Rachels, Chapter 11: Feminism and the Ethics of Care


1.      Feminism = A commitment to ending the subordination/domination/oppression of women


2.      Are there psychological (not simply physical) differences between men and women?

         a.      Do men and women think differently?

3.      Yes answer usually been used to subjugate women to men

         a.      Aristotle: Women not as rational as men, so naturally ruled by men

         b.      Kant: Women lack civil personality and should have no voice in public life

         c.      Rousseau: They possess different virtues, neither better than the others. But it turns out that men’s virtues fit them for leadership and women’s for home and hearth

4.      Feminism’s answer to question of whether men and women think differently?

         a.      They disagree; no unified answer to question of possible psychological differences between women

5.      Women’s movement of 60's and 70's rejected psychological differences

         a.      Supposed differences, e.g., men rational, women emotional--a mere stereotype

         b.      If see such differences, due to conditioning/up bringing

                  i.      Women have been conditioned by an oppressive system to behave in “feminine” ways

6.      Recent feminist thinkers suggested women/men do think differently

         a.      And not in inferior ways, but in some respect better

         b.      Nancy Chodorow table of differences

         c.      Female style of thinking has insights missed in more male-dominated thinking

         d.      By attending to distinctive female approach, new insights can be gained and progress made in areas that were stalled

         e.      Ethics is good example (feminist ethics)

                  i.      Feminist Ethics Chart


7.      Famous Harvard education psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg has a scale of moral development that suggests women are less morally developed than men

         a.      According to the scale, those who put a focus on relationships, loyalty and trust with people (typical of women) are on a lower level than the typical male approach of appealing to universal ethical principles

8.      Heinz drug stealing story: Shows how girls and boys think differently and girls end up lower on this Kohlberg’s moral development scale (p. 148-49)

         a.      Jake: “Heinz should steal the drug as life is worth more than money”

                  i.      Thinks like typical male, seeing the situation as a conflict of life/property solved by logic

                  ii.     An ethic of principle

                  iii.    Male way of thinking abstracts away from details that give each situation its special flavor

                  iv.    Men’s moral theories: impersonal duty, contracts, harmonization of competing interests, and calculation of costs and benefits

         b.      Amy “They should talk it out and find some other way to make the money”

                  i.      Responds in a typically female fashion and focuses on the personal aspects of situation

                  ii.     Ethic of caring

                  iii.    Intimacy, caring, and personal relationships

                  iv.    Women don’t like to abstract away from detail of situation

                  v.      Basic moral orientation is caring for others in a personal way, not general concern for all humanity

                  vi.    Sensitivity to the needs of others

                  vii.   Include the points of view of the other in one’s deliberation

                           (1)    Amy couldn’t just reject the pharmacist’s point of view

                  viii.  Overriding concern with relationship and responsibility

9.      Feminist ethics of care (e.g., Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice) argues for a feminist point of view in ethics and rejects idea that an ethic of care is a lower level of moral development

         a.      Caring, empathy, feeling with others, being sensitive to each other’s feelings, may all be better guides to what morality requires in actual contexts than applying abstract rules of reason, rational calculation

         b.      At least they are necessary components of an adequate morality

10.    Rachels’ view: The two sexes don’t inhabit different moral universes

         a.      Even if do think differently about ethics, difference can’t be very great, rather difference in emphasis

                  i.      Cites a review of 180 studies found women only slightly more care oriented and men only slightly more justice oriented.

         b.      Also some men prefer caring perspective and some women prefer an ethic of principle

         c.      Still it could be that in general, women tend to the former and men the latter.


11.    How account for this general (if slight) difference between men and women (if there is such)?

         a.      Nurture: Women think differently because of social role to which they have been assigned

                  i.      Been assigned to do the housework and take care of children

                  ii.     Values of care could be part of this psychological conditioning

         b.      Nature: Since women are child-bearers, women’s nature as mothers makes them natural care-givers

                  i.      They come equipped by nature with required (care giving) skills and mentality

12.    Evolutionary psychology claims that major features of human psychological life are products of natural selection

         a.      Evolution by natural selection: Moth evolution story

         b.      Evolutionary psychology claims we have psychological features (emotions and behavioral tendencies and ways of thinking) because it allowed our ancestors to survive and reproduce in past

         c.      Darwin’s “struggle for survival”: Get as many copies of one’s genes as possible in next generation

         d.      Men can father hundreds of children, women only have one baby each nine months

         e.      Men’s reproductive strategy put energy into impregnating as many females as possible, rather than raising children

         f.      Women reproductive strategy is to invest heavily in each child and choose male partners who will stay around and make similar investment

         g.      Explains why men have greater sex drive than women

         h.      Explains why women are more attracted than men to values of nuclear family

         i.      Perhaps explains the care ethics of women

         j.      Note: Above is description, not justification


13.    Family and Friends (Ethics of care does better here)

         a.      Ethic of duty/obligation/principle ill-suited to life among family and friends: acting only out of duty toward them leads to being a bad friend or parent

                  i.      Strict impartiality doesn’t work with family and friends and it is antagonistic to values of love and friendship

         b.      Ethic of care doesn’t take obligation as fundamental or require us to impartially promote interests of everyone

                  i.      Moral life a network of relationships with specific other people, and involves caring for them

                  ii.     Ethic of care confirms the priority we give to our family and friends.

