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The ethic of care: Critical and constructive transformations of ethics and epistemology

Talbot, Sally (1996) The ethic of care: Critical and constructive transformations of ethics and epistemology. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Too many versions of the ethic of care miss what I consider to be the crucial insight of the original work of both Gilligan and Noddings: that the concrete, everyday response of care provides the grounds for a radical critique of prevailing liberal moral theory and for a transformed understanding of both ethics and reason. Liberal moral theory, I argue, explores the ethical potential of a form of rationality which celebrates the capacity to think in an abstract, universal and impartial way. The ethic of care, like liberal ethics based on duty, utility and contract, is also grounded in a set of epistemological assumptions. My assertion is, however, that the epistemological assumptions grounding care are not those privileging abstraction, universality and impartiality. Liberal moral theory insists on the notion of truth as a universal and unitary regulatory ideal, on the autonomy of separate knowing individuals and on the establishment of a common language.

The moral understandings of care, by contrast, locate truth in the elaboration of the particular contexts in which we function as knowers, identify knowers as selves-in-relation and seek out particular shared interests as the basis of a commonality in which to see together. The moral understandings of care entail a radical critique of the ethical and epistemological axioms of liberalism. From this critique, I draw an account of the ethic of care which both informs and is informed by partial reason. Although the sufficient conditions for caring are not quantifiable, I show that a number of ethical and epistemological imperatives can be drawn out of the endeavour to know and to care well. These imperatives suggest that creating and sustaining shared beliefs systems, mutual understandings and intersubjective agreements might be understood as the processes of selves-in-relation, for whom neither ethics nor epistemology is immutable. Drawing insights from feminist and non-feminist critics of liberal moral theory, from feminist moral theorists and epistemologists and from feminist post-colonial writings, my thesis establishes that the elaboration of an ethic of care can be a transformative project.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Bowden, Peta, Harris, Patricia and Hallen, Patsy
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