Justice and Care

Carol Gilligan contrasted an ethic of care with an ethic of justice.48 She was not advocating that there was no role for justice in an ethic of care, but the relationship between the two concepts has proved controversial among care ethicists. Without some conception of justice, care ethics could be used to justify harmful or manipulative activities. We have talked about ensuring that care obligations are distrusted fairly, but that inevitably involves some notions of justice.
Most contemporary care ethicists agree that there needs to be some kind of ‘meshing of care and justice’.49 Virginia Held writes particularly persuasively on this issue. She explains the differences between the concepts in this way:

An ethic of justice focuses on questions of fairness, equality, individual rights, abstract principles, and the consistent application of them. An ethic of care focuses on attentive- ness, trust, responsiveness to need, narrative nuance, and cultivating caring relations. Whereas an ethic of justice seeks a fair solution between competing individual interests and rights, an ethic of care sees the interest of carers and cared-for as importantly inter- twined rather than as simply competing.50

However, she then makes it clear that an ethic of care incorporates justice:

There can be care without justice. There has historically been little justice in the family, but care and life have gone on without it. There can be no justice without care, however, for without care no child would survive and there would be no persons to respect.51

Significantly, this understanding argues that care and justice actually need to work together. Held explains that care is the ‘basic moral value’ and justice needs to fit within that. Care is essential for people to survive and justice must not prevent care, but enable it and ensure a fair sharing of its burdens.52 Without care, talk of justice would be meaningless. This means that justice must be understood in terms of care. As Selma Sevenhuijsen explains:

Justice should be based on values such as reconciliation, reciprocity, diversity and responsibility, and on the willingness and ability of citizens to accept responsibility for each other’s well-being. Justice, thus conceived, explicitly opens up discursive space for deliberating about what constitutes injustice or, in other words, for continuous reflection on which ‘social evils’ we need to address.

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