Bijdragen 62 (3):304-316 (2001)

Marli Huijer
Erasmus University Rotterdam
Guy Widdershoven
VU University Amsterdam
Being attentive to the needs of others, feeling responsible for each other, and taking care are necessary elements for the good life. Care, however, is a fragile activity: it is hard to predict its results. In this article, Homer's story of the Phaeacians bringing Odysseus back to Ithaca is interpreted to investigate what care could be when we admit the fragility of care. We consider two theoretical perspectives on care to interpret the story, namely Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian ethics, and the Ethics of Care approach of authors like Ruddick, Sevenhuijsen, Tronto, Verkerk and others. In the first approach, the emphasis is on the attitude of care; in the second, on care as a social practice. Following Nussbaum, the caring response of the Phaeacians can be understood as an example of what Aristotle called ‘practical rationality’. The unexpected result of their care – they come into conflict with Poseidon – shows the fragility of human life and the tragic condition of humanity. According to Nussbaum, one should take responsibility for the fact that choosing for the one implies neglecting the other . From the perspective of Ethics of Care, the caring response is not so much the result of individual virtues; it is rather an element of a care practice that motivates people to act in conformity with basic values like solidarity and responsibility. The fragility of care is regarded as an ordinary quality of praxis and humanity rather than something essentially tragic. In the process of caring, misfortunes can never be totally prevented. Whenever they happen, they should be used as a way to learn and develop more adequate ways of handling the situation. The comparison of the two perspectives, both inspired by Aristotle's philosophy, gives rise to a richer view of the fragility of care.
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DOI 10.2143/bij.62.3.779
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