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The Ethics of CarePersonal, Political, and Global$

Virginia Held

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195180992

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2006

DOI: 10.1093/0195180992.001.0001

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 The Ethics of Care as Moral Theory

 The Ethics of Care as Moral Theory

(p.9) 1 The Ethics of Care as Moral Theory
The Ethics of Care

Virginia Held (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The ethics of care is a distinct moral theory, not merely a concern that can be added on to or included within the most influential moral theories such as Kantian morality, utilitarianism, or virtue ethics. The ethics of care arose out of feminists’ appreciation of the importance of care and caring labor. As a fully normative theory, it has developed far beyond its earliest formulations in the work of Sara Ruddick, Carol Gilligan, and Nel Noddings. It is recognized as highly relevant to political and global contexts as well as to the more personal ones of family and friendship. It includes concern for transforming the structures within which practices of care take place, so that they are no longer oppressive. The ethics of care has the great advantage in a moral theory of being based on experience that is truly universal: the experience of having been cared for.

Keywords:   moral theories, care, caring labor, normativity, universal experience, Sara Ruddick, Carol Gilligan, Nel Noddings

The ethics of care is only a few decades old.1 Some theorists do not like the term ‘care’ to designate this approach to moral issues and have tried substituting ‘the ethic of love,’ or ‘relational ethics,’ but the discourse keeps returning to ‘care’ as the so far more satisfactory of the terms considered, though dissatisfactions with it remain. The concept of care has the advantage of not losing sight of the work involved in caring for people and of not lending itself to the interpretation of morality as ideal but impractical to which advocates of the ethics of care often object. Care is both value and practice.

By now, the ethics of care has moved far beyond its original formulations, and any attempt to evaluate it should consider much more than the one or two early works so frequently cited. It has been developed as a moral theory relevant not only to the so‐called private realms of family and friendship but to medical practice, law, political life, the organization of society, war, and international relations.

The ethics of care is sometimes seen as a potential moral theory to be substituted for such dominant moral theories as Kantian ethics, utilitarianism, or Aristotelian virtue ethics. It is sometimes seen as a form of virtue ethics. It is almost always developed as emphasizing neglected moral considerations of at least as much importance as the considerations central to moralities of justice and rights or of utility and preference satisfaction. And many who contribute to the understanding of the ethics of care seek to integrate the moral considerations, such as justice, which other moral theories have clarified, satisfactorily with those of care, though they often see the need to reconceptualize these considerations.

Features of the Ethics of Care

Some advocates of the ethics of care resist generalizing this approach into something that can be fitted into the form of a moral theory. They see it as (p.10) a mosaic of insights and value the way it is sensitive to contextual nuance and particular narratives rather than making the abstract and universal claims of more familiar moral theories.2 Still, I think one can discern among various versions of the ethics of care a number of major features.

First, the central focus of the ethics of care is on the compelling moral salience of attending to and meeting the needs of the particular others for whom we take responsibility. Caring for one's child, for instance, may well and defensibly be at the forefront of a person's moral concerns. The ethics of care recognizes that human beings are dependent for many years of their lives, that the moral claim of those dependent on us for the care they need is pressing, and that there are highly important moral aspects in developing the relations of caring that enable human beings to live and progress. All persons need care for at least their early years. Prospects for human progress and flourishing hinge fundamentally on the care that those needing it receive, and the ethics of care stresses the moral force of the responsibility to respond to the needs of the dependent. Many persons will become ill and dependent for some periods of their later lives, including in frail old age, and some who are permanently disabled will need care the whole of their lives. Moralities built on the image of the independent, autonomous, rational individual largely overlook the reality of human dependence and the morality for which it calls. The ethics of care attends to this central concern of human life and delineates the moral values involved. It refuses to relegate care to a realm “outside morality.” How caring for particular others should be reconciled with the claims of, for instance, universal justice is an issue that needs to be addressed. But the ethics of care starts with the moral claims of particular others, for instance, of one's child, whose claims can be compelling regardless of universal principles.

Second, in the epistemological process of trying to (p.11) understand what morality would recommend and what it would be morally best for us to do and to be, the ethics of care values emotion rather than rejects it. Not all emotion is valued, of course, but in contrast with the dominant rationalist approaches, such emotions as sympathy, empathy, sensitivity, and responsiveness are seen as the kind of moral emotions that need to be cultivated not only to help in the implementation of the dictates of reason but to better ascertain what morality recommends.3 Even anger may be a component of the moral indignation that should be felt when people are treated unjustly or inhumanely, and it may contribute to (rather than interfere with) an appropriate interpretation of the moral wrong. This is not to say that raw emotion can be a guide to morality; feelings need to be reflected on and educated. But from the care perspective, moral inquiries that rely entirely on reason and rationalistic deductions or calculations are seen as deficient.

The emotions that are typically considered and rejected in rationalistic moral theories are the egoistic feelings that undermine universal moral norms, the favoritism that interferes with impartiality, and the aggressive and vengeful impulses for which morality is to provide restraints. The ethics of care, in contrast, typically appreciates the emotions and relational capabilities that enable morally concerned persons in actual interpersonal contexts to understand what would be best. Since even the helpful emotions can often become misguided or worse—as when excessive empathy with others leads to a wrongful degree of self‐denial or when benevolent concern crosses over into controlling domination—we need an ethics of care, not just care itself. The various aspects and expressions of care and caring relations need to be subjected to moral scrutiny and evaluated, not just observed and described.

Third, the ethics of care rejects the view of the dominant moral theories that the more abstract the reasoning about a moral problem the better because the more likely to avoid bias and arbitrariness, the more nearly to achieve impartiality. The ethics of care respects rather than removes itself from the claims of particular others with whom we share actual relationships.4 It calls into question the universalistic and abstract rules of the dominant theories. When the latter consider such actual relations as between a parent and child, if they say anything about them at all, they may see them as permitted and cultivating them a preference that a person may have. Or they may recognize a universal obligation for all parents to care for their children. But they do not permit actual relations ever to take priority over the requirements of impartiality. As Brian Barry expresses this view, there can be universal rules permitting people to favor their friends in certain contexts, such as deciding to whom to give holiday gifts, but the latter partiality is morally acceptable only because universal rules have already so judged it.5 The ethics of care, in contrast, is skeptical of such abstraction and reliance on universal rules and questions the priority given to them. To most advocates of the ethics of care, the compelling moral claim of the particular other may be valid even when it conflicts with the requirement usually made by moral theories that moral judgments be universalizeable, and this is of fundamental moral importance.6 Hence the potential conflict between care and justice, friendship and impartiality, loyalty and universality. To others, however, there need be no conflict if universal judgments come to incorporate appropriately the norms of care previously disregarded.

Annette Baier considers how a feminist approach to morality differs from a Kantian one and Kant's claim that women are incapable of being fully moral because of their reliance on emotion rather than reason. She writes, “Where Kant concludes ‘so much the worse for women,’ we can conclude ‘so much the worse for the male fixation on the special skill of drafting legislation, for the bureaucratic mentality of rule worship, and for the male exaggeration of the importance of independence over mutual interdependence.’ ”7

Margaret Walker contrasts what she sees as feminist “moral understanding” with what has traditionally been thought of as moral “knowledge.” She sees the moral understanding she advocates as involving “attention, contextual and narrative appreciation, and communication in the event of moral deliberation.” This alternative moral epistemology holds that “the adequacy of moral understanding decreases as its form approaches generality through abstraction.”8

The ethics of care may seek to limit the applicability of universal rules to certain domains where they are more appropriate, like the domain of law, and resist their extension to other domains. Such rules may simply be inappropriate (p.12) in, for instance, the contexts of family and friendship, yet relations in these domains should certainly be evaluated, not merely described, hence morality should not be limited to abstract rules. We should be able to give moral guidance concerning actual relations that are trusting, considerate, and caring and concerning those that are not.

