A Kantian Ethic of Care?

In Barbara S. Andrew, Jean Clare Keller & Lisa H. Schwartzman (eds.), Feminist Interventions in Ethics and Politics: Feminist Ethics and Social Theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (2005)
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In this essay, I develop the duty to care. I argue that certain needs do require a moral response. Under the duty to care, moral individuals must act so as to bolster and safeguard the agency of those in need. Substantively, the duty to care features five qualities. It endorses a wide variety of forms of care. It does not demand that caretakers feel certain emotions for their charges. It places limits on the extent of self-sacrifice involved in meeting others’’ needs. It is action oriented. Finally, it is nonpaternalistic. I take a unique approach to develop the duty to care, bringing Kantian ethics and feminist care ethics into conversation with one another in order to highlight the exciting contributions that both have to offer this account. I propose that building on the Kantian duty of beneficence, one can articulate a duty that explains why we are obligated to respond to certain needs found in others. Although the Kantian duty of beneficence provides some resources to use in developing this explanation, I also employ a care ethics perspective to offer an important angle of critique through which one can see both moments when Kant’s account fails (which I consider in a series of four objections) and why care ethics must be incorporated into any worthwhile discussion of meeting needs. Thus the duty to care, while drawing upon the duty of beneficence for its foundation, moves beyond it. Demonstrated through the duty to care’s responsiveness to perceptive objections that care ethicists might raise, the duty to care emerges as a distinctive duty in its own right, one sensitive to the moral concerns of agency, need, and care.



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Sarah Miller
Pennsylvania State University

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