I appreciate the even-handedness of the discussion of moral theory that we’ve had in class. We’ve all been given some more tools to better assess the ethical decisions and dilemmas before us, and better yet to understand the philosophies that others bring to the table. We’ve seen that none of these theories are foolproof, yet each provide a useful perspective on our moral decisions.
I find myself drawn to the concept of Care Ethics. It moves away from the cold, calculating ideals of many other theories to a place where moral decisions are made with both our head and our heart. While it may be relatively new as an “officially” articulated moral theory, it seems that care ethics has been around in practice for a very long time. It seems to embody the way that many people actually make decisions whether consciously or not. Care ethics also seems very close to the Christian idea that only “faith working through love” counts for anything (Galatians 5:6). Actions are to be guided by love, which is really just a stronger form of the “care” ideal.
However at a deeper level, something is missing from the discussion. Care ethics, at least as presented by van de Poel and Royakkers, is lacking justification for its claims. It champions the moral significance of our relationships with other people. People have dignity and thus care for them is at the heart of moral action. It must be asked, why are relationships good? From whence comes humankind’s inherent dignity? Similar questions arise with utilitarianism, duty ethics, and virtue ethics:
- What definitions of good, evil, pleasure, pain, and happiness are to be used within the utilitarian rubric?
- Why is Mill’s freedom principle morally right?
- On what basis do we accept Kant’s concept of good will as true or moral?
- Who defines what is virtuous or not?
- How does one judge what is virtue to begin with?
The answers to these and many other questions regarding the starting points of moral theory are not philosophically self-evident. They don’t answer themselves. They beg for the existence of objective moral truths or force us to acknowledge that at the very core our moral judgments are based on a relativistic foundation. In their discussion of moral theory, van de Poel and Royakkers don’t tackle the question of existence of absolute vs. subjective truth. And maybe they didn’t intend to. Similarly this class has whetted our appetite to the intriguing world of moral philosophy, and its job is not to answer these questions. But I do believe as we wade through the world of moral philosophy, we must all struggle with these epistemological issues – what we believe and how we know it to be true – before or at least concurrently with our striving to choose an appropriate moral worldview or lens. If not we will ultimately find ourselves confused about the most basic assumptions of our moral framework or stuck in the morass of relativism.