I thank my former student Kirsten Nystrom and my colleagues Martin Gunderson, Carla Johnson, Nicholas Low and Henry West for comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.
As I hope will become clear, I think feminist attempts to articulate and defend an ‘ethic of care’ often fare no better than, and commit the same mistakes as, canonical attempts to defend an ethics of rights, duty, utility or justice. This is because proponents of an ‘ethic of care’ often present and discuss that ethic as if it were a universal ethic (in the canonical sense) in competition with or more basic than a justice ethic.
For the purposes of this chapter, I do not discuss the meaning of ‘care’. I do use the expression ‘care about’, rather than ‘care for’, since, as is clear in the discussion of Goleman’s research, I endorse a version of a ‘cognitive’ (rather than a ‘feeling’) view of emotions whereby emotions have a cognitive component and are not simply twinges, twanges or physiological occurrences. Accordingly, to ‘care about’ someone or something is to have certain beliefs or attitudes about that person or thing, whether or not one also has ‘feelings’ about either.
In this respect, ethics must be based on an accurate notion of human capabilities. This is consistent with the position of ethical naturalism and moral realism.
For a discussion of the ‘boundary conditions’ of any ethic, including an environmental ethic, from an ecofeminist point of view see Warren (1990).
I put ‘others’ in quotes because I leave open the referent for ‘others’. ‘Others’ does not mean the problematic ‘other’ (e.g. subject-object dualistic concepts of ‘the other’ in which ‘the other’ is not itself also a subject—see Chapter 12 by Plumwood in this volume); nor does it presume that ‘the other’ must be a self, since I hold that non-human ‘others’ (e.g. animals, ecosystems) are deserving of moral consideration.
It was also clear to me that the dolphins had not changed; I had. Until that last day, my intentions were to swim with the dolphins, and I single-mindedly pursued that end. On the last day, I entered the water differently. I took deep breaths and settled into the moment. I asked their permission to join them. I had made an internal shift from caring about my having the experience of swimming with them, to caring about them and hoping they would permit me to swim with them. Although it is only anecdotal evidence, I believe that this motivational shift made possible what I subsequently experienced with the dolphins.
Does ‘emotional intelligence’ apply beyond the human species? I don’t know. But, in one sense, it does not matter ethically whether dolphins (or other non-humans) are incapable of caring about themselves or others. What matters is what human moral agents are capable of caring about; human relationships to non-human animals and nature are thereby morally assessable, whether or not the ‘other’ is a moral agent or carer.
Bowden, P. (1997) Curing: Gender Sensitive Ethics, London: Routledge.
Clement, G. (1996) Care, Autonomy, and Justice: Feminism and the Ethic of Care, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Goleman, D. (1995) Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, New York: Bantam Books.
Jaggar, A.M. (1989) ‘Love and Knowledge’, in A.M. Jaggar and S. Bordo (eds) Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing, Princeton, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Book title: Global Ethics and Environment.
Contributors: Nicholas Low - Editor.
Place of publication: London.
Publication year: 1999.
Page number: 144.
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