Care Ethics as a Normative Theory

In this discussion, we will focus on care ethics as a ‘normative theory’, that is, a theory we will try to use to evaluate a moral case or dilemma–and try to make a decision. Care ethics, like virtue theory (to which it is closely akin), will involve some interpretation in application–sometimes the ‘right’ or ‘correct’ application will be elusive or subject to interpretation. But, we might be guided by certain ways of looking at a moral problem, by certain guidelines.

Let us review some of the main ideas before we attend to a case:


The following is drawn from the PowerPoint Presentation provided by Cabrillo College:

1) Moral Attention: one must pay attention to the complexity of the situation gather information and immerse oneself into the principle issues. 

2) Sympathetic Understanding 

3) Relationship Awareness 

4) Harmony 

Theory of Action

When do we have an obligation to act?

Three Conditions:

1. A relationship exists.
2. A need for care exists.
3. We have the ability to provide care. 

Consider the following two cases. Comment on ONE.



You are taking care of your family at home while you are in the state ordered lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis. You learn from an acquaintance that a neighbour, whom you only know in passing (and who lives alone), is showing symptoms and that he needs help, including a ride to a testing station. If you get infected you do not know how your family would manage–you have children, you and your spouse are both barely getting by–and you are both worried about your jobs, savings, among other things. 

You are not sure if there is anyone else who could help the man, who lives alone and is in his 60s.

You ask your spouse, “should we offer to help?”

If you apply the ethics of care to this case, how would you evaluate this question?

This is not an easy case–there are many questions you may have before making a decision. Try to approach the case from an ethics of care perspective. What questions would you ask? What facts would be important? And what would be your initial inclination–to offer to help, or not to offer? How do you own inclinations compare to an ethics of care approach?  Are there any other concepts or theories studied in the class that would help you in making sense of this case?

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