Practice of care and practice of play

Interview with Petr Urban: “I deem it necessary to undertake a substantial critical reflection on normative presuppositions of the “new science of happiness”. The ethics of care could serve here as an appropriate point of reference”

1. Where are you working at this moment?

I work at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague where I lead the Department of Contemporary Continental Philosophy.

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

As a PhD student and young postdoc I dealt mainly with problems of language, embodiment and intersubjectivity. I drew strongly from the phenomenological tradition represented by philosophers, such as Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Stein. With this background, I am currently engaged in interdisciplinary debates on social cognition, anthropological difference, mind-body problem, sociality and gender. From the very beginning of my interest in philosophy, I have also been attracted by ethical questions. In my view, the ethics of care provides a novel ethical framework which I consider as profoundly complementary to the up-to-date findings in philosophy of sociality.

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

As I first came across the ideas of care ethics, I was struck by its affinities with phenomenological views of the person, sociality, embodiment, emotions etc. My reading of Maurice Hamington’s book “Embodied Care” reinforced that impression and launched my deeper interest in the field. Eventually, this resulted in my decision to translate Virginia Held’s seminal book “The Ethics of Care” into Czech. My work on the translation was supported by the Paul Celan Fellowship for Translators at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and the Czech version of the book has just come out (in April 2016). In the academic year 2013/2014, I had a great opportunity to spend nine inspiring months with Virginia Held at the Graduate Center of the CUNY in New York (funded by the Fulbright Commission). With this background, I recently published several papers considering the points of convergence between care ethics and phenomenological-enactive accounts of intersubjectivity.

4. How would you define ethics of care?

In its most general sense, it can be defined as a moral theory based on a fundamentally relational view of human beings and moral phenomena. Its normative statements are grounded in reflections on care as a paradigmatic moral practice and value.

5. What is/are the most important thing(s) you learned from the ethics of care?

That there is a great deal of moral phenomena which we cannot understand, or at least fully understand, if we approach them from the perspective of an individual agent with her individual will, intentions and character. I find also great inspiration in the interplay between the notions of mutual interdependence and relational autonomy.

6. Whom do you consider to be your most important/inspiring teacher(s) in this area and why so?

To me, the most important teachers in care ethics have been Virginia Held and Joan Tronto. However, there are dozens of other care ethicists whose work I find very inspiring.

7. What works in the ethics of care do you consider to be the most important and why so?

I appreciate the variety of views represented by the full range of classical works in care ethics.

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

My modest contribution to the literature on care ethics includes the following papers:
– Urban, P. (2014): Toward an Expansion of an Enactive Ethics with the Help of Care Ethics. Frontiers in Psychology, 5 (1354), 1-3.
– Urban, P. (2015): Enactivism and Care Ethics: Merging Perspectives. Filozofia, 70 (2), 119-129.
– Urban, P. (2015): Enacting Care. Ethics and Social Welfare, 9 (2), 216-222.
– Urban, P. (2016): Foregrounding the Relational Domain – Phenomenology, Enactivism and Care ethics. Horizon. Studies in Phenomenology, 5 (1), 171-182.

9. What do you perceive as burning issues that you would like to draw attention to?

I see at least two underappreciated areas of great importance for future research. First, there seems to be a significant connection between practices of care and practices of play (play, game, arts etc.). Me and Alice Koubová, a colleague of mine at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, would like to explore this relationship in a detail and fill the gap in care literature. Second, there is a dynamically developing field of interdisciplinary study devoted to the topic of wellbeing – the so-called science of wellbeing – which aims to reveal the constituents of human wellbeing and happiness. Recently, this field has attracted great attention of political, economic and global leaders of the world. I deem it necessary to undertake a substantial critical reflection on normative presuppositions of the “new science of happiness”. The ethics of care could serve here as an appropriate point of reference.

10. We always welcome new articles. On what topics would you (or your possible students or colleagues) like to contribute?

I would be happy to contribute on both topics that I mentioned in my answer to your previous question (nr. 9). Most recently, I have become deeply interested also in applying care ethics in the field of public ethics (here I draw mainly from the work of Helena Stensöta).

11. The ambition of is to promote ethics of care internationally and to interconnect care ethicists. Do you have any recommendations or wishes that the editorial board members of the website should pay attention to?

The does an awesome job for the international community in the field of care theory. Thank you so much! If I could have a wish, I would love to read even more about what is happening and who is working in care ethics beyond the Euro-American context. I would also wish to establish some more permanent forms of cooperation between your team in the Netherlands and our tiny community of care theorists from the middle and eastern European countries.

Thank you very much for interviewing me and take care!


About the author: Petr Urban

Petr Urban

Petr Urban (1977) is a senior researcher at the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague where he leads the Department of Contemporary Continental Philosophy. He has published widely in the areas of phenomenological philosophy, care ethics and applied ethics. He is author of the books Geburt der Phänomenologie (2010), Phenomenology of the Body (2011 in Czech), The Early Husserl and the Philosophy of Language (2013 in Czech) and How do We Understand Others? (2016 in Czech). He was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Graduate Center CUNY with Virgina Held (2013/14) and a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna (2013).

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