private: "It's just my opinion."
"I just know" without knowing how they know.
Many women have been abused by Authorities in their lives and this experience can cloud their abilities to deal with authority openly.
Women may distrust logic, abstraction, and analysis as domains of men.

2. Impersonal approach: Exchanges views through debate; resolves knowledge by logic, research.
Men more vocal, with implied assumption that they will someday become Authorities.
"I have a right to my opinion."
Men may be more belligerent towards Authorities and dismissive of the opinions of others.

III. Relativism (Perry 1981), Procedural Knowledge (Belenky et al. 1986), Independent Knowing (Baxter Magolda 1992)

A. Perception of Knowledge:

Knowledge comes from within.
Knowledge is not "what" (facts, right answers) but "how" (ways of thinking, supporting positions with data and reasoning).
All thinking is relative, but some ways of thinking are more valid due to the quality of the thinking.
Knowledge is a process.
Some truths are truer than others; some intuition is faulty.

B. Student Attitudes:

I can't completely escape uncertainty.
People have legitimate reasons for their differences; they're not just being perverse when they disagree.
I have to be aware of people's (including my own) assumptions and biases.
Authorities have more experience and have thought about these things before; they don't have the Truth, but they are likely to have more valid reasoning than non-experts.
I know that if I don't know the answer instantly or instinctively, I can think out the problem and come up with a reasonable solution.

C. Patterns Related To, But Not Dictated By, Gender (Baxter Magolda 1992):

1. Interindividual approach: Women are more likely to employ "connected knowing" (Belenky et al.'s term): learning how to understand other's positions and how they arrived at their arguments.
Relationship-oriented thinking that emphasizes sharing of thinking.

2. Individual approach: Men are more likely to employ "separate knowing"(Belenky et al.''s term): learning how to construct arguments that meet Authorities' criteria for good arguments.
Rules-oriented thinking that emphasizes independent thinking.

IV. Commitment (Perry 1981), Constructed Knowledge (Belenky et al. 1986), Contextual Knowing (Baxter Magolda 1992)

Realization that in all facets of life—jobs, school, personal attachments, life decisions— we must make decisions in the face of uncertainty. Doubts and questions are normal.

Willingness to make choices and commitments through a process of reasoning based on judgment and values

Life is a continual process of re-examining values, recommitting to decisions, and finding the courage to act on our knowledge.


Baxter Magolda, Marcia B. Knowing and Reasoning in College: Gender-related Patterns in Students' Intellectual Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1992.

Belenky, M.F., B.M. Clinchy, N.R. Goldberger, and J.M. Tarule. Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice, and Mind. NY: Basic Books, 1986.

Perry, W.G. "Cognitive and Ethical Growth: The Making of Meaning." The Modern American College. Ed. A. Chickering. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1981.

Prepared by: Jared Haynes
University Writing Program, UC Davis