Care, Autonomy, and Justice: Feminism and the Ethic of Care

Care, Autonomy, and Justice: Feminism and the Ethic of Care

Care, Autonomy, and Justice: Feminism and the Ethic of Care

Care, Autonomy, and Justice: Feminism and the Ethic of Care

Synopsis

Care, Autonomy, and Justice marks a major step forward in our understanding of feminist ethics, providing clarification of the terminology, arguments, and implications of the care/justice debate within feminist ethics.

Excerpt

Since the early 1980s, moral philosophers and social scientists, both feminist and non-feminist, have debated the basis, the normative merits, and the implications of the approach to morality called the ethic of care. The ethic of care emphasizes aspects of moral reasoning that are not generally emphasized by dominant Western moral theories, especially by Kantian ethics. Because these aspects of moral reasoning have been most important in women's traditional activities and experiences, the ethic of care has been of special interest to feminist ethicists. In this work I give an overview of the debate between the ethic of care and the predominant ethic of justice, defend a particular point of view on this debate, and show how this debate and the ethic of care are important for moral and feminist theory. In particular, I argue that the ethic of care is an often neglected but essential dimension of ethics, but that we must make distinctions between versions of the ethic based on their roles in challenging or contributing to women's oppression. Doing so requires that we challenge standard accounts of the relationship between care and justice.

The ethic of care and the ethic of justice are especially worthy of our attention because they are not merely two among many different approaches to ethics. They are more fundamental than other possible ethics because they thematize two basic dimensions of human relationships, dimensions that might be called vertical and horizontal. The ethic of justice focuses on questions of equality and inequality, while the ethic of care focuses on questions of attachment and detachment, and both sets of questions can arise in any context. As Carol Gilligan writes:

All human relationships, public and private, can be characterized both in terms of equality and in terms of attachment, and . . . both inequality and detachment constitute grounds for moral concern. Since everyone is vulnerable both to oppression and to abandonment, two moral visions--one of justice and one of care--recur in human experience. The moral injunctions, not to act unfairly toward others, and not to turn away from someone in need, capture these different concerns (Gilligan 1987, 20).

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