Life, Death, and Subjectivity: Moral Sources in Bioethics

By Stan Van Hooft | Go to book overview

Three
RECONCILING CARING AND JUSTICE

On the level of the ethical aim, however, solicitude, as the mutual exchange
of self-esteems, is affirmative through and through. This affirmation, which
can well be termed original, is the hidden soul of the prohibition. It is what,
ultimately, arms our indignation, that is, our rejection of indignities inflicted
on others.

Paul Ricoeur1

There are many philosophers who argue that basing our moral obligations on the caring and virtuous responses that might be evoked in us by others does not provide a firm foundation for the moral duties that we are said to have. Along with caring about others and being sensitive to them, they say, we must know what justice demands of us, and this will require us to articulate objective moral principles upon which our actions should be based. Bioethics is a field that is deeply riven in its theoretical bases. While the predominant approach has been based on principles,2 there has been an increasing advocacy of a virtue approach or an approach that stresses caring.3 It is this latter approach that I espouse in this book. However, there would appear to be a need for reconciliation between the two approaches, and this chapter seeks to meet that need.

Ever since the groundbreaking work of Carol Gilligan,4 caring and justice have been seen to be in a kind of opposition. In her work on the moral development of children, Gilligan identified two ethical “perspectives” that were characteristically evinced by boys and girls respectively. Whereas boys would seek to resolve conflict by reference to rules, rights, and moral principles, girls were more inclined to preserve interpersonal relationships and seek compromises and accommodations with one another out of a concern for one another's wellbeing. While subsequent discussion of these claims called the sharpness of the distinction and its attribution along gender lines into question,5 the fundamental point has now become a commonplace in the literature of ethics. The caring and justice perspectives are in opposition. This has encouraged, for example, those who call themselves “particularists” to prefer ethically motivated decision making with reference only to what is perceived to be ethically salient in a situation to a form of decision making that would derive the rightness of an action from the universal norms that are thought to apply to it.6 It has encouraged virtue ethicists to propound a character-based form of ethical decision making in contrast to the rational deduction of such decisions from overarching moral principles.7 In more applied fields, it has encouraged nursing scholars to espouse “caring” as the fundamental purpose and meaning of the profession of nursing, both because that profession is dominated by women and because ethical decision making within that profession is claimed to be more appropriately based upon a contextualized caring motivation than upon the application of abstract norms.8

However, Gilligan's claims have not been welcomed unequivocally within the recent feminist and ethical literature. As opposed to Nel Noddings's

-59-

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Life, Death, and Subjectivity: Moral Sources in Bioethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • One - Subjectivity 19
  • Two - The Moral Significance of Persons 39
  • Three - Reconciling Caring and Justice 59
  • Four - Respect for Life 83
  • Five - Life as a Moral Source 101
  • Six - Living Subjectivity 121
  • Seven - What is Death? 143
  • Eight - Accepting Death 173
  • Notes 201
  • Bibliography 213
  • About the Author 225
  • Index 227
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