Caring is a response to the variety of features of moral situations need harm

Caring is a response to the variety of features of

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have the appropriation emotion and motivation; care involves an appropriate response. Caring is a response to the variety of features of moral situations: need, harm, past promises, role relationships etc. In the case of need, our obligation to respond in an appropriately caring way arises when we are able to respond to need. We can roughly distinguish needs here from desires by describing a need as something that is basic for our survival and our ability to have a minimally decent life. Desires, on the other hand, are for things we merely want. Humans need some things for their very survival: food, clothing, shelter, and health care are examples here. There are also other things that we need for a minimally decent life. Aristotle cites friendship; Mill cites liberty and Rawls offers self-esteem as a need in this sense. Still, there is no universal, cross-cultural understanding of need. Rather, need is mediated by a number of factors including family, culture, economic class, gender and sexuality, disability and illness. Finally, as we respond to needs, we should recognize the vast differences in power that exist. Sometimes, people are unwilling to express their needs freely because they fear that their needs will not be met. They may even be in such a state of dependence or despair that they are no longer able to identify their needs. Need is not the only feature of moral situations. Harm, for example, is an important one to consider. Most people understand that being the cause of harming 4
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someone else creates an obligation to respond. But causation is a complex idea. We can be part of the causal story even when we don't think of ourselves as the primary cause. Suppose, for example, that you see the person sitting next to you in an exam cheating. Suppose further that this is an exam that is designed to demonstrate competence in a skill crucial for a health care practitioner. Suppose that you simply look the other way and later find out that a patient was seriously harmed because the practitioner really did not understand the procedure they should have followed, and that this procedure was the very one they were being tested on when you saw them cheating. We would argue that you are partly responsible for the harm in this case. There are two other things that mark the moral dimension of a situation that are worth noting here--past promising and role responsibility. When we make a promise, we commit ourselves to a certain course of action. An ethic of care doesn't say that you are always committed to keeping a promise because sometimes doing so can be harmful to all concerned, but it does impose a prima facie moral obligation. Similarly, being in a particular role, e.g. teacher, come with a set of general obligations. We've now looked at some of the features of situations that suggest that we have an obligation. In order to see what our obligations are in a particular situation, we need to look at the features of an ethic care. Though humans have always appealed to features of care in their interactions with each other, it emerged only recently as a systematic moral perspective.
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  • Spring '11
  • LBernasconi
  • Ethics, Kohlberg's stages of moral development, Carol Gilligan

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