The completion of care as taking up of another’s actions as care

‘The completion… Well, the way I want to talk about it is not how care is received, since that makes them, the care receivers, appear to care as passive’.
Eva Fedar Kittay on care as taking up of another’s action.

Conference Ethics and Social Welfare, London, September 2016. Interview by Marieke Potma


Welcome professor Eva Fedar Kittay. We are very honoured to have this interview with you.

It’s a pleasure to me.

On the Ethicsofcare website we cherish a written interview with you, from 2013.((1))  As one of the issues for the ethics of care in the future you mention connecting ethics of care ‘to the struggles of marginalized, subordinated and endangered others’. Would you please explain what your latest developments and thoughts are on this direction of the ethics of care?

Well, I have been working on disability, cognitive disability in particular. And I tried to develop a notion of care which is care in its fully normative sense, that can combine some of the criticisms that people within the disability community have had towards care. So I ‘ve been working on trying to refine the notion of care as it is used in an ethics of care as a theme. Or as it shóuld be used in an ethics of care. And one of the central things is to distinguish between care and maternalism. If we can distinguish between care and maternalism we can reintroduce what I think all the practitioners of care understand. That is: respect the individual and be careful. One of the things that I have been particularly developing in thinking about the ethics of care has been to take seriously the notion of the completion of care. Nel Noddings mentions this aspect of care the completion of care. This is something that Joan Tronto mentions as the final phase of care. But it has been relatively underdeveloped.

Could you please explore that. So the completion of care…

The completion… Well, the way I want to talk about it is not how care is received, since that makes them, the care receivers, appear to care as passive. I would rather talk about the taking up of another’s actions, as care. I develop the completion of care as taking up of another’s actions as care.

That’s completely different…

I think so. One can think about taking up of care differently in different kinds of situations. It’s depending on what kind of condition the subject is in. Clearly an unconscious person can’t consciously take up care, but their body can, right? Their body can, so we can treat the body with dignity. When you treat the subject and someone’s subjectivity, the completion of care means that what you are doing is in some way endorsed by the person. This does not mean maternalism. When you act maternalistically, yóu know what is good for the person. When you think about care in this way, as care not being care until it is taken up as care, then you are trying to understand what it is the cared for wants and needs. From their perspective. You don’t always know their perspective when you are doing this, when you are caring. You know what it’s like to raise children, right? You don’t know what they want… But what you are thinking is: they will thank me later, right?


If they don’t thank you later, maybe what you did wasn’t care.

Yes, that’s true.

Even if you intended it to be caring. So this focus on what it is that the cared for wants and needs from their own perspective is, I think, respecting the cared for.


Yes. That’s very interesting. If I link this to the French care ethicists that put the notion ‘importance’ at a central position, can you understand them?  

Could you just say a little bit more about how they use this word?

Their focus is on ‘importance’ instead of ‘justice’. They are zooming into a particular situation and looking to the person they are caring for, or caring with maybe, to see who they are, who that person is, what their life looks like, the way they are speaking…


Well that’s very much about completion. That’s indeed very much about completion. Because what care does is speaking to the particularity of that individual. And that’s what I think is the case with dignity. Dignity’s interest is understanding human beings as rational creatures. We must see dignity at least capable of rational creatures. What we do when we treat with dignity is: we are attending to that particular individual in a particular situation. You know I use the heading in one of my Chapters in the book Love’s Labour: ‘Not my way, your way Sesha’. ((2)) ((3)) That has really informed my thinking all along. I sort of discovered what that is really about this thinking in the other. In that moment that Peggy, Sesha’s caregiver, recognized that what shé (=Peggy) was doing is trying to get Sesha to do these exercises her therapist said she need to do. But Sesha had no interest in doing that, she was completely unattentive to it and instead she was looking at this leaf falling down. Peggy didn’t know that at the time. She had to really look at Sesha, follow Sesha’s eyes, as that leaf fell down. And then grasped thát was what Sesha was doing. That’s what caretakers know; good care is taking as much as possible, the perspective of this particular person.

Thank you so much for this interview. The example you used, your own daughter Sesha, it is a very illustrative, personal and situational example. We are looking forward to a beautiful new book from your hand that will be published in 2017.

Thank you very much.    



(2) Kittay, Eva (1999). Love’s labor: essays on women, equality, and dependency. Thinking gender. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415904131.

(3) Sesha is Eva Fedar Kittay’s daughter and she is disabled.


About the author: Jeannet van de Kamp

Jeannet van de Kamp

Jeannet van de Kamp (1957) has master’s degrees in both Theology and Ethics of Care and is currently a PhD-candidate at the VU-University of Amsterdam. In her thesis she examines, from a care-ethical perspective, how citizen-patients are seen in the context of the upcoming experience economy. More specifically, she examines how ‘patient-experience-central’ market models deal with the concepts of vulnerability and suffering. She works as a freelance pastor.

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