(p.13) Dominant moral theories tend to interpret moral problems as if they were conflicts between egoistic individual interests on the one hand, and universal moral principles on the other. The extremes of “selfish individual” and “humanity” are recognized, but what lies between these is often overlooked. The ethics of care, in contrast, focuses especially on the area between these extremes. Those who conscientiously care for others are not seeking primarily to further their own individual interests; their interests are intertwined with the persons they care for. Neither are they acting for the sake of all others or humanity in general; they seek instead to preserve or promote an actual human relation between themselves and particular others. Persons in caring relations are acting for self‐and‐other together. Their characteristic stance is neither egoistic nor altruistic; these are the options in a conflictual situation, but the well‐being of a caring relation involves the cooperative well‐being of those in the relation and the well‐being of the relation itself.

In trying to overcome the attitudes and problems of tribalism and religious intolerance, dominant moralities have tended to assimilate the domains of family and friendship to the tribal, or to a source of the unfair favoring of one's own. Or they have seen the attachments people have in these areas as among the nonmoral private preferences people are permitted to pursue if restrained by impartial moral norms. The ethics of care recognizes the moral value and importance of relations of family and friendship and the need for moral guidance in these domains to understand how existing relations should often be changed and new ones developed. Having grasped the value of caring relations in such contexts as these more personal ones, the ethics of care then often examines social and political arrangements in the light of these values. In its more developed forms, the ethics of care as a feminist ethic offers suggestions for the radical transformation of society. It demands not just equality for women in existing structures of society but equal consideration for the experience that reveals the values, importance, and moral significance, of caring.

A fourth characteristic of the ethics of care is that like much feminist thought in many areas, it reconceptualizes traditional notions about the public and the private. The traditional view, built into the dominant moral theories, is that the household is a private sphere beyond politics into which government, based on consent, should not intrude. Feminists have shown how the greater social, political, economic, and cultural power of men has structured this “private” sphere to the disadvantage of women and children, rendering them vulnerable to domestic violence without outside interference, often leaving women economically dependent on men and subject to a highly inequitable division of labor in the family. The law has not hesitated to intervene into women's private decisions concerning reproduction but has been highly reluctant to intrude on men's exercise of coercive power within the “castles” of their homes.

Dominant moral theories have seen “public” life as relevant to morality while missing the moral significance of the “private” domains of family and friendship. Thus the dominant theories have assumed that morality should be sought for unrelated, independent, and mutually indifferent individuals assumed to be equal. They have posited an abstract, fully rational “agent as such” from which to construct morality,9 while missing the moral issues that arise between interconnected persons in the contexts of family, friendship, and social groups. In the context of the family, it is typical for relations to be between persons with highly unequal power who did not choose the ties and obligations in which they find themselves enmeshed. For instance, no child can choose her parents yet she may well have obligations to care for them. Relations of this kind are standardly noncontractual, and conceptualizing them as contractual would often undermine or at least obscure the trust on which their worth depends. The ethics of care addresses rather than neglects moral issues arising in relations among the unequal and dependent, relations that are often laden with emotion and involuntary, and then notices how often these attributes apply not only in the household but in the wider society as well. For instance, persons do not choose which gender, racial, class, ethnic, religious, national, or cultural groups to be brought up in, yet these sorts of ties may be important aspects of who they are and how their experience can contribute to moral understanding.

A fifth characteristic of the ethics of care is the conception of persons with which it begins. This will be dealt with in the next section.

The Critique of Liberal Individualism

The ethics of care usually works with a conception of persons as relational, rather than as the self‐sufficient independent individuals of the dominant moral theories. The dominant theories can be interpreted as importing into moral theory a concept of the person developed primarily for liberal political and economic theory, seeing the person as a rational, autonomous agent, or a self‐interested individual. On this view, society is made up of “independent, autonomous units who cooperate only when the terms of cooperation are such as to make it further the ends of each of the parties,” in Brian Barry's words.10 Or, if they are Kantians, they refrain from actions that they could not will to be universal laws to which all fully rational and autonomous individual agents could agree. What such views hold, in Michael Sandel's critique of them, is that “what separates us is in some important sense prior to what connects us—epistemologically prior as well as morally prior. We are distinct individuals first and then we form relationships.”11 In Martha Nussbaum's liberal feminist morality, “the flourishing of human beings taken one by one is both analytically and normatively prior to the flourishing” of any group.12

The ethics of care, in contrast, characteristically sees persons as relational and interdependent, morally and epistemologically. Every person starts out as a child dependent on those providing us care, and we remain interdependent (p.14) with others in thoroughly fundamental ways throughout our lives. That we can think and act as if we were independent depends on a network of social relations making it possible for us to do so. And our relations are part of what constitute our identity. This is not to say that we cannot become autonomous; feminists have done much interesting work developing an alternative conception of autonomy in place of the liberal individualist one.13 Feminists have much experience rejecting or reconstituting relational ties that are oppressive. But it means that from the perspective of an ethics of care, to construct morality as if we were Robinson Crusoes, or, to use Hobbes's image, mushrooms sprung from nowhere, is misleading.14 As Eva Kittay writes, this conception fosters the illusion that society is composed of free, equal, and independent individuals who can choose to associate with one another or not. It obscures the very real facts of dependency for everyone when they are young, for most people at various periods in their lives when they are ill or old and infirm, for some who are disabled, and for all those engaged in unpaid “dependency work.”15 And it obscures the innumerable ways persons and groups are interdependent in the modern world.

Not only does the liberal individualist conception of the person foster a false picture of society and the persons in it, it is, from the perspective of the ethics of care, impoverished also as an ideal. The ethics of care values the ties we have with particular other persons and the actual relationships that partly constitute our identity. Although persons often may and should reshape their relations with others—distancing themselves from some persons and groups and developing or strengthening ties with others—the autonomy sought within the ethics of care is a capacity to reshape and cultivate new relations, not to ever more closely resemble the unencumbered abstract rational self of liberal political and moral theories. Those motivated by the ethics of care would seek to become more admirable relational persons in better caring relations.

Even if the liberal ideal is meant only to instruct us on what would be rational in the terms of its ideal model, thinking of persons as the model presents them has effects that should not be welcomed. As Annette Baier writes, “Liberal morality, if unsupplemented, may unfit people to be anything other than what its justifying theories suppose them to be, ones who have no interest in each others’ interests.”16 There is strong empirical evidence of how adopting a theoretical model can lead to behavior that mirrors it. Various studies show that studying economics, with its “repeated and intensive exposure to a model whose unequivocal prediction” is that people will decide what to do on the basis of self‐interest, leads economics students to be less cooperative and more inclined to free ride than other students.17

The conception of the person adopted by the dominant moral theories provides moralities at best suitable for legal, political, and economic interactions between relative strangers, once adequate trust exists for them to form a political entity.18 The ethics of care is, instead, hospitable to the relatedness of persons. It sees many of our responsibilities as not freely entered into but presented to us by the accidents of our embeddedness in familial and social and historical contexts. It often calls on us to take responsibility, while liberal (p.15) individualist morality focuses on how we should leave each other alone. The view of persons as embedded and encumbered seems fundamental to much feminist thinking about morality and especially to the ethics of care (see chapter 3 for further discussion).

Justice and Care

Some conceptions of the ethics of care see it as contrasting with an ethic of justice in ways that suggest one must choose between them. Carol Gilligan's suggestion of alternative perspectives in interpreting and organizing the elements of a moral problem lent itself to this implication; she herself used the metaphor of the ambiguous figure of the vase and the faces, from psychological research on perception, to illustrate how one could see a problem as either a problem of justice or a problem of care, but not as both simultaneously.19

An ethic of justice focuses on questions of fairness, equality, individual rights, abstract principles, and the consistent application of them. An ethic of care focuses on attentiveness, trust, responsiveness to need, narrative nuance, and cultivating caring relations. Whereas an ethic of justice seeks a fair solution between competing individual interests and rights, an ethic of care sees the interests of carers and cared‐for as importantly intertwined rather than as simply competing. Whereas justice protects equality and freedom, care fosters social bonds and cooperation.

