Elena Pulcini

Interview in February 2013

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I am professor of social philosophy at the Florence University Department of Political and Social Sciences. I teach at the Department of Philosophy in Florence.

2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to the ethics of care?

The starting point for my main research path is a critique of modern individualism (the figure of homo oeconomicus) from two fundamental perspectives: the role of the passions in forming the subject and social bond, and the idea of difference (see my The Individual without Passions…). Owing to its attention to both these aspects, the ethics of care immediately struck me as very promising, not just because of its critical approach to the dominant liberal model, but also because it allows us to think normatively of a different idea of subject. Subsequently, and above all, the ethics of care has given me a precious viewpoint from which to put forward a philosophy of the global age (see my Care of the World).

3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?

I discovered the ethics of care years ago on reading the text by Gilligan, In a Different Voice, which over a long period I also discussed in feminist and university groups. I found points of contact with two theoretical perspectives that were already present in my reflection: the feminist theory of difference (very widespread in Italy), and gift theory, inspired by Marcel Mauss.

4. How would you define ethics of care?

I consider very convincing the vision of care theories which, albeit with their differences, describe it as a contextual ethic based on the importance of relationships and interdependence, attentive to the everyday and at the same time capable of affecting the social and political dimension. And, above all, I appreciate the idea of an ethics based on the emotions. However, I think that this last point needs looking into further: to understand which emotions and feelings are at the basis of a caring attitude in my opinion enables care to be freed from the risk of an altruistic and sentimentalist vision. It is on this aspect that I am concentrating my present research.

5. What is the most important thing you learned from the ethics of care?

The fact that people do not just act on the basis of interest or rational calculation, but also on affections, empathy, the consciousness of relationships. A fact that is now also confirmed by neuroscience. In this sense I have found further confirmation of what I had already learnt from gift theory and its radical critique of utilitarian individualism. However, in ethics of care, there is an aspect that I consider particularly important: the accent that it places, in some of its expressions in particular (e.g. Kittay), on the human’s constitutive vulnerability and the reciprocal dependence  between people.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?

For the critique of the modern subject, I would like to cite feminism (especially the theory of difference), French deconstructionism (Derrida, Foucault) and the Collège de Sociologie (Bataille, Blanchot). The concept of care is not very present in philosophy, but it is possible to find some points of contact, as well as in Heidegger, also in authors who have greatly inspired my research path, such as Anders, Arendt, Lévinas, Jonas, Nancy, the communitarians (Taylor), and Mauss and the gift theorists (Caillé, Godbout).

7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?

The works by Carol Gilligan, Joan Tronto, Eva Kittay, Virginia Held, Michael Slote, Sandra Laugier and Fiona Robinson.

8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?

Care of the World. Fear, Responsibility and Justice in the Global Age (Springer 2012), and Donner le care (Revue du Mauss, 39, La Découverte, Paris 2012).

9. What are important issues for the ethics of care in the future?

I believe it is important to stress, as I hinted above, the research in the neurosciences, as well as the rediscovery of empathy (from Edith Stein and Max Scheler to Jeremy Rifkin), in order to consolidate the paradigm of care in its universalistic potentialities. I consider it fundamental not just to extend this paradigm to both sexes, and to the social and political dimension (as many care theorists already do), but also to show how it can bear fruits in proposing an ethic for the global age (an ethic for the environment and future generations). I think that the idea of care is not just decisive in order to show the partiality of the liberal and mainstream paradigm of justice, but also to integrate and enrich the concept of responsibility (which I try to do in my book Care of the World): with respect to the abstract principle of responsibility, care introduces the fundamental dimension of concrete commitment, work and practice.

10. In Tilburg our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?

I think that it is an invaluable initiative to spread the ethics of care, and I wish you all the best in this endeavour. I would like to add that in Italy, even though some fundamental texts on this topic have been translated and are therefore in circulation, the ethics of care has not yet been paid the attention that it deserves. I hope that your web site makes a significant contribution to this.

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