Care ethics and Nietzsche hammers on the senses, leaving the ring of “contradiction” resounding in the mind. However, this may be apparent rather than actual. If we read Nietzsche as speaking in more metaphorical than literal sense, as some have suggested, and Nietzsche himself may have suggested (Montanari, 201; Nietzsche, Ansell-Pearson & Diethe, 2007), then we discover that this is not as certain a contradiction as it feels, and indeed Nietzsche’s supreme affirmation of life might be realized in Care. Together, Nietzsche and Care offer a critique of justice-based ethics, and with the help of Foucault a possible foundation for a more appropriate ethical theory.
Nietzsche and Care to create a critique of Justice ethics. Some may interpret Care wrongly which would initiate a damning critique of care using a Nietzschian critique. Nietzsche would disdain a revaluing, or a will to power, that defines itself opposed to something else that is strong and active and revalues a passivity as strength. Also, unlike care, Nietzsche seems to promote the individual more than any kind of relationship. However, as we’ll see this isn’t as much of problem as it seems, and together the two perspectives merge to reveal that justice based ethics are floating around with out content, without the perspective or the individual.
When Carol Gilligan introduced what she thought was a poverty in modern ethics, she labeled the sides Justice and care, where justice was the current paradigm and understanding of ethics and Care represented a feminine perspective that might be able to revalue ethics. I will use the terms Care and Justice ethics broadly—encompassing many different ethical disciplines, much as she does—but I will define them in a way that is informed by other Care thinkers. Justice will be defined as that which starts from a universal, independent, atomist, separate conception of a self and forms general rules from that self, and then applies those general rules to specific cases, and that values rational control over emotion, where emotions can only get in the way of ethical action. Care on the other hand, I will define as an ethic that focuses on the specific, highly contextual elements of a person in relationship. Care mbraces emotion as providing a partial basis for morality and moral understanding, where there is an appreciation and focus on attention, context and narrative, as well as, a focus on communication in moral deliberation, where specific trumps the general.
At first, it feels apparent that Nietzsche would be apposed to a Care ethics because it promotes, well: care. However, you can read Nietzsche two ways. You can read him literally, where the strong should have recourse to whatever makes them great. Or, you can read him more metaphorically as some think he should be read, and he himself implies (Montanari, 2011; Nietzsche et al.), and a different picture emerges. In this construal, or interpretive lens, Nietzsche is only saying we should be letting man be free to be great in activity, without the burden of feeling self hate (Nietzsche et al.). Nietzsche wants continually forming exemplars, something that affirms life, life that is only actualized in activity (Montanari, 2011). Care ethics might be a development of this activity. There is more to say about Neitzsche that affirms Care ethics, but we must deal with the fact that Nietzsche would see anything as vile that redefines itself against the strong and revalues activity as weakness and inactivity as strength and some might see care ethics as affirming weakness.
This seems like a problem for Care ethics, as it seems to be attempting to revalue something that has been considered inherently weak, and even less human, as something strong (Held 1990). However, there are two ways, broadly construed that an ethic of Care can be conceived. The first may fall impotent prey to this critique. This perspective on Care can be conceived of as a response to masculine domination, and an effort to revalue the world, making the weakness of promotional inactivity inherent in femininity to be considered strong. In this view, proponents of care would be defining themselves against masculinities activity. This aspect or version of Care would say masculinity devalues a woman’s place and makes her creature who has less ethical potential than man, as a gender, and so it must be changed so that it does not have this bias (Jaggar, 1995). However, to argue that that Care is simply saying that it’s an unjust practice, so we need to revalue it would be would be in error. It is certain that some of the motivation that facilitated the perspective of care was a concern that women’s concerns were devalued. However, that being as it may, there is a second stronger concern that predominates in care and this is the Care that I refer to in the rest of the paper.
This version or aspect of Care doesn’t define itself in antithesis to male domination; but, instead, it seeks to develop a positive theory that can possibly replace Justice ethics and account for its many flaws. This theory perceives a serious poverty in ethics that results from certain historical assumptions that define the rules of the game that justice ethicists are playing. They attempt to replace, or at very least inform, a justice ethic that has been male dominated (Held, 1990). The Care ethicist, here, attacks a conception of ethics that predominantly men formed from overly narrow, a priori assumptions (Held, 1990; Jaggar, 1995). There’s good reason to believe the second perspective is true, or at least more frequently true, of care ethics. Most of the literature—like writings of Walker, Jaggar and Held—focus on the narrow historical assumptions and impoverished concepts that they believe are empty of any real meaning. In the formerly mentioned care perspective, the perspective results from concerns about how women are valued; in the later, care is a positive theory that results from a privileged perspective.