These are very different emphases in what morality should consider. Yet both deal with what seems of great moral importance. This has led many to explore how they might be combined in a satisfactory morality. One can persuasively argue, for instance, that justice is needed in such contexts of care as the family, to protect against violence and the unfair division of labor or treatment of children. One can also persuasively argue that care is needed in such contexts of justice as the streets and the courts, where persons should be treated humanely, and in the way education and health and welfare should be dealt with as social responsibilities. The implication may be that justice and care should not be separated into different “ethics,” that, in Sara Ruddick's proposed approach, “justice is always seen in tandem with care.”20

Few would hold that considerations of justice have no place at all in care. One would not be caring well for two children, for instance, if one showed a persistent favoritism toward one of them that could not be justified on the basis of some such factor as greater need. The issues are rather what constellation of values have priority and which predominate in the practices of the ethics of care and the ethics of justice. It is quite possible to delineate significant differences between them. In the dominant moral theories of the ethics of justice, the values of equality, impartiality, fair distribution, and noninterference have priority; in practices of justice, individual rights are protected, impartial judgments are arrived at, punishments are deserved, and equal treatment is sought. In contrast, in the ethics of care, the values of trust, solidarity, mutual concern, and empathetic responsiveness have priority; in practices of care, (p.16) relationships are cultivated, needs are responded to, and sensitivity is demonstrated.

An extended effort to integrate care and justice is offered by Diemut Bubeck. She makes clear that she “endorse[s] the ethic of care as a system of concepts, values, and ideas, arising from the practice of care as an organic part of this practice and responding to its material requirements, notably the meeting of needs.”21 Yet her primary interest is in understanding the exploitation of women, which she sees as tied to the way women do most of the unpaid work of caring. She argues that such principles as equality in care and the minimization of harm are tacitly, if not explicitly, embedded in the practice of care, as carers whose capacities and time for engaging in caring labor are limited must decide how to respond to various others in need of being cared for. She writes that “far from being extraneous impositions … considerations of justice arise from within the practice of care itself and therefore are an important part of the ethic of care, properly understood.”22 The ethics of care must thus also concern itself with the justice (or lack of it) of the ways the tasks of caring are distributed in society. Traditionally, women have been expected to do most of the caring work that needs to be done; the sexual division of labor exploits women by extracting unpaid care labor from them, making women less able than men to engage in paid work. “Femininity” constructs women as carers, contributing to the constraints by which women are pressed into accepting the sexual division of labor. An ethic of care that extols caring but that fails to be concerned with how the burdens of caring are distributed contributes to the exploitation of women, and of the minority groups whose members perform much of the paid but ill‐paid work of caring in affluent households, in day care centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and the like.

The question remains, however, whether justice should be thought to be incorporated into any ethic of care that will be adequate or whether we should keep the notions of justice and care and their associated ethics conceptually distinct. There is much to be said for recognizing how the ethics of care values interrelatedness and responsiveness to the needs of particular others, how the ethics of justice values fairness and rights, and how these are different emphases.23 Too much integration will lose sight of these valid differences. I am more inclined to say that an adequate, comprehensive moral theory will have to include the insights of both the ethics of care and the ethics of justice, among other insights, rather than that either of these can be incorporated into the other in the sense of supposing that it can provide the grounds for the judgments characteristically found in the other. Equitable caring is not necessarily better caring, it is fairer caring. And humane justice is not necessarily better justice, it is more caring justice.

Almost no advocates of the ethics of care are willing to see it as a moral outlook less valuable than the dominant ethics of justice.24 To imagine that the concerns of care can merely be added on to the dominant theories, as, for instance, Stephen Darwall suggests, is seen as unsatisfactory.25 Confining the ethics of care to the private sphere while holding it unsuitable for public life, as Nel Noddings did at first and as many accounts of it suggest,26 is also to be (p.17) rejected. But how care and justice are to be meshed without losing sight of their differing priorities is a task still being worked on.

My own suggestions for integrating care and justice are to keep these concepts conceptually distinct and to delineate the domains in which they should have priority.27 In the realm of law, for instance, justice and the assurance of rights should have priority, although the humane considerations of care should not be absent. In the realm of the family and among friends, priority should be given to expansive care, though the basic requirements of justice surely should also be met. But these are the clearest cases; others will combine moral urgencies. Universal human rights (including the social and economic ones as well as the political and civil) should certainly be respected, but promoting care across continents may be a more promising way to achieve this than mere rational recognition. When needs are desperate, justice may be a lessened requirement on shared responsibility for meeting needs, although this rarely excuses violations of rights. At the level of what constitutes a society in the first place, a domain within which rights are to be assured and care provided, appeal must be made to something like the often weak but not negligible caring relations among persons that enable them to recognize each other as members of the same society. Such recognition must eventually be global; in the meantime, the civil society without which the liberal institutions of justice cannot function presume a background of some degree of caring relations rather than of merely competing individuals (see chapter 8). Furthermore, considerations of care provide a more fruitful basis than considerations of justice for deciding much about how society should be structured, for instance, how extensive or how restricted markets should be (see chapter 7). And in the course of protecting the rights that ought to be recognized, such as those to basic necessities, policies that express the caring of the community for all its members will be better policies than those that grudgingly, though fairly, issue an allotment to those deemed unfit.

Care is probably the most deeply fundamental value. There can be care without justice: There has historically been little justice in the family, but care and life have gone on without it. There can be no justice without care, however, for without care no child would survive and there would be no persons to respect.

Care may thus provide the wider and deeper ethics within which justice should be sought, as when persons in caring relations may sometimes compete and in doing so should treat each other fairly, or, at the level of society, within caring relations of the thinner kind we can agree to treat each other for limited purposes as if we were the abstract individuals of liberal theory. But although care may be the more fundamental value, it may well be that the ethics of care does not itself provide adequate theoretical resources for dealing with issues of justice. Within its appropriate sphere and for its relevant questions, the ethics of justice may be best for what we seek. What should be resisted is the traditional inclination to expand the reach of justice in such a way that it is mistakenly imagined to be able to give us a comprehensive morality suitable for all moral questions.

(p.18) Implications for Society

Many advocates of the ethics of care argue for its relevance in social and political and economic life. Sara Ruddick shows its implications for efforts to achieve peace.28 I argue that as we see the deficiencies of the contractual model of human relations within the household, we can see them also in the world beyond and begin to think about how society should be reorganized to be hospitable to care, rather than continuing to marginalize it. We can see how not only does every domain of society need transformation in light of the values of care but so would the relations between such domains if we took care seriously, as care would move to the center of our attention and become a primary concern of society. Instead of a society dominated by conflict restrained by law and preoccupied with economic gain, we might have a society that saw as its most important task the flourishing of children and the development of caring relations, not only in personal contexts but among citizens and using governmental institutions. We would see that instead of abandoning culture to the dictates of the marketplace, we should make it possible for culture to develop in ways best able to enlighten and enrich human life.29

Joan Tronto argues for the political implications of the ethics of care, seeing care as a political as well as moral ideal advocating the meeting of needs for care as “the highest social goal.”30 She shows how unacceptable are current arrangements for providing care: “Caring activities are devalued, underpaid, and disproportionately occupied by the relatively powerless in society.”31 Bubeck, Kittay, and many others argue forcefully that care must be seen as a public concern, not relegated to the private responsibility of women, the inadequacy and arbitrariness of private charities, or the vagaries and distortions of the market.32 In her recent book Starting at Home, Noddings explores what a caring society would be like.33

When we concern ourselves with caring relations between more distant others, this care should not be thought to reduce to the mere “caring about” that has little to do with the face‐to‐face interactions of caring labor and can easily become paternalistic or patronizing. The same characteristics of attentiveness, responsiveness to needs, and understanding situations from the points of view of others should characterize caring when the participants are more distant. This also requires the work of understanding and of expending varieties of effort.34

Given how care is a value with the widest possible social implications, it is unfortunate that many who look at the ethics of care continue to suppose it is a “family ethics,” confined to the “private” sphere. Although some of its earliest formulations suggested this, and some of its related values are to be seen most clearly in personal contexts, an adequate understanding of the ethics of care should recognize that it elaborates values as fundamental and as relevant to political institutions and to how society is organized, as those of justice. Perhaps its values are even more fundamental and more relevant to life in society than those traditionally relied on.

