The Value of Care: Feminism and Ethics

Sunday, May 10, 2020
First Aired: 
Sunday, June 10, 2018

What is it

We sometimes think of the domains of ethics and morality as divorced from feeling and emotion. You keep your promises because it maximizes good. But what if care were thought of as the bedrock of morality? While we know that more care work is performed by women, would a care-based approach to ethics be feminist, or merely feminine? What would it look like for us to build our institutions around the goal of promoting care? Debra and Ken take care to welcome Joan Tronto from the University of Minnesota, author of Who Cares?: How to Reshape a Democratic Politics.

Listening Notes

Ken and Debra begin the show by discussing care and what it means in regard to our obligations to others. Ken holds that it is perfectly fine for a parent to care more for his own children than he does for others; Debra, on the other hand, maintains that justice requires us to be impartial and prepared to juggle everyone’s best interests. The philosophers pivot to the difference between caring and care work, with Debra reminding us that domestic workers, often women of color, are exploited and undervalued in today’s market economy.

Joan Tronto, professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and author of Who Cares? How to Reshape a Democratic Politics, joins the show. She adds her perspective to what has already been discussed, offering that a policy-mandated 20-hour work week and a requirement for all American citizens to care for others, similar to a national service requirement, would help reshape and improve American democracy. She argues that students ought to be taught to care for others just as they are taught to develop a good work ethic in school. Ken and Debra probe Joan more on this, including on what she believes the source of care work and caring in the home disproportionately falling to women is.

After a short break, the philosophers and Joan respond to callers’ questions. One caller points out that care work is thought about differently in other countries, including in Cuba. There, even physicians are supported and encouraged to return to and help their disadvantaged communities. She wonders if the Cuban social system accounts for this. Ken adds onto this question, asking Joan why it seems that the devaluation of care work is especially prevalent in the U.S. Joan discusses Americans’ “winner vs. loser” mentality in response to Ken’s question, pointing out that we often forget that we share common goals and interests with other Americans.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 7:20) → Liza Veale traces the history of legislation around domestic work and explores payment for domestic work as a policy issue and not a personal one.
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 47:19) → Ian Shoales notices an unspoken norm on Facebook: that people who post on the platform often expect their friends to react to their posts sympathetically and/or positively, even when that is not how their friends truly feel.  

Unlimited Listening


Buy the Episode


Listen to the Preview



Joan Tronto, Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota


Bonus Content


Research By

Mohit Mookim

Upcoming Shows

12 April 2020

Philosophy and the Superhero

Philosophy is replete with thought experiments featuring characters like Descartes’ “Evil Genius” and Davidson’s “Swampman.” Some of the scenarios...

19 April 2020

Poetry as a Way of Knowing

What is poetry? Mere word play? A pretty, or at any rate striking, way of expressing thought and emotion? Or does great poetry involve an approach to...

26 April 2020

Money Matters

Money, they say, does not buy happiness; but having none can make life extraordinarily hard. Whether we have a little or a lot, we are all familiar...