Due to the male domination of ethics, they’ve created this unrealistic decontextualized, neutral “person”. The Justice ethicist attempt to make sense of man socially (ethically) by postulating an unrealistic, misleading fiction of man born and raised outside of culture (Held, 1990). So they’ve conceived of a general “person” and out of that created ethical principles to apply to very specific, complex and situations. The theoretical man without context isn’t a person at all because an actual person is formed behaviorally and ethically within a family, with father, a mother and all the inculcations that culture offers through practices and relationships.
Nietzsche adds to this, in full agreement that this general man of justice is a fiction, and an foolish place to start an ethic. Whereas for Care, Justice ethics doesn’t account for the feeling person in context and through time; Nietzsche shows that Justice ethicist can never know the agent they postulate because a person is only ever known historically, after the fact, even the individual only recognizes himself historically by remembering his actions (Montanari, 2011; Nietzsche et al.). Because we are only ever looking at our actions in hindsight, and from that evaluating who we are in the moment, we can only catch glimpses of who we are (Montanari, 2011; Nietzsche et al.). Additionally, through genealogy, looking at humans through history, we can only ever see the contingency in what we have perceived to be necessary (Murdchadha, 2005), so to postulate a fixed ideal would be gross a mistake and terrible assumption.
Both Care and Nietzsche give a provocative attack on justice ethics but they also do more: they may offer a replacement. They reveal that the foundations of justice ethics, namely rationality, doesn’t provide complete access while claiming to do so, and indeed it starts drawing conclusions from an assumption riddled foundation of what it means to be a human agent. They show the oddness of making inferences from a stripped down, de-contextualized, de-relationshiped person to persons who are each individually born and raised in the highly variable context of deep emotional social connections. Nietzsche complete this because he revealed that you can only know yourself in part because you only know yourself as an agent by looking back on a past action. But, now Foucault provides a way to unify both perspectives. He exposes that the agent can only be realized historically within relationship.
Foucault sensitizes us to the fact that we are constitutively social creatures. We don’t simply grow up as individuals in society; instead, our very individual identity form from within our social relations, and as Held (1990) points out the content of own law is “comprehensible” only in reference to norms, values and concepts. All of these are constitutively social. Foucault elucidates how we as agents are self-defining but only with the precondition of already presents ideas, rule and practices that we didn’t invent ourselves. The practices we find ourselves within define what counts as truth, and these are indeed not just limitations for truth but the preconditions for any truth at all, including any self knowledge, as culture defines how you are able to value yourself by defining what counts as value. Foucault shows how we are the Nietzschian ideal of the active agent, but the precondition for those actions to be counted as anything are that they are counted as something by others, that what you do makes sense only within a social context.
Here we get the active agent, but who can only do so with the preconditions of certain rules and values present and embodied in his the social practices. Since this agent is active and changing, but socially valued and forming from with that system of values, the best ethic would be one that creates an environment that allows diverse action to arise out of the social. Care provides such an ethic because it focuses on the specifics of situation and the specific needs of each individual. It at once allows for diversity and fosters the community out of which it grows. Because the social, emotional context provides the preconditions for a self in history, fostering those relationships of care provides a greater ability for diverse action. It focuses on the specific instead of the general, where the general forces the agent in preformed and unrealistic conceptual boxes. The ethic of Care allows for the agent to act spontaneously, see his self historically, and to promote the conditions for his own historical reflections.
Care ethics and Nietzsche together reveal the insufficient moral theories of justice ethics and the flimsy foundations out of which Justice ethics forms. They also, with the help of Foucault possibly provide the first conceptual blocks for an ethical ideology that takes advantage of realistic agents within a context of realistic agents all creating a context of care out of which creative, spontaneous and diverse actions can arise and be recognized as such by both the agent and those around him.
Foucault (Assigned Reading). The ethics of the concern of the self as a practice of freedom. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, 281-301.
Held, V. (1990). Feminist transformations of moral theory, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 321-344.
Jaggar, A.M. (1995). Caring as a Feminist Practice of Moral Reason, 179-202.
Montanari, D.J. (2011). Nietzsche and “getting it wrong”. Philosophy and Literature, 35, 190-198.
Murchadha, F.O. (2005). Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger: thinking freedom and philosophy, British Journal of the History of Philosophy, 13, 361-373. doi: 10.1080/09608780500093319.
Nietzsche, F. W., Ansell-Pearson, K., & Diethe, C. (2007).On the genealogy of morality. Cambridge Univ Pr.