(p.19) Instead of seeing the corporate sector, and military strength, and government and law as the most important segments of society deserving the highest levels of wealth and power, a caring society might see the tasks of bringing up children, educating its members, meeting the needs of all, achieving peace and treasuring the environment, and doing these in the best ways possible to be that to which the greatest social efforts of all should be devoted. One can recognize that something comparable to legal constraints and police enforcement, including at a global level, may always be necessary for special cases, but also that caring societies could greatly decrease the need for them. The social changes a focus on care would require would be as profound as can be imagined.

The ethics of care as it has developed is most certainly not limited to the sphere of family and personal relations. When its social and political implications are understood, it is a radical ethic calling for a profound restructuring of society. And it has the resources for dealing with power and violence (see especially chapters 8 and 9).

The Ethics of Care and Virtue Ethics

Insofar as the ethics of care wishes to cultivate in persons the characteristics of a caring person and the skills of activities of caring, might an ethic of care be assimilated to virtue theory?

To some philosophers, the ethics of care is a form of virtue ethics. Several of the contributors to the volume Feminists Doing Ethics adopt this view.35 Leading virtue theorist Michael Slote argues extensively for the position that caring is the primary virtue and that a morality based on the motive of caring can offer a general account of right and wrong action and political justice.36

Certainly there are some similarities between the ethics of care and virtue theory. Both examine practices and the moral values they embody. Both see more hope for moral development in reforming practices than in reasoning from abstract rules. Both understand that the practices of morality must be cultivated, nurtured, shaped.

Until recently, however, virtue theory has not paid adequate attention to the practices of caring in which women have been so heavily engaged. Although this might be corrected, virtue theory has characteristically seen the virtues as incorporated in various traditions or traditional communities. In contrast, the ethics of care as a feminist ethic is wary of existing traditions and traditional communities: Virtually all are patriarchal. The ethics of care envisions caring not as practiced under male domination, but as it should be practiced in postpatriarchal society, of which we do not yet have traditions or wide experience. Individual egalitarian families are still surrounded by inegalitarian social and cultural influences.

In my view, although there are similarities between them and although to be caring is no doubt a virtue, the ethics of care is not simply a kind of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics focuses especially on the states of character of individuals, whereas the ethics of care concerns itself especially with caring relations. Caring relations have primary value.

(p.20) If virtue ethics is interpreted, as with Slote, as primarily a matter of motives, it may neglect unduly the labor and objective results of caring, as Bubeck's emphasis on actually meeting needs highlights. Caring is not only a question of motive or attitude or virtue. On the other hand, Bubeck's account is unduly close to a utilitarian interpretation of meeting needs, neglecting that care also has an aspect of motive and virtue. If virtue ethics is interpreted as less restricted to motives, and if it takes adequate account of the results of the virtuous person's activities for the persons cared for, it may better include the concerns of the ethics of care. It would still, however, focus on the dispositions of individuals, whereas the ethics of care focuses on social relations and the social practices and values that sustain them. The traditional Man of Virtue may be almost as haunted by his patriarchal past as the Man of Reason. The work of care has certainly not been among the virtuous activities to which he has adequately attended.

The ethics of care, in my view, is a distinctive ethical outlook, distinct even from virtue ethics. Certainly it has precursors, and such virtue theorists as Aristotle, Hume, and the moral sentimentalists contribute importantly to it. As a feminist ethic, the ethics of care is certainly not a mere description or generalization of women's attitudes and activities as developed under patriarchal conditions. To be acceptable, it must be a feminist ethic, open to both women and men to adopt. But in being feminist, it is different from the ethics of its precursors and different as well from virtue ethics.

The ethics of care is sometimes thought inadequate because of its inability to provide definite answers in cases of conflicting moral demands. Virtue theory has similarly been criticized for offering no more than what detractors call a “bag of virtues,” with no clear indication of how to prioritize the virtues or apply their requirements, especially when they seem to conflict. Defenders of the ethics of care respond that the adequacy of the definite answers provided by, for instance, utilitarian and Kantian moral theories is illusory. Cost‐benefit analysis is a good example of a form of utilitarian calculation that purports to provide clear answers to questions about what we ought to do, but from the point of view of moral understanding, its answers are notoriously dubious. So, too, often are casuistic reasonings about deontological rules. To advocates of the ethics of care, its alternative moral epistemology seems better. It stresses sensitivity to the multiple relevant considerations in particular contexts, cultivating the traits of character and of relationship that sustain caring, and promoting the dialogue that corrects and enriches the perspective of any one individual.37 The ethics of care is hospitable to the methods of discourse ethics, though with an emphasis on actual dialogue that empowers its participants to express themselves rather than on discourse so ideal that actual differences of viewpoint fall away.38

Care, Culture, and Religion

Questions that may be raised are whether the ethics of care resembles other kinds of ethical theory that are not feminist, and whether there can be (p.21) nonfeminist forms of the ethics of care. Some think the ethics of care is close to Hume's ethics.39 Others have debated whether the ethics of care resembles Confucian ethics. Chenyang Li argues that it does. He holds that the concept of care is similar to the concept of jen or ren central to Confucian ethics, and that although the Confucian tradition did maintain that women were inferior to men, this is not a necessary feature of Confucian thought.40 Daniel Star thinks that Confucian ethics is a kind of virtue ethics, always interested in role‐based categories of relationships, such as father/son and ruler/subject, and that because of this it will not be able to prioritize particular relationships, such as that between a particular parent and a particular child, as does the ethics of care.41

Lijun Yuan argues that Confucian ethics is so inherently patriarchal that it cannot be acceptable to feminists.42 But other interpretations are also being developed.43 One way in which the ethics of care does resemble Confucian ethics is in its rejection of the sharp split between public and private. The ethics of care rejects the model that became dominant in the West in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as democratic states replaced feudal society: a public sphere of mutually disinterested equals coexisting with a private sphere of female caring and male rule. The ethics of care advocates care as a value for society as well as household. In this there are some resemblances to the Confucian view of public morality as an extension of private morality.

It may be suggested that the ethics of care bears some resemblance to a Christian ethic of love counseling us to love our neighbors and care for those in need.44 But when a morality depends on a given religion, it has little persuasiveness for those who do not share that faith. Moralities based on reason, in contrast, can succeed in gaining support around the world and across cultures. The growth of the human rights movement is strong evidence. One of the strengths of the dominant, rationalistic moral theories such as Kantian ethics and utilitarianism, in contrast with which the ethics of care developed, is their independence from religion. They aim to appeal only to universal reason (though in practice they may fall woefully short of doing so).

Virtue ethics is sometimes based on religion, but need not be. The universal appeal of virtue ethics, however, has been less than that of rationalistic ethics, given the enormous amount of cultural variation in what have been thought of as the virtues, in comparison to such basic moral prohibitions based on reason as those against murder, theft, and assault, thought to be able to provide the basis for any acceptable legal system.

The ethics of care, it should be noted, has potential comparable to that of rationalistic moral theories. It appeals to the universal experience of caring. Every conscious human being has been cared for as a child and can see the value in the care that shaped him or her; every thinking person can recognize the moral worth of the caring relations that gave him or her a future. The ethics of care builds on experience that all persons share, though they have often been unaware of its embedded values and implications.

