In her discussion she emphasised that women saw morality differently, were more occupied with their own situation, their relations to actual people around them, and how scholars and scientists should treat actual people in actual situations rather than just general rules for ethical reactions to events, persons, attitudes. This type of morality she called an ethic of care. In these thirty years since the publication of her book, care ethics have developed as a distinct view in ethics and might now even be counted as a major theory. Various authors have contributed to this development and if I should only name two, I think that Nel Noddings and Michael Slote should be mentioned.
Care ethics defines itself by starting with the fact that human beings are relational creatures meaning that they cannot develop and mature as human beings unless their relations to other human beings are normal. It is a moral fact of major importance that human beings are dependent beings and it is by and through their relations with other humans that they achieve moral maturity. Their moral sense develops as well by understanding the role of value of these relations and they become morally salient for it. This is not true just about female moral agents, but also about male moral agents.
It should come as no surprise that the central concept of this type of ethics, care, has already received various interpretations, and that the distinction between caring for and caring about has been clarified. It is fairly natural to expect that care ethics applies to intimate private life and it is easy to see how it can be broadened out to other areas, such as the health care system and education. Nodding has applied the care ethics to education convincingly and received support and wide following.
I admit that I have not been an enthusiastic supporter of this new trend in ethics. Care ethics seems naturally to flow into moral particularism, the idea that there are no general moral facts and hence no moral principles or moral laws; all we have is our moral sense, our ability to pick up moral characteristics in particular, embodied situations, and as our moral experience grows our moral sense becomes more skilled in discerning the moral characteristics. This seems to me to be implied by much of what is said about care ethics in this collection of essays. I do not want to doubt or argue for the merits of moral particularism, but if you want to believe it you must be prepared to argue for it, give good reasons for believing it. Much of what is said in these essays about other theories in ethics, such as consequentialism or deontology, is stereotyped with limited analysis and no feeling for the strengths of these theories. Sometimes it is as if it were an obvious truth that one should do away with general truths in ethics and limit oneself only to situational analyses and accept that there is no way to generalise about two situations where there are two different agents. But the fact that there are two agents in the same situation does not rule out the possibility that a general principle applies to both. It is also true to say that depriving you of all general principles makes it difficult if not impossible to decide in cases where limited goods have to be distributed among different agents. So there are serious questions to be asked about care ethics as it is laid out in these pages.
This does not preclude that there are many interesting analyses achieved here and a number of serious points about ethics in business. Applying care ethics in business is not the obvious choice from various ethical theories, it appears as a “Virginia Slim” ethic for women in business, as one of the authors puts it, not very promising and even a downright non-starter. But the authors succeed in arguing for a place for care ethics in thinking about ethics in business. It really is a serious contender for our attention in analysing and thinking about morality in the marketplace and its corporate agents. I think it is rightly pointed out that many influential theorists and politicians have believed that business and markets were somehow amoral, not constrained by the normal moral rules that we have to take into account in our everyday lives. But this is false. If anything should stare us in our face from the international tumult and collapse in global markets in 2008 and 2009, it is that markets and the corporate agents must act morally if markets are to be viable in the long run. This does not mean that it will be easy to affect this change in the players on the market because many of the largest ones, even though they had to accept large sums from public purses, still believe that they should go on as if nothing had happened.
The book is divided into four parts. The first part is called justice, distribution and economics and the papers address issues such as an overview of care ethic for organizations, an analysis of markets in terms of care ethics, a look at Adam Smith´s theory of the economy in terms of care ethic and an argument based on the care ethic for rejecting the free market. The second part is named corporate decision making and there are articles about stakeholder theory, the role of care ethics in corporate decision making and unintended consequences. The third part is about case studies and the authors discuss the enforcement of immigration in the workplace and care ethics, the possible role of care ethics in corporate competition and the exploitation of the homeless in TV series. The fourth and last part is about corporate culture and how the care ethic can contribute to the quality of that culture.
In many ways this is an interesting collection of articles, if for no other reason than that care ethic and business seem an unlikely match a priori. But the care ethic proves to be surprisingly resilient in the world of money, manhood and profits.