Feminist Care Ethics

While ethics theories often focus on justice, care, an "equally valid moral perspective," is usually disregarded because of male bias (Sterba, p. 52). The two perspectives are often harmonious, but a need for care point of view precedence exists. While truth is evident in both these statements, the problem of distinguishing between them becomes apparent soon after.
Many feminist look to psychologist Carol Gilligan\'s research for evidence to confirm the difference between characteristically male and female approaches to moral decision making. Her research illustrated how men almost unfailingly focus on justice when making moral decisions and women use justice and care in equal proportions in their moral judgments. While men and women take different paths with their moral judgments, there is no justifiable basis to put one above the other. Ethics theories usually focus on justice alone. Gilligan concluded that care, something just as important, is usually disregarded in the interests of the male partiality present in the male creators of many ethical theories.
Gilligan examines the male justice perspective saying, "From a justice perspective, the self as moral agent stands as the figure against a ground of social relationships judging the conflicting claims of self and others against a standard of equality or equal respect (the Categorical Imperitive, the Golden Rule)" (cited in Sterba p.52). The male moral perspective of justice is chiefly rooted in principles and rules, tending to deny the role of feelings and emotions. This sentiment is predominant in moral theories and echoes a male bias, according to Sterba and Gilligan.
Gilligan examines the female justice perspective saying, "From a care perspective, the relationship becomes the figure, defining self and others. Within the context of relationship, the self as a moral agent perceives and responds to the perception of need. The shift in moral perspective is manifest by a change in the moral question from \'What is just?\' to \'How to respond?\'" (cited in Sterba p.52). The female moral perspective of care concerns feelings and emotions like love, sympathy, and compassion. This sentiment is lacking in many moral theories and reveals the prevalent male bias, according to Sterba and Gilligan.
Some critics question the distinction Gilligan makes between justice and care perspectives and others attempt to validly illustrate her ideas. Roger Rigterink does just this. He uses a real life example he feels illustrates the difference between justice and care perspectives. In 1988, a hunter killed a rare white crow in Wisconsin. Many people were upset like Jo Ann Munson who said, "I was angry about it when I first heard of it and I still am. I don\'t understand why someone feels the need to shoot a bird like that. It should have been left in the wild for all of us to enjoy" (cited in Barcalow, p. 200). Holing to his side of the story, the hunter stated, "I\'m a hunter, its fair game. The opportunity presented itself. People blow these things out of context…I had been seeing it for a long time. I wanted it for a trophy" (cited in Barcalow, p. 200).
After relating the story, Rigterink solicited responses form his students. Many said the hunter was justified in his actions because no laws prohibited what he did. This response is aligned with a justice perception in its appealing to rules and rights. Other students said the hunter was thoughtless, insensitive, and a jerk. These students use a care approach that appeals to the insensitive and thoughtless side of the hunter\'s action. Rigterink uses this case because he feels that justice and care points of view are incompatible. While a clear line between care and justice becomes apparent in this example, critics question Rigterink\'s interpretation of the results. He assumes that the hunter\'s action was itself just because the laws said so. This perspective has hints of Utilitarianism and Kant in it. If these theories are invoked, though, a duty to care or a greatest utility resulting from care dimension is also part of the equation. This pokes holes in Rigterink\'s interpretation of his findings (Barcalow, p.201).
Perhaps one of the best illustrations of care based moral perspective results from the tests of Rita Manning. She found Gilligan\'s supporting evidence "primarily anecdotal and impressionistic" (Manning, 34). Manning uses a series of examples to illustrate the difference