(p.22) Various feminist critics hold that the ethics of care can be hostile to feminist objectives. Conservatives claim to value care but often oppose women's rights and governmental social programs and resist women's progress. A traditional Confucian ethic, if seen as an ethic of care, would be a form of care ethics unacceptable to feminists; so would be communitarian views that do appreciate care but hold that women ought to do the caring while leaving “public” concerns to men. Liberal feminist critics of the ethics of care charge it with reinforcing the stereotypical image of women as selfless nurturers and with encouraging the unjust assignment of caring work to women. They think it lacks the prioritizing of equality that feminism must demand.45 Other feminist critics find women's experience of mothering as it has occurred under patriarchal conditions suspect or fear that an ethics of care will deflect attention from the oppressive social structures in which it takes place.46 Onora O'Neill has written that “a stress on caring and relationships … may endorse relegation to the nursery and the kitchen, to purdah and to poverty. In rejecting ‘abstract liberalism,’ such feminists converge with traditions that have excluded women from economic and public life.”47

Still other feminists worry that the ethics of care cannot adequately handle the problem of violence against women or of violent political conflict. However, the ethics of care does not presume the peace and harmony of idealized images of family life. It knows full well that even caring relations can be fraught with conflict. It seeks to deal with violence, not merely to respond in kind (see chapter 9).

Feminist defenders of the ethics of care argue that it should be understood as a feminist ethic. It makes clear, in their view, why men as well as women should value caring relations and should share equally in cultivating them. It does not take the practices of caring as developed under patriarchal conditions as satisfactory, but it does explore the neglected values discernible through attention to and reflection on them. And it seeks to extend these values as appropriate throughout society, along with justice. If one wishes to count any view that prioritizes care as a version of the ethics of care, one must be careful to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable versions. Fiona Robinson, arguing for the relevance of the ethics of care to international relations, writes that “it is only a narrow, ‘orthodox’ ethics of care,”—I would say one that has been superceded—“the view of care as essentially a morality for women, belonging to the private sphere,” to which criticisms such as O'Neill's apply.48 And I agree. The ethics of care has gone far beyond its earliest formulations, or any traditional religious or communitarian formulations it may seem to resemble, and should not be judged by them.

My own view is that to include nonfeminist versions of valuing care among the moral approaches called the ethics of care is to unduly disregard the history of how this ethics has developed and come to be a candidate for serious consideration among contemporary moral theories. The history of the development of the contemporary ethics of care is the history of recent feminist progress.

(p.23) The Feminist Background

The ethics of care has grown out of the constructive turmoil of the phase of feminist thought and the rethinking of almost all fields of inquiry that began in the United States and Europe in the late 1960s. During this time, the bias against women in society and in what was taken to be knowledge became a focus of attention.

Feminism is a revolutionary movement. It aims to overturn what many consider the most entrenched hierarchy there is: the hierarchy of gender. Its fundamental commitment is to the equality of women, although that may be interpreted in various ways. A most important achievement of feminism has been to establish that the experience of women is as important, relevant, and philosophically interesting as the experience of men. The feminism of the late twentieth century was built on women's experience.

Experience is central to feminist thought, but what is meant by experience is not mere empirical observation, as so much of the history of modern philosophy and as analytic philosophy tend to construe it. Feminist experience is what art and literature as well as science deal with. It is the lived experience of feeling as well as thinking, of performing actions as well as receiving impressions, and of being aware of our connections with other persons as well as of our own sensations. And by now, for feminists, it is not the experience of what can be thought of as women as such, which would be an abstraction, but the experience of actual women in all their racial and cultural and other diversity.49

The feminist validation of women's experience has had important consequences in ethics. It has led to a fundamental critique of the moral theories that were (and to a large extent still are) dominant and to the development of alternative, feminist approaches to morality. For instance, in the long history of thinking about the human as Man, the public sphere from which women were excluded was seen as the source of the distinctively human, moral, and creative. The Greek conception of the polis illustrated this view, later reflected strongly in social contract theories. As the realm of economic activity was added after industrialization to that of the political, artistic, and scientific to compose what was seen as human, transformative, and progressive, the private sphere of the household continued to be thought of as natural, a realm where the species is reproduced, repetitively replenishing the biological basis of life.

The dominant moral theories when the feminism of the late twentieth century appeared on the scene were Kantian moral theory and utilitarianism. These were the theories that, along with their relevant metaethical questions, dominated the literature in moral philosophy and the courses taught to students.50 They were also the moral outlooks that continued to have a significant influence outside philosophy in the field of law, one of the few areas that had not banished moral questions in favor of purportedly value‐free psychology and social science.

(p.24) These dominant moral theories can be seen to be modeled on the experience of men in public life and in the marketplace. When women's experience is thought to be as relevant to morality as men's, a position whose denial would seem to be biased, these moralities can be seen to fit very inadequately the morally relevant experience of women in the household. Women's experience has typically included cultivating special relationships with family and friends, rather than primarily dealing impartially with strangers, and providing large amounts of caring labor for children and often for ill or elderly family members. Affectionate sensitivity and responsiveness to need may seem to provide better moral guidance for what should be done in these contexts than do abstract rules or rational calculations of individual utilities.

At around the same time feminists began questioning the adequacy of the dominant moral theories, other voices were doing so also, which increased the ability of the feminist critiques to gain a hearing. With the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and others, there began to be a revival of the virtue theory that had been largely eclipsed.51 Lawrence Blum's work on how friendship had been neglected by the dominant theories and Bernard Williams's skepticism about how such theories could handle some of the most important questions human beings face contributed to the critical discourse.52 Arguments about how knowledge is historically situated and about the plurality of values further opened the way for feminist rethinking of moral theory.53

Within traditional moral philosophy, debates have been extensive and complex concerning the relative merits of deontological or Kantian moral theory as compared with the merits of the various kinds of utilitarian or consequentialist theory and of the contractualism that can take a more Kantian or a more utilitarian form. But from the newly asserted point of view of women's experience of moral issues, what may be most striking about all of these is their similarity. Both Kantian moralities of universal, abstract moral laws, and utilitarian versions of the ethics of Bentham and Mill advocating impartial calculations to determine what will produce the most happiness for the most people have been developed for interactions between relative strangers. Contractualism treats interactions between mutually disinterested individuals. All require impartiality and make no room at the foundational level for the partiality that connects us to those we care for and to those who care for us. Relations of family, friendship, and group identity have largely been missing from these theories, though recent attempts, which I find unsuccessful, have been made to handle such relations within them.

Although their conceptions of reason differ significantly, with Kantian theory rejecting the morality of instrumental reasoning and utilitarian theory embracing it, both types of theory are rationalistic. Both rely on one very simple supreme and universal moral principle: the Kantian categorical imperative, or the utilitarian principle of utility, in accordance with which everyone ought always to act. Both ask us to be entirely impartial and to reject emotion in determining what we ought to do. Though Kantian ethics enlists emotion in carrying out the dictates of reason, and utilitarianism allows each of us to count ourselves as one among all whose pain or pleasure will be affected (p.25) by an action, for both kinds of theory we are to disregard our emotions in the epistemological process of figuring out what we ought to do. These characterizations also hold for contractualism.

These theories generalize from the ideal contexts of the state and the market, addressing the moral decisions of judges, legislators, policy makers, and citizens. But because they are moral theories rather than merely political or legal or economic theories, they extend their recommendations to what they take to be all moral decisions about how we ought to act in any context in which moral problems arise.

In Margaret Walker's assessment, these are idealized “theoretical‐juridical” accounts of actual moral practices. They invoke the image of “a fraternity of independent peers invoking laws to deliver verdicts with authority.”54 Fiona Robinson asserts that in dominant moral theories, values such as autonomy, independence, noninterference, self‐determination, fairness, and rights are given priority, and there is a “systematic devaluing of notions of interdependence, relatedness, and positive involvement” in the lives of others.55 The theoretical‐juridical accounts, Walker shows, are presented as appropriate for “the” moral agent, as recommendations for how “we” ought to act, but their canonical forms of moral judgment are the judgments of those who resemble “a judge, manager, bureaucrat, or gamesman.”56 They are abstract and idealized forms of the judgments made by persons who are dominant in an established social order. They do not represent the moral experiences of women caring for children or aged parents, or of minority service workers providing care for minimal wages. And they do not deal with the judgments of groups who must rely on communal solidarity for survival.

