When one understands what practices best allow us to apply these values in intimate relationships, then one can generalize these practices to other situations. Though not all defenders of an ethic of care see care as a virtue, we think this is the most plausible way to understand it. ii Like other virtues, care is a general disposition to behave in a particular way. Unlike other virtues, care is what we call a meta-virtue--that is it provides an organizing principle for all the other virtues. If my overall orientation is to be a caring person, then I will be courageous when what I value is at risk; I will be honest because honesty is usually the best way to care for others; I will want to be prudent because I recognize that I must balance the needs of others and my own needs. So the traditional virtues of courage, honesty and prudence are organized under the meta-virtue of care. When Carol Gilligan first described the care orientation, she described it as a typically female moral orientation. iii However, there is nothing gendered about caring; if it is more prevalent in women than in men, it is because women are socially conditioned to do much of society's caring work--they are more likely to be involved with caring for children and the sick, for example.
Care is a basic human capacity and as such it is both possible and important for all of us to be caring persons.
i Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989 ii Michael Slote is a virtue theorist who also sees care as a virtue. See Morals from Motives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001 iii Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982
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