Feminist Ethics vs. Traditional Ethics

Category Justice Perspective Care Perspective
Respect vs. Responsibility

Respect for rights and personal liberty is what human dignity involves.

Preventing violation of rights most important; basic injunctions: non-interference and allowing self-determination

Responsibility: Basic question is how to respond. Being responsive to the needs of others; providing Care; Maintaining relationships; keeping lines of communication open.

Preventing harm and hurt and exploitation most important; Failure to discern or respond to need is the major moral failure

Attachment/detachment central moral issue; problem of abandonment

Conceptions of Self

Self as separate from others and defined by personal achievement.

Self against the other

Self defined by (or in) relationships to others-selves in relation; self as social in nature; network of connections or web of relationships sustained by communication.

Recognition of interdependence of self and other.

Autonomy and Individualism


Isolated moral agent-self-governing individuals; personal liberty highly valued; entitled to pursue one's own good in own way--as long as don't violate the rights of others

Connected moral agent; connectedness to others highly valued

Conception of Connection with others Threat or impediment to autonomy and independence; connection as dependence Connection as source of comfort and protection from isolation
Reasoning Process

Formal, Abstract (standing back from the situation and appealing to rules), legalistic, bureaucratic; model is the judge or public policy official; model comes from the public domain.

Tendency to depersonalize.

Universalistic Moral Principles Use moral principles, apply abstract universal moral rules to concrete situations

Informal, particularistic (look at particular individual's situation), and personal; model is friendship and the family; Mother's experience of caring and everyone's experience of being cared for is basis of ethics; model comes from experience of women in private sphere of household and mothering.



Contextual Narrativism

Concrete description of particular situation or context (enter the situation); use of narratives as vehicle for moral insight. Moral rules less important, greater willingness to make exceptions. Greater tolerance.

Goal of moral discussion Agreement (as a way of getting connection since separation of self and others assumed); figuring out who is right. Listening to the other and understanding (assumes connection and thus the potential for understanding)
Impartiality vs. Partiality

Strict impartiality

Detachment is crucial to judging dispassionately, and to weighing claims fairly

Personal situations can override considerations of justice (e.g., partiality to loved ones).

Reason vs. emotion and feeling


Morality involves pure rationality and being motivated solely by respect for moral law

Morality involves feeling and emotion as well as reason; feelings can convey cognitive content; motivation can/should be feeling based.

Nature of Conflicts and their Resolution

Hierarchical ordering of values; conflicts resulting from conflicts of rights and can be adjudicated by ranking values.

Conflicts involve distinct selves competing. Conflict between egoism and altruism is basic.

Relationship becomes the focus, not how to balance self and other interests. Compromise and mediation rather than hierarchical ranking where someone loses and someone wins. Resolutions involves strategies aimed at maintaining ties where possible without sacrificing integrity of self.

Dissipation of tension between self and other; egoism and altruism conflict not basic to morality.

Potential Weaknesses

Egoism a threat; tendency to confuse ones perspective with the objective standpoint or truth; temptation to define the other in one's own terms by putting oneself in their place; failure to acknowledge difference.

Self-sacrifice a danger, loss of self and its own integrity

Tendency to forget one has ones own perspective and to enter the other's and see oneself as selfless and defining oneself in the other's terms. False attachments or fundamentally skewed relationships.