Feminist Alternatives

In place of the dominant moral theories found inadequate, feminists have offered a variety of alternatives. There is not any single “feminist moral theory,” but a number of approaches sharing a basic commitment to eliminate gender bias in moral theorizing as well as elsewhere.57

Some feminists defend versions of Kantian moral theory58 or utilitarianism,59 or of such related theories as contractualism60 and liberal individualist moral theory.61 But they respond to different concerns and interpret and apply these theories in ways that none or few of their leading nonfeminist defenders do. For instance, taking a liberal contractualist approach and focusing on justice, equality, and freedom, many argue that the principles of justice should be met in the division of labor and availability of opportunities within the family and not only in public life. Of course this will require an end to the domestic violence, marital rape, patriarchal dominance, and female disadvantage in opportunities for health, education, and occupational development that still afflict many millions of women around the world, as it will require that the burdens of child care and housework not fall disproportionately on women. Achieving such aims as these would produce very radical change at the global level.

(p.26) At present the most influential nonfeminist advocates of dominant moral theories have still paid little attention to feminist critiques,62 but when these theories are extended in the ways feminists suggest, they can be significantly improved as theories.

Other feminist theorists, at the same time, have gone much further in a distinctive direction. Rather than limiting themselves to extending traditional theories in nontraditional ways, they have developed a more distinctively different ethics: the ethics of care. Although most working within this approach share the goals of justice and equality for women that can be dealt with using traditional theories, they see the potential of a very different set of values for a more adequate treatment of moral issues not only within the family but in the wider society as well. The ethics of care is a deep challenge to other moral theories. It takes the experience of women in caring activities such as mothering as central, interprets and emphasizes the values inherent in caring practices, shows the inadequacies of other theories for dealing with the moral aspects of caring activity, and then considers generalizing the insights of caring to other questions of morality.

I locate the beginnings of the ethics of care with a pioneering essay called “Maternal Thinking” by philosopher Sara Ruddick published in 1980.63 In it, Ruddick attended to the caring practice of mothering, the characteristic and distinctive thinking to which it gives rise, and the standards and values that can be discerned in this practice. Mothering aims to preserve the life and foster the growth of particular children and to have these children develop into acceptable persons. The actual feelings of mothers are highly ambivalent and often hostile toward the children for whom they care, but a commitment to the practice and goals of mothering provides standards to be heeded. Virtues such as humility and resilient good humor emerge as values in the practice of mothering; self‐effacement and destructive denial can be seen as the “degenerative forms” of these virtues and should be avoided. Her essay showed how women's experience in an activity such as mothering could yield a distinctive moral outlook, and how the values that emerged from within it could be relevant beyond the practice itself, for instance in promoting peace.

Ludicrous as it now seems in the twenty‐first century, at the time this essay appeared, the practice of mothering had been virtually absent from all nonfeminist moral theorizing, there was no philosophical acknowledgment that mothers think or reason, or that one can find moral values in this practice.64 Women were only imagined to think or face moral problems when they ventured beyond the household into the world of men. The characteristic image was one of human mothers raising their young much as animal mothers raise theirs, philosophical thinking about women or mothers having incorporated them into a natural biological or evolutionary framework. Or, if women were portrayed in a psychological or psychoanalytic framework, they might be seen as reacting emotionally, but again, they were not associated with reasoning and thinking, certainly not with the possibility that there might be distinctive and valid forms of moral thought to which they have privileged access through their extensive experience with caring.

(p.27) Other caring activities, such as caring for the sick or elderly, were similarly dismissed as irrelevant for the construction of moral theory, though existing theory, for instance a Kantian respect for persons, might be applied to a problem in medical ethics, such as whether a doctor should tell a patient that he or she is dying, or a Rawlsian view of justice might be used to evaluate how health care should be distributed.

Ruddick's essay showed that attending to the experience of women in a caring practice could change how we think about morality and could change our view of the values appropriate for given activities. Though men can also engage in caring practices, if they do not, they may fail to understand the morality embedded in these practices.

In 1982, Carol Gilligan's book In a Different Voice provided impetus for the development of the ethics of care. Gilligan, a developmental psychologist, aimed for findings that would be empirical and descriptive of the psychological outlooks of girls as they become more mature in their thinking about morality. Gilligan was suspicious of the test results obtained by Lawrence Kohlberg, a psychologist with whom she worked, that seemed to show that girls progress more slowly than boys in acquiring moral maturity. She noted that all the children studied in the construction of the stages that were taken to indicate advancement in moral reasoning were boys; she decided to study how girls and women approach moral problems. To moral philosophers it was striking that the “highest stage” of Kohlberg's account of moral maturity closely resembled Kantian moral reasoning, presupposing such difficult questions as whether maturity in ethics really is primarily a matter of reasoning and whether a Kantian morality really is superior to all others.

Gilligan thought from her inquiries that it is possible to discern a “different voice” in the way many girls and women interpret, reflect on, and speak about moral problems: they are more concerned with context and actual relationships between persons, and less inclined to rely on abstract rules and individual conscience. Gilligan asserted that although only some of the women studied adopted this different voice, almost no men did. As she put it in a later essay, this meant that “if women were eliminated from the research sample, care focus in moral reasoning would virtually disappear.”65

Gilligan's findings, to the extent that they were claims about men and women as such, have been questioned on empirical grounds. When education and occupation were comparable, the differences between women and men were to some researchers unclear, and African men showed some of the same tendencies in interpreting moral problems as the women she studied.66 But the importance of Gilligan's work for moral theory has not been what it showed about how men and women brought up under patriarchy in fact think about morality, whether social position is as or more important than gender in influencing such thinking, or whether women who advance occupationally learn to think like men. It has been its suggestion of alternative perspectives through which moral problems can be interpreted: a “justice perspective” that emphasizes universal moral principles and how they can be applied to particular cases and values rational argument about these; and a “care perspective” (p.28) that pays more attention to people's needs to how actual relations between people can be maintained or repaired, and that values narrative and sensitivity to context in arriving at moral judgments. Gilligan herself thought that for a person to have an adequate morality, both perspectives are needed, as men overcome their difficulties with attachment and become more caring and as women overcome their reluctance to be independent and become more concerned with justice. But she did not indicate how, within moral theory, care and justice are to be integrated.

Feminist philosophers reading Gilligan's work found that it resonated with many of their own dissatisfactions with dominant moral theories.67 Whether or not women were in fact more likely to adopt the “care perspective,” the history of philosophy had virtually excluded women's experiences. An “ethic of care” that could be contrasted with an “ethic of justice” might, many thought, better address their concerns as they understood how the contexts of mothering, family responsibilities, friendship, and caring in society were in need of moral evaluation and guidance by moral theories more appropriate to them than the dominant theories seemed capable of being. Theories developed for the polis and the marketplace were ill suited, these feminists thought, for application to the contexts of experience they were no longer willing to disregard as morally insignificant.

Soon after, Nel Noddings's book Caring (1984) provided a more phenomenological account of what is involved in activities of care. It examined the virtues of close attention to the feelings and needs of others, and the identification with another's reality that is central to care. The collections of papers Women and Moral Theory (1987), edited by Eva Kittay and Diana T. Meyers, and Science, Morality and Feminist Theory (1987), edited by Marsha Hanen and Kai Nielsen, contributed significantly to the further development of the ethics of care. Annette Baier's important work on trust and her appreciation of Hume's ethics as a precursor of feminist ethics added further strength to the new outlook on care.68 Many other papers and books contributed to this discourse and during and after the 1990s the numbers expanded rapidly.69 The ethics of care now has a central, though not exclusive, place in feminist moral theorizing, and it has drawn increasing interest from moral philosophers of all kinds.

