The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global

The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global

The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global

The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global


Virginia Held assesses the ethics of care as a promising alternative to the familiar moral theories that serve so inadequately to guide our lives. The ethics of care is only a few decades old, yet it is by now a distinct moral theory or normative approach to the problems we face. It is relevant to global and political matters as well as to the personal relations that can most clearly exemplify care.

This book clarifies just what the ethics of care is: what its characteristics are, what it holds, and what it enables us to do. It discusses the feminist roots of this moral approach and why the ethics of care can be a morality with universal appeal. Held examines what we mean by "care," and what a caring person is like. Where other moral theories demand impartiality above all, the ethics of care understands the moral import of our ties to our families and groups. It evaluates such ties, focusing on caring relations rather than simply on the virtues of individuals. The book proposes how such values as justice, equality, and individual rights can "fit together" with such values as care, trust, mutual consideration, and solidarity.

In the second part of the book, Held examines the potential of the ethics of care for dealing with social issues. She shows how the ethics of care is more promising than Kantian moral theory and utilitarianism for advice on how expansive, or not, markets should be, and on when other values than market ones should prevail. She connects the ethics of care with the rising interest in civil society, and considers the limits appropriate for the language of rights. Finally, she shows the promise of the ethics of care for dealing with global problems and seeing anew the outlines of international civility.


In the past few decades, the ethics of care has developed as a promising alternative to the dominant moral approaches that have been invoked during the previous two centuries. It has given rise to an extensive body of literature and has affected many moral inquiries in many areas. It is changing the ways moral problems are often interpreted and changing what many think the recommended approaches to moral issues ought to be.

With interest in normative perspectives expanding everywhere—from the outlines ofegalitarian families and workplaces, to the moral responsibilities of parents and citizens, to the ethical evaluations of governmental and foreign policies—the ethics of care offers hope for rethinking in more fruitful ways how we ought to guide our lives.

It has the potential ofbeing based on the truly universal experience ofcare. Every human being has been cared for as a child or would not be alive. Understanding the values involved in care, and how its standards reject violence and domination, are possible with the ethics of care.

It need not invoke religious beliefs that carry divisive baggage. It does not rely on dubious claims about universal norms ofreason to which we must give priority in all questions of morality. Instead, it develops, on the basis of experience, reflection on it and discourse concerning it, an understanding of the most basic and most comprehensive values.

In part I of this book, I develop the ethics of care as a moral theory or approach to moral issues. In part II I explore the implications of the ethics of care for political, social, and global questions, considering also how such attempts to use the theory should allow in turn for improvements in it.

In chapter 1 I make the case that the ethics ofcare is a distinct moral theory or approach to moral theorizing, not a concern that can be added on to or included within other more established approaches, such as those of Kantian . . .

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