Ethics of care

The ethics of care derives its name from placing the phenomenon of care at the centre of ethical reflection. Point of departure is the observation that human existence is characterized by all kinds of (in)formal care which are as undervalued as important for the well-being of human beings. A realistic view shows caring and being cared for as an activity that is vital for any kind of living together.

Caring and being cared for

The ethics of care is a fundamental political theory about caring and being cared for, both conceptualized as constituents for living together. It has rapidly grown since in the nineteen eighties questions were raised by feminist theorists about the adequacy of reigning ethics: Whó is talking in the Kantian discourse of duties and rules? Whát generalized acting subject is supposed to determine what is good? The ethics of care in the meantime has become a fundamental, though not yet full grown political theory.

As a steadily evolving discipline the ethics of care has expanded gradually from the private realm of life at the starting point to fields of nursing and medicine, policy, law, organization of society, the political life and international relations.

Fundamental issues, political identity & practices of care

At present the ethics of care has a three tier approach:

  1. the fundamental ethical and epistemological issues raised by the first generation of the ethics of care (about gender, color, power) have remained important and get rephrased
  2. the political identity of the theory implies analyzing a too private view on caring and enables to take on issues like the evaporation of democracy and precariousness
  3. the theory is taking the turn to practices of care. Ethical concepts like autonomy have proven to be homespun by an ethics that is not informed by the ethos (lived experience) inside practices of care and by their institutional complexity: they do not provide adequate guidance. It has shown ‘critical insights’ like: relations between people are the source of knowing what matters and what is good or bad. Another important critical insight is: not just the categorized people (children, elderly people, disabled people) are vulnerable but all people are vulnerable. The consequence of this insight is: vulnerability is not exceptional.

Not a metaphysical refuge but a social and historical analysis is needed. Instead of by preset moral rules or principles, the ethics of care is attracted and driven by ‘burning issues’ and ‘burning questions’. A current burning issue is for example political-ethical thinking about citizenship in a late modern cultural and societal context.

The ethics of care is in an ongoing development process in an international framework of discussion and collaboration in an interdisciplinary context, involving diverse universities.

This information is based on: 

  • Oxford Lecture by prof. Frans Vosman (2014), which can be watched here.
  • Klaver, K., Elst, E. van & Baart, A.J. (2013). ‘Demarcation of the ethics of care as a discipline: Discussion article’ Nursing Ethics. Published online 22 October 2013. The online version of the article can be found here.  

Read more about ethics of care and Lotta Blokker: “It’s a boy” and ethics of care

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