The ethics of care builds concern and mutual responsiveness to need on both the personal and the wider social level. Within social relations in which we care enough about each other to form a social entity, we may agree for limited purposes to imagine each other as liberal individuals and to adopt liberal policies to maximize individual benefits. But we should not lose sight of the restricted and artificial aspects of such conceptions. The ethics of care offers a view of both the more immediate and the more distant human relations on which satisfactory societies can be built. It provides new theory with which to develop new practices and can perhaps offer greater potential for moral progress than is contained in the views of traditional moral theory.


(1.)  I use the term ‘ethics’ to suggest that there are multiple versions of this ethic, though they all have much in common, making it understandable that some prefer ‘the ethic of care.’ I use ‘the ethics of care’ as a collective and singular noun. Some moral philosophers have tried to establish a definitional distinction between ‘ethics’ and ‘morality’; I think such efforts fail, and I use the terms more or less interchangeably, though I certainly distinguish between the moral or ethical beliefs groups of people in fact have and moral or ethical recommendations that are justifiable or admirable.

(2.)  See, for example, Annette C. Baier, Moral Prejudices: Essays on Ethics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), esp. chap. 1; Peta Bowden, Caring: Gender Sensitive Ethics (London: Routledge, 1997); and Margaret Urban Walker, “Feminism, Ethics, and the Question of Theory,” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 7 (1992): 23–38.

(3.)  See, for example, Baier, Moral Prejudices; Virginia Held, Feminist Morality: Transforming Culture, Society, and Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Diana Tietjens Meyers, Subjection and Subjectivity (New York: Routledge, 1994); and Margaret Urban Walker, Moral Understandings: A Feminist Study in Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1998).

(4.)  See, for example, Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1992); Marilyn Friedman, What Are Friends For? Feminist Perspectives on Personal Relationships (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993); Held, Feminist Morality; and Eva Feder Kittay, Love's Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency (New York: Routledge, 1999).

(5.)  See Brian Barry, Justice as Impartiality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); Diemut Bubeck, Care, Gender, and Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 239–40; and Susan Mendus, Impartiality in Moral and Political Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). See also chapters 5 and 6 this volume.

(6.)  It is often asserted that to count as moral, a judgment must be universalizeable: If we hold that it would be right (or wrong) for one person to do something, then we are committed to holding that it would be right (or wrong) for anyone similar in similar circumstances to do it. The subject terms in moral judgments must thus be universally quantified variables and the predicates universal. “I ought to take care of Jane because she is my child” is not universal; “all parents ought to take care of their children” is. The former judgment could be universalizeable if it were derived from the latter, but if, as many advocates of the ethics of care think, it is taken as a starting moral commitment (rather than as dependent on universal moral judgments), it might not be universalizeable.

(7.)  Baier, Moral Prejudices, p. 26.

(8.)  Margaret Urban Walker, “Moral Understandings: Alternative ‘Epistemology’ for a Feminist Ethics,” Hypatia 4 (summer 1989): 15–28, pp. 19–20.

(9.)  Good examples are Stephen L. Darwall, Impartial Reason (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1983), and David Gauthier, Morals by Agreement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).

(10.)  Brian Barry, The Liberal Theory of Justice (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 166.

(11.)  Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), p. 133. Other examples of the communitarian critique that ran parallel to the feminist one are Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988); Charles Taylor, Hegel and Modern Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979); and Roberto Mangabeire Unger, Knowledge and Politics (New York: Free Press, 1975).

(12.)  Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 62.

(13.)  See, for example, Diana T. Meyers, Self, Society, and Personal Choice (New York: Columbia University Press, 1989); Grace Clement, Care, Autonomy, and Justice (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996); Diana T. Meyers, ed., Feminists Rethink the Self (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1997); and Catriona MacKenzie and Natalie Stoljar, eds., Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). See also Marina Oshana, “Personal Autonomy and Society,” Journal of Social Philosophy 29(1) (spring 1998): 81–102.

(14.)  This image is in Thomas Hobbes's The Citizen: Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society, ed. B. Gert (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972), p. 205. For a contrasting view, see Sibyl Schwarzenbach, “On Civic Friendship,” Ethics 107(1) (1996): 97–128.

(15.)  Kittay, Love's Labor.

(16.)  Baier, Moral Prejudices, p. 29.

(17.)  See Robert A. Frank, Thomas Gilovich, and Dennis T. Regan, “Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?” Journal of Economic Perspectives 7(2) (spring 1993): 159–71; and Gerald Marwell and Ruth Ames, “Economists Free Ride, Does Anyone Else?: Experiments on the Provision of Public Goods, IV,” Journal of Public Economics 15(3) (June 1981): 295–310.

(18.)  See Virginia Held, Rights and Goods: Justifying Social Action (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), chap. 5, “The Grounds for Social Trust,” and chapter 8 in this volume.

(19.)  Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), and “Moral Orientation and Moral Development,” in Women and Moral Theory, eds. Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1987).

(20.)  Sara Ruddick, “Injustice in Families: Assault and Domination,” in Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics, ed. Virginia Held (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995), p. 217.

(21.)  Bubeck, Care, Gender, and Justice, p. 11.

(22.)  Ibid., p. 206.

(23.)  This is not to deny that justice includes responding to needs in the general sense. For instance, any decent list of human rights should include rights to basic necessities, despite the peculiar backwardness of the United States, which fails to recognize this. Most of the world rightly accepts, at least in theory, that economic and social rights providing basic necessities are real human rights along with civil and political rights. But justice and fairness require such rights because it is unfair as a matter of general principle for some to have the means to live and act, while others lack such means. Care, in contrast, responds to the particular needs of particular persons regardless of general principles. See, for example, Henry Shue, Basic Rights (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980); Held, Rights and Goods; James W. Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987); and Louis Henkin, The Age of Rights (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990). See also David Copp, “Equality, Justice, and the Basic Needs,” in Necessary Goods, ed. Gillian Brock (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998).

(24.)  See Clement, Care, Autonomy, and Justice.

(25.)  Stephen Darwall, Philosophical Ethics (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998), chap. 19, “Ethics of Care.”

(26.)  Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

(27.)  See Held, Rights and Goods, and chapter 4 in this volume.

(28.)  Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking; Toward a Politics of Peace (Boston: Beacon Press, 1989).

(29.)  See Held, Feminist Morality, esp, chap. 5.

(30.)  Joan C. Tronto, Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (New York: Routledge, 1993), p. 175.

(31.)  Ibid., p. 113.

(32.)  Bubeck, Care, Gender, and Justice; Kittay, Love's Labor; see also Mona Harrington, Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politics (New York: Knopf, 1999); and Nancy Folbre, The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values (New York: New Press, 2001).

(33.)  Nel Noddings, Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

(34.)  See, for example, Maria C. Lugones, “On The Logic of Pluralist Feminism,” in Feminist Ethics, ed. Claudia Card (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991).

(35.)  Peggy DesAutels and Joanne Waugh, eds., Feminists Doing Ethics (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001). See contributions by Lisa Tessman, Margaret McLaren, Barbara Andrew, and Nancy Potter.

(36.)  Michael Slote, Morals from Motives (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

(37.)  For another view, see Richmond Campbell, Illusions of Paradox: A Feminist Epistemology Naturalized (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998).

(38.)  See Jürgen Habermas, “Discourse Ethics,” in his Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995); and Benhabib, Situating the Self.

(39.)  See especially Baier, Moral Prejudices.

(40.)  Chenyang Li, “The Confucian Concept of Jen and the Feminist Ethics of Care: A Comparative Study,” Hypatia 9(1) (1994): 70–89; and “Revisiting Confucian Jen Ethics and Feminist Care Ethics: A Reply to Daniel Star and Lijun Yuan,” Hypatia 17(1) (2002): 130–40.

(41.)  Daniel Star, “Do Confucians Really Care? A Defense of the Distinctiveness of Care Ethics: A Reply to Chenyang Li,” Hypatia 17(1) (2002): 77–106.

