Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Ethics of Care

Chapter 10: Care and Justice in the Global Context
By Virginia Held

In this chapter of Ethics of Care, Virginia Held explains how the ethics of care can be applied in the global context. She first differentiates the ethics from care from the dominant moral theories (Kantianism, utilitarianism, and virtue ethics). The ethics of care focuses on relationships, not on individual actions of dispositions. It is concerned with emotions rather than simply rationality and logic. Held believes current theory has led to an overemphasis on the part of states on military security and autonomy and economic preeminence. The ethics of care emphasizes cultivating rations of trust, listening to the concerns of others, fostering international cooperation, and valuing interdependence. She notes that the ethics of care would help to eliminate discrimination in the economic value of women’s occupations over men, and the separation of public and private. Held argues that fostering caring relationships across countries can help people in different countries and cultures “live in peace, respect each other’s rights, to care together for the environment, and to improve the lives of their children.”

Chapter 10: Care and Justice in the Global Context
The field of international relations guides thinking about the world and relations between states. It has a normative component (e.g. how do we avoid wars) and an empirical component (e.g. realism). Global justice has become a familiar topic concerned with ethics and international affairs. However, International relations has been one of the last social sciences to be affected by the awareness of gender issues. Held believes that we have been socialized to believe that war and power politics, which have been the focus of realism, are things to which men have a special affinity. However, gender shapes our identification of global actors, characterization of state and non-state actions, framing of global problems, and consideration of possible alternatives. The ethics of care provides an alternative approach to international affairs.

The Ethics of Care and International Affairs
The ethics of care offers a distinctive challenge to the dominant moral theories such as Kantianism, utilitarianism, virtue ethics. In Rawls (which uses Kantianism) justice is the primary value in political and social arrangements. It focuses on fair distribution of products of economic activity and positions of power. Utilitarianism aims to maximize the utility of all persons. IT’s less able to protect individual rights against majority interests, but it is able to justify legal protection of rights.

The ethics of care differs in its assumptions, goals, and methods. It is a new and distinct theory (not just part of virtue ethics, as some suggest). While Kant and utilitarians see agents as independent and autonomous, and virtue theory focuses on individuals and their dispositions, ethics of care pays attention to the relations among persons, and sees people as enmeshed in relations between persons.

Ethics of care is able to deal with the realities of unequal power and unchosen relations (parent, child), rather than assuming society is entered into voluntarily by free and equal individuals, as other theories do.

Dominant moral theories contrast individual aims and moral claims of everyone; the aim is to follow one’s own interests while being constrained by universal rules. The ethics of care see moral life as populated by caring relations in which the interests of self and other are mingled, and trust is crucial. This helps to explain the importance of group or cultural ties.

Ethics of justice focus on issues of fairness, equality, and individual rights. The ethics of Care focuses on attentiveness to context, trust, and responding to needs. It cultivates caring relations in both personal, political, and global contexts.

Kantian moral theory and utilitarianism rely entirely on reason. The ethics of care includes the contribution of emotions in understanding what morality recommends. It argues that empathy, sensitivity, and responsiveness may be better guides than highly abstract rules applying to all persons.

The ethics of care values caring relations and their associated concerns of trust and mutual responsiveness. Care must concern itself with the effectiveness of its efforts to meet needs, but also with the motives with which care is provided.

Though there are many differences between the traditional forms of ethics and the ethics of care, they are in some ways compatible. Justice should be incorporated into morally acceptable practices of care. Caring relations should be acknowledged as the wider and deeper context within which we seek justice and in certain domains give it priority. For example, in the area of law, the language and principles of justice ought to have priority. However, the law shouldn’t be the model for all of moral life.

If the values of care were incorporated into existing practices, there would be a number of changes. Environmental concerns would be accorded the importance they deserve. The ethics of care would ensure the market doesn’t become ever more pervasive, and would ensure that globalization doesn’t occur at the expense of caring relations throughout the world. The ethics of care promote respecting rights within a society, since this requires that persons care enough about each other to be willing to think of each other as fellow members of whatever group is asserting rights.

Implications for Global Change
The ethics of care is applicable to globalizing democracy. It’s responsiveness to the particular needs of interests of individuals or groups at the social level has a political parallel in the concern for providing the economic and social means for the development of individuals. The ethics of care clearly implies that a society must recognize its responsibilities to children and other dependents. Members of wealthy societies must recognize their responsibilities to alleviate the hunger in poor ones.

Relying on unpaid labor of women in the household for the provision of care is inconsistent with the values of care as well as of justice. The ethics of care calls for state support of various forms of caring. It recommends equal participation of men in caring activities, and equal participation of women in political and economic structures. The ethics of care calls for the transformation of different segments of society. Caring values and cooperation should replace hierarchies and domination based on gender, class, race, and ethnicity. Education, health care, and child care institutions should be well supported and developed. Instead of domination by military and economic and political power, caring activities should be the center of attention, effort, and support.