14.    Helping children with HIV (Ethics of care does not work so well)

         a.      Around the world two million children infected with HIV virus that causes AIDS; only about 30% get help they need; should we help them?

         b.      (Male) Ethic of principle, like utilitarianism, suggests we have a substantial duty to help; our luxuries not as important as their lives

         c.      An ethic of care based on close personal relations will not reach this conclusion

                  i.      W/o a relationship, caring can’t take place. And we have no relations with these children on other side of the globe

         d.      Better to help in a personal than impersonal way?

15.    Rachels argues care ethics should supplement, not replace justice perspective

         a.      Making personal relationships the whole of ethics seems as wrong-headed as ignoring them altogether

         b.      Ethical life includes both caring personal relations and benevolent concern for people generally

         c.      Ethics of care should be a supplement to, rather than replacement of traditional moral theories


16.    Feminist ethics applied to animals

         a.      Care ethics appeals to feeling and intuition rather than principle

         b.      Involves an individual relationship between one who cares and one who is cared for.

                  i.      The cared for must be able to participate in the relationship and respond

         c.      We do have such a relation with and feeling toward pets and so have obligations to them

         d.      No such feelings or relations to cows and so no obligation to them (says Nel Noddings a feminist ethicist)

17.    Rachels response:

         a.      If there is a role in morality for ethical principles--such as one should not inflict unnecessary suffering--then even cows get in the moral arena

         b.      Feelings and intuitions are an unsteady guide to morality

                  i.      Many peoples feelings (once did and even now) tell them that the subordination of women is God’s plan

18.    Note: Capacity oriented moral duties versus relational oriented duties

Transition to virtue ethics

19.    Feminists believe that modern moral philosophy incorporates a male bias

         a.      Men have dominated public life and developed a “male ethic” of principle/obligation/impartial justice based on it

         b.      Concerns that arise in private life–where women traditionally dominate–are almost wholly absent

         c.      In private life, morality does not involve bargaining and calculating, but loving and caring–feminist ethics

20.    Feminist ethics involves being a certain kind of person (loving, caring)

21.    Feminist ethics is thus a subset of virtue ethics


22.    Virtue ethics versus theories of obligation (Utilitarianism/Kantianism)

         a.      Being a certain kind of person (virtue ethics) versus doing one’s duty (theories of obligation)

23.    Theories of obligation: Morality involves impartial duty, the moral person listens to reason

24.    Virtue theory: Being a moral person is having certain traits of character (virtues); e.g., being kind, generous, courageous, just

         a.      Virtue theory goes well with both public and private life

                  i.      For public life need virtues of beneficence and justice

                  ii.     For private life virtues of love and caring

Rachels Ch 11, Feminism and the Ethics of Care

1.      Define feminism both as we did in class and from your own perspective. Are you a feminist? Why or why not?

2.      Do you think that there are important psychological differences between the men and women? Do these differences justify differences in sex roles, that is, differences in what kind of social roles and duties each sex has (or is should be encouraged to have)?

3.      Describe some of the ways in which it has been claimed that women and men think and act differently. Are their personalities (on average) different? If so, how so? If so, what accounts for this? Nature? Nurture?

4.      Do feminists believe that men and women think differently? Which feminists?

5.      Describe Kohlberg’s “Heinz drug stealing story” experiment, what conclusion he draws about women and men’s moral development and then explain Carol Gilligan’s “Care Ethics” response.

6.      Describe some of the differences between feminist ethics (“care ethics”) and the traditional male ethics of justice/principle? (This feminist ethics chart might help). You might also use the Jake/Amy drug stealing story.)

7.      What is “evolutionary psychology” and how do some believe it explains some of the differences between men and women’s values, psychology, and behavior?

8.      What does Rachel’s suggest that feminist ethics (based on caring and preserving personal relations) would say about our moral obligations to children with HIV in the developing world? To farm animals (in contrast to pets)? Contrast the feminist ethics response with the (male) “ethics of principle” response. Which is better on your view?

9.      Explain why Rachels thinks an ethics of duty/obligation/principle is ill-suited to deal with the moral relations among family and friends. Does an ethics of care do better here?

10.    Does Rachels think an ethics of care should replace an ethics of principle/justice? Does he think we should reject the ethics of care?