What is the contribution of a care ethical perspective for discussing war and peace? The work of political philosopher and care ethicist Fiona Robinson inspired Tom Sprang, but also raised a few questions that he posed her.In July, master’s student Sprang succesfully completed his Master Care Ethics and Policy with a thesis on care ethics and political ethics in the field of international relations.
Click here to view his thesis on the “Wall of Fame” of Zorgethiek.nu (in Dutch)
He decided to contact Fiona Robinson for a reaction. She responded immediately and enthusiastically. You can find a short report from Tom down below.
Click here for the full text of Fiona Robinson’s answers to Tom’s questions.
The first question I wanted to ask Robinson came to me in response to the current ratios worldwide. I wanted to know how Robinson thought a care ethical perspective can be heard, gain ground and be a horizon in a time which is characterized by anxiety and where there is a lot of thinking in dichotomies. Although Robinson does not really answer the question of how care ethics can be heard, she does elaborate upon the question of how a care ethical perspective may adjust the way in which worldwide problems are usually and predominantly framed.
In her answer, Robinson explains that the dominant discourse on ethics and moral in the West is constructed in opposite terms. Ethics is understood as a set of rules and principles that represent what is morally right and wrong. The ethics of care raise questions about these assumptions. A care ethical perspective is not about seeking a clear decision in response to a moral dilemma. Care ethics does not think in terms of right or wrong. It is based on a broad sense of responsibility and focuses on our daily actions (or deliberate lack thereof) in relation with the people around us, and its the consequences.
A care ethical perspective can help gain a different view of anxiety and dichotomies. Care ethics sees each individual as both vulnerable and interdependent. With this relational approach it can fight the dichotomies between autonomous-dependent, weak-strong and protector-protected. Robinson concludes that a care ethical perspective serves as a critical lens to contemplate existing relationships within society and to raise attention for care practices in the public debate.”
Care ethicist Fiona Robinson
is professor of political science at Carleton University in Canada. She specializes in international relations and political theory. Robinson is the author of Globalizing Care: Ethics, Feminist Theory and International Relations (1999) and The Ethics of Care: A Feminist Approach to Human Security (2011). In these two works she discusses the implications of an ethics of care perspective for international political theory. Most of her other work also focuses on these subjects.
Care ethics and humanitarian intervention
My second question was about the concept of responsibility in relation to the current state of the world. I was wondering if you could state the following: Countries that are able to do so, have the responsibility to use military force for humanitarian purposes. For example, in Syria.
In her reply, Robinson highlighted that the idea of a humanitarian intervention is a product of the dichotomous way of thinking about ethics and politics, as discussed above under question 1. An intervention is seen as a moral obligation to protect innocent people who are oppressed. “Us,” the Western world are thus in the position to make moral judgements about good and evil, and the unleashing of military force.
To justify a humanitarian intervention through a care ethical perspective seems to be very dangerous, Robinson explains. Taking care of, used as justification for a good cause, can be abused to achieve ideological ends. Robinson emphasizes that care within international politics can take paternalistic and domineering forms. In those forms, care will be experienced as bad care.
“Challenging the dichotomous logic of ‘carer’ and ‘cared for’ in the world restores a vision of all persons as givers and receivers of care.” (Fiona Robinson)
Care ethics does not offer a clear solution to the moral problem of humanitarian crises. Robinson replied that each case must be examined under its own terms, and in its own context. The contextual and relational approach from an ethics of care perspective will be useful in situations like these. The moral and political issue of military humanitarian intervention must be dealt with on these terms. In practice it may turn out that, under very specific circumstances, military intervention is the best thing to do. But in most cases, as Robinson states, a military intervention would not be justified from an ethic of care perspective. ”
Want to know more?
In 2014 we published an interview with Fiona Robinson.