The ethics of care should transform international political relations between states. It notices rather than ignores the cultural construct of masculinity in the behavior of states, including overemphasis on the part of states on military security and economic preeminence, neglect of environmental and ecological concerns, moral acceptability of policies to those affected, and cultivating cooperative behavior with others. The influence of this exaggerated image of masculinity for the state is seen in the behavior of the United States under George Bush in the unilateral war against Iraq, the bullying of allies, and the rejection of UN restraints.

Feminists have shown that Hobbes’ view of the political world is gender-biased. How can helpless infants become adults if human nature is universally competitive and hostile? Given this question, it makes sense to argue humans are naturally cooperative, or children would not survive.

However, realists and neorealists have brought Hobbes’ view to the international arena. They advocate preparation for war and avoidance of dependence on others as the road to security. Morganthau and Waltz argue that maximizing military power and maintaining autonomy lead to success. The ethics of care, on the other hand, argues for cultivating rations of trust, listening to the concerns of others, fostering international cooperation, and valuing interdependence.

In the global context, the state is often thought of as a region of security and order, while the rest of the world is dangerous, anarchic, and violent (Hobbe’s war against all). This seems to be an analogy to the safety of a household in a heartless world. The military is like the male “protector” of the home. However, feminists have shown that violence against women and children occurs in families and in states. The militarized state seems more of a threat than a protector.

It is easy to see how far the relations between states are from the assumptions of traditional moral theories. The relations are not based on freely chosen contracts between equal individuals. Boundaries are often formed through force and fraud, and there are large and increasing gaps between the rich and poor in the world.

Care and Political Economy
In the past, the recommendations and requirements of economic development have not been gender neutral. Historians argue that pre-colonial societies were often more elastic and egalitarian in their gender divisions of labor. Colonialism made gender differentiation in these societies more pronounced and rigid. In a variety of ways, women have been marginalized by globalization. In Eastern Europe, for example, globalization led women to lose their state-sponsored maternity health care, maternity leave, and child care. They became unattractive employees to private industries.

The situation could be improved if the value of the unpaid caring work that women do was recognized by economists. This would help to undermine the assumed greater importance of “production” over “reproduction” and “public” over “private.”

Development agencies have only recently begun to consider the effects of their policies on women. However, they still resist upsetting gendered divisions of labor that privilege the work that men do. It is true that changes in “cultural practices” concerning gender do need to arise from women within those societies, rather than be imposed by outside agencies, but the obstacles to doing so should be recognized.

Imperialistic Approaches
Great care needs to be taken to avoid imperialism in thinking and in programs when women in the North are considering women in post-colonial societies. It is important to recognize the differences between women in different classes, ethnic groups, and regions in the developing world. Western women must be careful not to view South in objectifying, patronizing way. However, there is still a responsibility for women from the North to help. Western feminists should oppose neoliberal globalization that leads to increased inequality among and within countries.

The Future of Care
Mainstream international relations theories have “resulted in the creation of a global ‘culture of neglect’ through a systematic devaluing of notions of interdependence, relatedness, and positive involvement in the lives of distant others.” The ethics of care could help to remedy this.

Until recently, violence against women was not part of international human rights agenda. The public/ private distinction was reproduced at the international level, with many forms of violence against women considered “unfortunate cultural practices outside of the state’s or international system’s responsibilities.” The tradition view of the priority of political rights over economic and social rights has been unfortunate for women.

Under the ethics of care, the relationship between economic, political, and cultural domains would transform. Responsibility for global environment would be central concern, as would fostering economic development that meets human needs. Under the ethics of care, resolution of conflict through threat and use of force would decrease. Growth and acceptance of international law and other restraints would occur and be expressive of care, though even in a society led by the ethics of care, it would be possible for violence to be used as a last resort.

In a society where multiple ties of care have expanded to include the whole human community, poverty and exclusion would be on the wane. Ties between poor women within a state help to decrease violence and exploitation, and ties between persons from different states can decrease international hostility. The North and South need to engage in friendship and caring economic development, not a relationship of limited benevolence and humiliation.

The ethics of care fits with the current trend of increased influence of nongovernmental organizations, global networks (Slaughter), and the “Global civil society” (Keane). These theories describe the wide range of organizations on many levels creating international connections. These networks and theories would benefit from a focus on the ethics of care, and could be enhanced by using the ethics of care to evaluate global developments and promote the best of them.

“Globalization of caring relations would help enable people of different states and cultures to live in peace, respect each other’s rights, to care together for the environment, and to improve the lives of their children.”

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