11: Care Ethics


  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as feminism and universal care
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with care ethics
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

Key Terms

Care Ethics
Universal Care

I. Feminism

Bumper Sticker

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people

  • A. Feminism in Brief
    • Economic security
    • Autonomy
    • Social equity
    • Political power
    • Other concerns
  • B. First Wave Feminism
    • Initially concerned with politics, Women’s Suffrage
    • late 1800s and early 1900s
    • Key text: John Stuart Mill’s Subjection of Women 1861
      • The legal subjection of women is wrong
      • The burden of proof is on the want wanting to limit freedom, not the one who desires it
      • Maintaining the tradition that women have fewer rights is also wrong
      • This is a custom that has not brought more happiness
    • Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony brought success with the abolition of slavery movement to suffrage for women
    • 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote
    • Transition
      • Reveling in newfound equality, daughters and granddaughters of suffragettes explore their freedom
      • Equal pay for equal work became important in the mid 20th century (LINK)
      • Single income families in the 1950s (LINK)
  • C. Second Wave Feminism
    • Concerns moved into social and cultural inequality
    • 1960s and 70s
    • Key texts: de Beauvoir’s Second Sex and Friedan’s Feminine Mystique
    • Contributing factors included the hippy movement and oral contraceptives (approved in 1960)
    • Examples of Second Wave Feminism
      • Mary Tyler Moore Show 1970-1977
      • Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars 1977
      • Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien 1979
      • Diane Keaton in The Godfather 1972 and The Godfather Part II 1974
      • Diane Keaton in Annie Hall 1977
      • Diane Keaton in Baby Boom 1987
  • D. Third Wave Feminism
    • Concern for all women, not just some
    • Key text: bell hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman?
    • Title based on Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” (LINK)
    • Examples of Third Wave Feminism
      • The Color Purple 1982 book, 1985 film
      • The Joy Luck Club 1989 book, 1993 film
  • E. Post–Third Wave Feminism
    • Concern for self–definition; what it means to be a woman
    • Key text: Baumgardner and Richards’ Manifesta
    • Deconstructing the idea of the feminine
    • Examples of Post-Third Wave Feminism
      • Buffy the Vampire Slayer 1997-2003
      • Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2
    • Ongoing struggle, reduced pay, cultural traditions of abuse (LINK)

II. Views of Gender in Ethics

  • Aristotle: women are not as rational as men
  • Kant: women lack “civil personality”
  • Rousseau: women have different virtues and are more suited for the home
  • Feminists blame cultural conditioning for the perpetuation of gender stereotypes
  • A feminist perspective can contribute to the field of Ethics in new ways
  • Do men and women think differently?
    • Research says yes
    • Women tend to score higher on empathy tests
    • Men score higher on justice-based tests
    • Women focus on smaller, intimate groups
    • Men focus on larger, less intimate groups
    • Caution: these are small differences, generalizations, and are not value judgments
  • What causes differences?
    • Social explanations - cultural conditioning
    • Genetic explanations - biology

III. Care Ethics

  • A. Care Ethics in Brief
    • What Sort of Person Should I Strive to Be?
      • Considers the needs and interests of others to be the primary focus of moral reasoning
      • Based on the works of philosopher Nel Noddings 
    • How Do We Determine Our Morals?
      • Morality is rooted in natural caring
      • Mental and emotional empathy
      • Consider the other person’s reality to be real to you
    • How to Be Moral
      • Experience the act of caring - a feeling
      • Perform a caring response - action
      • Move beyond natural caring (how we feel about people we are close with) to ethical caring (about others we are not close with)
      • This is not the same as universal caring, which Noddings says is an empty concept
  • B. Objections to Care Ethics
    • Ambiguous
    • How do you balance care for self versus care for others
    • Some people never develop empathy
  • C. Care Ethics in Practice
    • Case Study 1: Responsibilities to Family and Friends
      • Ethical motivations for society cannot explain our relationships between family and friends
      • Motivated by love
      • Partiality toward family and friends
      • Care Ethicists say this love and partiality is normal and expected
    • Case Study 2: Charitable Causes
      • Most ethical theories assert we have a responsibility to give time, effort, and financial support to charitable causes that benefit members of society
      • Care Ethics focuses on small-scale personal relationships
      • Universal care is impossible
      • Without interaction between the ‘cared for’ and the ‘one caring,’ there is no obligation to give this time, effort, and financial support
    • Case Study 3: Animals
      • Does the suffering of animals being raised for food matter?
      • Our pets matter because we have a direct relationship with them
      • But we do not have a relationship with animals to be slaughtered