Ethics of care



The material in this summary has been taken from an article by Thaddeus Metz. The wording is generally his wording.


What is a care ethic? The basic idea.

A care ethic is committed to two points:

         Relationships are the fundamental unit of moral analysis and prescription. (A relationship is a complex form of interaction in which one individual has mental states about another and also knowingly affects another in various ways.)

         People should enter into, develop and maintain caring relationships.


What is a caring relationship?

According to Metz, a caring relationship has six features.

1.    A caring relationship involves awareness of the other. One is attentive to details about the other, not just what is outwardly revealed but also what is being held back.

2.    A caring relationship involves certain reactions to such awareness: sympathetic reactions. If they are flourishing, one feels good. If they are floundering, one feels bad.

3.    A caring relationship involves a desire to see the otherís condition improved, by the reduction of harm or the production of benefit.

4.    In a caring relationship, in situations where one can do some good, one adopts the goal of helping the other oneself.

5.    In a caring relationship, the intention to aid the other is likely to produce an improvement in their condition.

6.    In a caring relationship, oneís helping action is motivated by factors 2 to 5.


Moral norms within care ethics

For proponents of care ethics, the ultimate explanation for why an action is wrong is that one is not relating to another/others or not relating in the appropriate way.


Care ethical doctrines tend to model moral norms on the basis of familial relationships.


Moral epistemology within care ethics

How do we know when an act is appropriate, wrong, etc.?


1.    For proponents of care ethics, it is sensible to appeal to emotions and it would be odd not to involve emotions in figuring out what is appropriate, wrong, etc. One reason for according this important role to emotions is that certain emotions, e.g. sympathy, are essential to caring relationships.

2.    Care ethics highlights particularity and context and downplays general principles. If oneís basic moral aim is to pursue appropriate relationships between people, then one will have to consider how peopleís histories, self-understandings, aspirations and apprehensions can be made to harmonize. That will vary from case to case.

3.    There is an inclination to deny that solitary reflection can produce reliable outcomes regarding how to resolve disputes. Dialogue among affected parties is favoured instead. The nature of relationships means that dialogue is more likely to produce successful resolution.



Metz, T. 2013. The western ethic of care or an Afro-communitarian ethic. Specifying the right relational morality. Journal of Global Ethics 9: 77-92.