Virtuous Liaisons: Care, Love, Sex, and Virtue Ethics

Virtuous Liaisons: Care, Love, Sex, and Virtue Ethics

Virtuous Liaisons: Care, Love, Sex, and Virtue Ethics

Virtuous Liaisons: Care, Love, Sex, and Virtue Ethics


Author Raja Halwani discusses how virtue ethics sheds light on three crucial areas of our lives: care, love, and sex. He has three groundbreaking theses: first, care should be construed as a virtue, and care ethics should be subsumed under virtue ethics. Second, romantic love is an emotion and not a virtue, and the best (most moral) love is the one found in a virtuous person. Third, virtue ethics allows for sexual lifestyles (promiscuity, open relationships, and sex work) that are abjured by traditional morality.

The book's three theses are unique in important respects. The Chapter on care settles decisively the issue of care ethics' status. By arguing that care ethics is subsumed by virtue ethics, the book preserves the importance of care ethics and avoids objections to it. The chapter on love spells out the connections between love and the virtues and argues that romantic love is crucial to a well-lived, flourishing life. The third chapter argues that virtue ethics is perfectly hospitable to alternative sexual lifestyles, which boldly counters the conservative viewpoints of many virtue ethicists.


Care, love, and sex. These are three phenomena considered central to our lives, but they are also rife with moral issues.

It is not an exaggeration to state that most people are, have been, and will be part of a close, caring relationship. Our parents, hopefully, cared for us when we were young—at least those of us who had parents. Many of us have and/or will care for our own children. Moreover, many of us are in other types of caring relationships: we are a friend to someone, a lover to another, a sibling to yet another. That we are in caring relationships is, for many reasons, an important fact about our lives, and it is one that merits close attention. Consider the following examples. Lovers sometimes spend large amounts of money on their beloveds, lavishing on them expensive gifts. Parents sometimes buy their children toys upon toys upon toys, sometimes to be discarded by their children after a few days. Siblings sometimes lie on behalf of each other. Lovers sometimes stay with each other, stick by each other, no matter what. Parents often defend their children no matter what their children have done. Because all of this occurs, one can argue, at the moral expense of others, there seems to be something morally suspicious about such actions. Why? Perhaps because one of the parties to these caring relationships is simply undeserving. He is, say, a bad person, period. Or, if he is not a bad person, there are other people that require our moral attention. Why should someone buy her daughter bags full of dolls when there are children in the world who are starving? Why should someone spend hours cooking yet another elaborate meal for his beloved, when he could have spent his time doing something else much more morally worthy? Why should a sister hide her brother from the law when she knows very well that her brother is a criminal?

The answer usually given is, “Because we love them. Because we care for them.” Caring, as I said, is a pervasive activity in our lives. Without caring, no one really knows what we—human beings—would be or what . . .

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