Feminist Care Ethics Essay, Research Paper
While ethics theories often focus on justice, care, an “equally valid moral perspective,” is usually disregarded because of male bias (Sterba, p. 52). The two perspectives are often harmonious, but a need for care point of view precedence exists. While truth is evident in both these statements, the problem of distinguishing between them becomes apparent soon after.
Many feminist look to psychologist Carol Gilligan’s research for evidence to confirm the difference between characteristically male and female approaches to moral decision making. Her research illustrated how men almost unfailingly focus on justice when making moral decisions and women use justice and care in equal proportions in their moral judgments. While men and women take different paths with their moral judgments, there is no justifiable basis to put one above the other. Ethics theories usually focus on justice alone. Gilligan concluded that care, something just as important, is usually disregarded in the interests of the male partiality present in the male creators of many ethical theories.
Gilligan examines the male justice perspective saying, “From a justice perspective, the self as moral agent stands as the figure against a ground of social relationships judging the conflicting claims of self and others against a standard of equality or equal respect (the Categorical Imperitive, the Golden Rule)” (cited in Sterba p.52). The male moral perspective of justice is chiefly rooted in principles and rules, tending to deny the role of feelings and emotions. This sentiment is predominant in moral theories and echoes a male bias, according to Sterba and Gilligan.
Gilligan examines the female justice perspective saying, “From a care perspective, the relationship becomes the figure, defining self and others. Within the context of relationship, the self as a moral agent perceives and responds to the perception of need. The shift in moral perspective is manifest by a change in the moral question from ‘What is just?’ to ‘How to respond?’” (cited in Sterba p.52). The female moral perspective of care concerns feelings and emotions like love, sympathy, and compassion. This sentiment is lacking in many moral theories and reveals the prevalent male bias, according to Sterba and Gilligan.
Some critics question the distinction Gilligan makes between justice and care perspectives and others attempt to validly illustrate her ideas. Roger Rigterink does just this. He uses a real life example he feels illustrates the difference between justice and care perspectives. In 1988, a hunter killed a rare white crow in Wisconsin. Many people were upset like Jo Ann Munson who said, “I was angry about it when I first heard of it and I still am. I don’t understand why someone feels the need to shoot a bird like that. It should have been left in the wild for all of us to enjoy” (cited in Barcalow, p. 200). Holing to his side of the story, the hunter stated, “I’m a hunter, its fair game. The opportunity presented itself. People blow these things out of context…I had been seeing it for a long time. I wanted it for a trophy” (cited in Barcalow, p. 200).
After relating the story, Rigterink solicited responses form his students. Many said the hunter was justified in his actions because no laws prohibited what he did. This response is aligned with a justice perception in its appealing to rules and rights. Other students said the hunter was thoughtless, insensitive, and a jerk. These students use a care approach that appeals to the insensitive and thoughtless side of the hunter’s action. Rigterink uses this case because he feels that justice and care points of view are incompatible. While a clear line between care and justice becomes apparent in this example, critics question Rigterink’s interpretation of the results. He assumes that the hunter’s action was itself just because the laws said so. This perspective has hints of Utilitarianism and Kant in it. If these theories are invoked, though, a duty to care or a greatest utility resulting from care dimension is also part of the equation. This pokes holes in Rigterink’s interpretation of his findings (Barcalow, p.201).
Perhaps one of the best illustrations of care based moral perspective results from the tests of Rita Manning. She found Gilligan’s supporting evidence “primarily anecdotal and impressionistic” (Manning, 34). Manning uses a series of examples to illustrate the difference between a justice and care approach to moral decision making. One series is based on Aesop’s Fables. In it, a group of moles has worked on a comfortable burrow for the whole summer. When winter’s cold begins to creep in, a porcupine begs to join them for the winter. If they let the porcupine in, they will be less comfortable, have less room to move around, and the sharp porcupine quills will poke them. In the first scenario, the porcupine is homeless as a result of his laziness and ill planning. He simply did not bother to build a shelter for the approaching winter. In the next situation, the porcupine is without refuge because his burrow was destroyed by no fault of his own. In the last set of circumstances, the porcupine will surely die if he is not invited to stay with the moles for the duration of the winter season (Manning, 35). After outlining these situations, she asked her students what the moles should do. She classified responses into categories; virtues, principles, reciprocity, self-interest, and care (Manning, 44).
At first Manning left out the care category, citing the supporting replies as non-responsive. At first, the responses looked as if they merely repeated themselves, stating, “We should accommodate the porcupine because we should accommodate the porcupine” (Manning, 48). After further consideration, Manning began to, “hear a voice arguing for the value of compromise and accommodation” (Manning, 48). She labeled this voice as originating from the perspective of care. She further delineated the care outlook she found. A care prospective affirms that compromise and accommodation are both good in the case of conflict and thus are tools for a moral decision. Care category respondents were the most creative in accommodating the porcupine and the most unwilling to accept that accommodating the porcupine was impossible. Compromise and accommodation are differentiated from appealing to utility. In a care view” no one is expendable and no one is a mere receptacle for utility” (Manning 48). In a care point of view, a solution is motivated by the connections inherent in creating, preserving, and strengthening relationships. Self-sacrifice is not necessarily the chief impetus. A care perspective, in accordance with Manning’s studies, holds that a creative commitment to taking care of everyone’s needs will yield a moral solution. It is not as much a situation of precedence of care over justice but in a different thinking process in moral thinking.
In light of all these examinations of the care perspective Gilligan discerned, we can meld a fitting definition. The care perspective is motivated by relationships and used feelings and emotions to direct the tools of compassion and compromise to arrive at a moral judgment.
In many cases justice and care seem to converge at some point. While the approach and steps may differ, both a justice and care point of view usually lead to a similar result. Morality is something larger then a justice/care distinction. Even if gender related theories focus on one at the expense of the other, a just person often cares and a caring person is often just.
I personally agree with the view that “One has the roles one has because of one’s sex or because one has been socialized in a certain way because of one’s sex” (Sterba, p. 57). The desirable traits of one sex are often viewed as undesirable in the other. This rift both originates from a difference in thinking and is intensified by society. I think that Manning’s version of the care perspective is the most easy to relate to. It holds the relationship motive but the thought process accompanying it is as far as I can tell a new element. The action stemming from it has both good motive and results. I find it an attractive route to take to morality. Her care results, though, came in near equal proportion from males and females so this undermines the feminist argument Gilligan makes in favor of the female care perspective. The melded definition sheds great light on a fully developed care perspective but this perspective usually is aligned with a justice outlook. While care is defined, offering concrete examples of care and justice leading to different imperatives is nearly impossible. In any event, the care/justice distinction is hard to define.
Barcalow, Emmett. Moral Philosophy. Belmont: Wadsworth, 1994
Manning, Rita. Speaking from the Heart: A Feminist Perspective on Ethics. Lanham:
Rowman & Littlefield, 1992
Sterba, James P. Three Challenges to Ethics. New York: Oxford, 2001