(42.)  Lijun Yuan, “Ethics of Care and Concept of Jen: A Reply to Chenyang Li,” Hypatia 17(1) (2002): 107–29.

(43.)  Chan Sin Yee, examining Confucian texts, finds the traditional neo‐Confucian denigration of women a misinterpretation. She acknowledges that even a reformed Confucian ethics might subscribe to a gender essentialism in which appropriate (though not necessarily unequal) roles based on gender would be promoted, but suggests how a return to early Confucianism could avoid this. Chan Sin Yee, “The Confucian Conception of Gender in the Twenty‐First Century,” in Confucianism for the Modern World, eds. Hahm Chaibong and Daniel A. Bell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

(44.)  For a thoughtful account of various ways in which the ethics of care and Christian and Jewish ethics “converge” from very different starting points, see Ruth E. Groenhout, “Theological Echoes in an Ethic of Care,” Erasmus Institute Occasional Paper 2003, no.2 (University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind., 2003).

(45.)  See, for example, Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York: Basic Books, 1989), and Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice.

(46.)  For example, see Barbara Houston, “Rescuing Womanly Virtues: Some Dangers of Moral Reclamation,” in Science, Morality and Feminist Theory, eds. M. Hanen and K. Nielsen (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1987); Claudia Card, “Gender and Moral Luck” and Alison Jaggar, “Caring as a Feminist Practice of Moral Reason,” in Justice and Care, ed. V. Held; but see also Cynthia Willett, Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities (New York: Routledge, 1995).

(47.)  Onora O'Neill, “Justice, Gender, and International Boundaries,” in International Justice and the Third World, eds. Robin Attfield and Barry Wilkins (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 55.

(48.)  Fiona Robinson, Globalizing Care: Ethics, Feminist Theory, and International Affairs (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999), p. 164.

(49.)  See, for example, Elizabeth V. Spelman, Inessential Woman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988); Sara Lucia Hoagland, Lesbian Ethics: Toward New Value (Palo Alto, Calif.: Institute of Lesbian Studies, 1989); Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990); Patricia J. Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991); and Uma Narayan, Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions and Third World Women (New York: Routledge, 1997).

(50.)  I share Stephen Darwall's view that normative ethics and metaethics are highly interrelated and cannot be clearly separated. See his Philosophical Ethics, esp. chap. 1.

(51.)  See Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981). A virtue theorist who was fairly widely read in the period before this was Philippa Foot; see her Virtues and Vices (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978). See also Amelie Rorty, ed., Essays on Aristotle's (p.173) Ethics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980). Other work contributing to the revival of virtue ethics includes Michael Slote's; see especially his Goods and Virtues (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983) and From Morality to Virtue (New York: Oxford University, 1992). See also Owen Flanagan and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, eds., Identity, Character, and Morality: Essays in Moral Psychology (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992); and Julia Annas, The Morality of Happiness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995). Martha Nussbaum's work, for example, The Fragility of Goodness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), has contributed to virtue theory, but she argues against the ethics of care.

(52.)  Lawrence A. Blum, Friendship, Altruism and Morality (London: Routledge, 1980); and Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985).

(53.)  See, for example, Charles Taylor, Philosophical Papers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985); Michael Stocker, Plural and Conflicting Values (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990); and Elizabeth Anderson, Value in Ethics and Economics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

(54.)  Walker, Moral Understandings, p. 1.

(55.)  Robinson, Globalizing Care, p. 7.

(56.)  Walker, Moral Understandings, p. 21.

(57.)  See especially Alison M. Jaggar, “Feminist Ethics: Some Issues for the Nineties,” Journal of Social Philosophy 20 (spring–fall 1989): 91–107.

(58.)  For example, Marcia Baron, Kantian Ethics Almost without Apology (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995); and Barbara Herman, The Practice of Moral Judgment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

(59.)  For example, Laura M. Purdy, Reproducing Persons: Issues in Feminist Bioethics (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996).

(60.)  For example, Jean Hampton, “Feminist Contractarianism,” in A Mind of One's Own: Feminist Essays on Reason and Objectivity, 2nd ed., eds. Louise M. Antony and Charlotte Witt (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2002); and Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family.

(61.)  For example, Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice.

(62.)  See Okin, Justice, Gender, and the Family.

(63.)  Sara Ruddick, “Maternal Thinking,” Feminist Studies 6 (summer 1980): 342–67.

(64.)  For some early feminist thinking, see Joyce Trebilcot, ed., Mothering: Essays in Feminist Theory (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983).

(65.)  Carol Gilligan, “Moral Orientation and Moral Development,” in Women and Moral Theory, eds. Kittay and Meyers, p. 25.

(66.)  See, for example, Lawrence J. Walker, “Sex Differences in the Development of Moral Reasoning: A Critical Review,” Child Development 55 (June 1984): 677–91; and Sandra Harding, “The Curious Coincidence of Feminine and African Moralities,” in Women and Moral Theory, ed. Kittay and Meyers.

(67.)  See, for example, Kathryn Pauly Morgan, “Women and Moral Madness,” in Science, Morality and Feminist Theory, eds. Hanen and Nielsen; and Kittay and Meyers, eds., Women and Moral Theory.

(68.)  Annette Baier's influential essay “Trust and Anti‐Trust,” appeared in Ethics in January 1986; it and other essays on trust and other matters are collected in Baier, Moral Prejudices.

(69.)  Among major titles, arranged chronologically, are Ruddick, Maternal Thinking; Jeffrey Blustein, Care and Commitment (New York: Oxford University (p.174) Press, 1991); Card, ed., Feminist Ethics; Kathryn Pyne Addelson, Impure Thoughts: Essays on Philosophy, Feminism, and Ethics (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991); Benhabib, Situating the Self; Eve Browning Cole and Susan Coultrap McQuin, eds., Explorations in Feminist Ethics: Theory and Practice (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992); Rita Manning, Speaking from the Heart: A Feminist Perspective on Ethics (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992); Susan Sherwin, No Longer Patient: Feminist Ethics and Health Care (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992); Friedman, What Are Friends For?; Held, Feminist Morality; Mary Jeanne Larrabee, ed., An Ethic of Care: Feminist and Interdisciplinary Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 1993); Rosemarie Tong, Feminine and Feminist Ethics (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1993); Tronto, Moral Boundaries; Linda A. Bell, Rethinking Ethics in the Midst of Violence (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993); Baier, Moral Prejudices; Meyers, Subjection and Subjectivity; Bubeck, Care, Gender, and Justice; Susan J. Hekman, Moral Voices, Moral Selves (University Park: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995); Held, ed., Justice and Care; Clement, Care, Autonomy, and Justice; Bowden, Caring: Gender Sensitive Ethics; Meyers, ed., Feminists Rethink the Self; Selma Sevenhuijsen, Citizenship and the Ethics of Care (London: Routledge, 1998); Walker, Moral Understandings; Claudia Card, ed., On Feminist Ethics and Politics (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1999); Julia E. Hanigsberg and Sara Ruddick, eds., Mother Troubles: Rethinking Contemporary Maternal Dilemmas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1999); Mona Harrington, Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politics (New York: Knopf, 1999); Kittay, Love's Labor; Robinson, Globalizing Care; Margaret Urban Walker, ed., Mother Time: Women, Aging, and Ethics (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999); Catriona MacKenzie and Natalie Stoljar, eds., Relational Autonomy: Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy, Agency, and the Social Self (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); Julie Anne White, Democracy, Justice, and the Welfare State: Reconstructing Public Care (University Park: Pennsylvania State Press, 2000); DesAutels and Waugh, eds., Feminists Doing Ethics; Slote, Morals from Motives; Diana Tietjens Meyers, Gender in the Mirror: Cultural Imagery and Women's Agency (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002); Noddings, Starting at Home; Margaret Urban Walker, Moral Contexts (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). Not all of the authors or editors on this list consider themselves advocates of the ethics of care, but these works have contributed to the development of such ethics.