Business Ethics MGT610
THE ETHICS OF CARE
1. We each exist in a web of relationships and should preserve and nurture those concrete
and valuable relationships we have with specific persons.
2. We each should exercise special care for those with whom we are concretely related by
attending to their particular needs, values, desires, and concrete well-being as seen from
their own personal perspective, and by responding positively to these needs, values,
desires, and concrete well-being, particularly of those who are vulnerable and
dependent on our care.
An ethic of care, therefore, can be seen as encompassing the kinds of obligations that a so-
called communitarian ethic advocates. A communitarian ethic is an ethic that sees concrete
communities and communal relationships as having a fundamental value that should be
preserved and maintained.
The demands of caring are sometimes in conflict with the demands of justice, though, and no
fixed rule exists to resolve these conflicts. Critics point out that the ethics of care can easily
degenerate into unjust favoritism. Though the ethics of care can also lead to burnout, the
advantage of the theory is that it is a corrective to the other approaches that are impartial and
Integrating Utility, Rights, Justice, and Caring
So far, the chapter has outlined four main kinds of basic moral considerations:
1. Utilitarian standards - must be used when we do not have the resources to attain
everyone's objectives, so we are forced to consider the net social benefits and social
costs consequent on the actions (or policies or institutions) by which we can attain these
2. Standards that specify how individuals must be treated - must be employed when
our actions and policies will substantially affect the welfare and freedom of specifiable
individuals. Moral reasoning of this type forces consideration of whether the behavior
respects the basic rights of the individuals involved and whether the behavior is
consistent with one's agreements and special duties.
3. Standards of justice - indicate how benefits and burdens should be distributed among
the members of a group. These sorts of standards must be employed when evaluating
actions whose distributive effects differ in important ways.
4. Standards of caring - indicate the kind of care that is owed to those with whom we
have special concrete relationships. Standards of caring are essential when moral
questions arise that involve persons embedded in a web of relationships, particularly
persons with whom one has close relationships, especially those of dependency.
One simple strategy for ensuring that all four kinds of considerations are incorporated into one's
moral reasoning is to inquire systematically into the utility, rights, justice, and caring involved
in a given moral judgment, as in Fig. 2.1. One might, for example, ask a series of questions
about an action that one is considering: (a) Does the action, as far as possible, maximize social
benefits and minimize social injuries? (b) Is the action consistent with the moral rights of those
whom it will affect? (c) Will the action lead to a just distribution of benefits and burdens? (d)
Does the action exhibit appropriate care for the well-being of those who are closely related to
Business Ethics MGT610
or dependent on oneself? Unfortunately, there is not yet any comprehensive moral theory to
show when one of these considerations should take precedence.
An Alternative to Moral Principles: Virtue Ethics
Many ethicists criticize the entire notion that actions are the subject of ethics. The central issue
(as Ivan Boesky's case demonstrates) is the kind of person an agent ought to be and what the
character of humans ought to be. This does not mean that the conclusion of this type of ethics
(called virtue ethics) will be much different, however. Rather, the virtues provide a perspective
that covers the same ground as the four approaches, just from a different perspective.
A moral virtue is an acquired disposition that is a valuable part of a morally good person,
exhibited in the person's habitual behavior. It is praiseworthy, in part, because it is an
achievement whose development requires effort. The most basic issue, from the perspective of
virtue ethics, is the question: What are the traits of character that make a person a morally good
human being? Which traits of character are moral virtues? According to Aristotle, moral virtues
enable humans to act in accordance with their specific purpose (which he held to be reasoning).
Other philosophers, such as Aquinas, have come up with different lists of virtues.
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