Interview on February 21st, 2011.
Michael Slote is UST Professor of Ethics at the University of Miami and is author of “The Ethics of Care and Empathy” and “Moral Sentimentalism”. He was previously professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland, and at Trinity College Dublin.
He is widely recognized as a leading figure in the recently renewed field of virtue ethics. He argues that virtue ethics, in a particular form which draws on the concept of an ethics of care, offers significant intuitive and structural advantages over deontology, utilitarianism, and common-sense morality. He has also recently endorsed the meta-ethical view of moral sentimentalism in opposition to moral rationalism. (source:Wikipedia)
1. What are you working on at this moment?
I am working on the importance of receptivity both as a corrective to the Western philosophical tendency to overemphasize rational control in human life and as an entry point to understanding how Chinese ethical thought can be useful to present-day Western philosophizing.
2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to the ethics of care?
Care is arguably based in empathy, but both require a certain degree of receptivity, and I think care ethics needs to be more explicitly aware of this. Proper attention to the importance of receptivity will not only favor care ethics over moral rationalism, but (as suggested above) indicate other areas of human life and thought that have largely been misunderstood or distorted by traditional Western philosophy.
3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?
I was pushing virtue ethics in a sentimentalist vein, and care ethics is the contemporary ethical philosophy that comes closest to such a virtue ethics. I later saw, or thought I saw, that there is no reason for the sentimentalist virtue ethicist not to be or become a care ethicist.
4. How would you define ethics of care?
Well, there are lots of different views that nowadays go under the name of care ethics, and that is the mark of a mature or maturing school or approach. What they seem to have in common is the idea that caring should be philosophically foregrounded relative to other ethical virtues and desirable relationships. But how best to do this is, of course, a matter of some dispute.
5. What is the most important thing you learned from the ethics of care?
Well, it has pointed me toward a larger critique of traditional (and patriarchal) Western values.
6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?
Nel Noddings and Carol Gilligan
7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?
The early work of those two authors stands out. But there is much recent work on care ethics that carries things forward. Perhaps I shouldn’t get into specifics.
8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?
Well, the two books The Ethics of Care and Empathy and Moral Sentimentalism would be good.
9. What are important issues for the ethics of care in the future?
I think care ethics has to pay more attention to traditional philosophical issues, though of course it will want to treat them in its own distinctive way. And we need to consider how the skills and intellectual virtues that inform or are supposed to inform care ethics can be made available and shown to be important to ethical practitioners who resist or reject care ethics.
10. In Tilburg our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?
If you wish to involve me in your ongoing activities, I’d be interested. I’m not sure a journal solely devoted to care ethics is a good idea, but your website can play a significant role, surely.