In this video we will (1)examine the reasons which motivate some feminists to support feminist care ethics and (2) consider the debate between feminist and non-feminist philosophers as to the normative force and viability of FCE. As always, we will consider the motivations for FCE, the objections which can be raised by non-philosophers, and the replies which can be given by feminists in defense of FCE. Whether one supports or opposes feminism, anyone seeking to live an Examined Life ought at least to consider the arguments for and against FCE.
One question we ought to ask from the start is ‘why feminist ethics?’ Given the number of ethical system which are already in the world today, one might be wary of the thought of yet another such contending system. The short answer is this: while it is not at all clear what normative force (if any) feminist ethics ought to occupy in society, it is always worth investigating newer ethical systems to gain an understanding of the ethical issues which any given society faces. Considering feminist ethics will be beneficial for all other ethical systems in that it will give theorists a different lens through which to assess the moral sphere.
More so than most ethical systems, feminist ethics is particularly concerned with the realm of personal friendships and relationships. Feminist moral philosophers who reject non-feminist ethical systems overwhelmingly tend to reject the common thought which runs throughout Western moral philosophy that morality requires impartiality. “Impartiality says that from a moral point of view, all persons are considered equal and should be treated accordingly."
Feminist philosophers like Alison Jaggar reject impartiality as a moral requirement (as we will see in future lessons, feminists are split on whether or not there ought to be legal requirements of impartiality) on the grounds that it does not seem to hold for our moral experiences in domestic life. A little reflection will show that we are naturally partial to the people in our lives who are family and friends. It is excessively psychologically demanding for much of humans to be held to a moral requirement of impartiality.
Another point of departure by FCE from traditional ethics is the central role which our emotions purportedly ought to occupy in moral decision-making. Most people, that is, make everyday moral decisions while being guided by the emotions which their intuitions recommend. More emphasis ought to be given in moral theorizing to psychological and emotional growth and well being.
Finally, FCE prizes moral virtues but typically rejects moral principles. There are some virtues in feminist ethics which are emphasized more than others. For example, compassion, kindness, love, sympathy are taken to be primary moral virtues. One question we might have is why one ought to hold these virtues as superior to others? According to philosopher and psychologist Carol Gilligan (see A Different Voice, Harvard University Press, 1982) the reason is rooted in the radically different ways in which men and women think about moral problems. “In moral decision making, men deliberate about rights, justice, and rules; women on the other hand, focus on personal relationships, caring for others, and being aware of peoples’ needs, feelings, and viewpoints” (Vaughn, 2015.) For Gilligan, reversing this trend so that compassion, kindness, love, and sympathy are prized rather than the abstract principles will help ensure a more moral outlook.
*Note: FCE is not the only approach to feminist ethics, but it is more philosophically robust than other approaches to feminist ethics, one reason being that it engages and argues against (rather than dismissing) the literature and arguments of traditional ethical theories.
Carol Gilligan - A Different Voice. (Harvard University Press,) 1982.
Gilligan's book is the standard treatment for the subject of FCE, and should be read first in order to acquire a foundation for understanding the FCE literature which has since been published in books and journals. She also considers wider issues in applied ethics such as abortion, discrimination in the work place. women in the work place, welfare rights, sexual harassment, etc.
Cheshire Coulhoun, “Justice, Care, and Gender Bias,” The Journal of Philosophy, 85, 1988, 451-63.
In this non-feminist critique of FCE, Calhoun grants FCE that male biases plague philosophy, but warns that moral philosophers ought to combat all philosophical biases and form a gender-neutral theory which is equally action-guiding for women and men. Moreover, FCE must be on guard against female biases in moral theorizing.
Lewis Vaughn - Beginning Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. (Norton, 2015,) pp. 149-156.
For a general introductory book in moral theory, Vaughn's book is as clear, robust, brief, and concise an introduction as any student of ethics could want.