The Value of Care: Feminism and Ethics

Sunday, March 7, 2021
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.  


Comments (6)

RepoMan05's picture


Wednesday, April 22, 2020 -- 12:49 PM

As a structural violence

As a structural violence group based on exclusion of half the planet, on moral grounds i dont stand by feminism. I really like the idea of inspiring women to do great things but to me that doesnt mean to be unnaturally male while using feminism as a platform to do structural violence on males and with impunity. Nature is real, more real than idealism. Idealism results in unlivable environmental conditions, particularly when mixed with erronious absolutism. Any group that happily spreads as much fallacy and previously cited condemnations, is a group that should not be.

In short, not down with the misandrist cult.

Also not down with pederast cults either but thats another and only partialy related topic.

Alfredo's picture


Sunday, May 17, 2020 -- 10:52 PM

Dear Philosophy Talk team,

Dear Philosophy Talk team,
Thank you for a fantastic podcast! 
Ken Taylor states early on: "I clearly owe my own children more care than I owe a complete stranger." What to think then of Wesley Autrey, who left his young daughters in the care of one stranger and dove onto the subway tracks to save the life of another? Didn't he owe his daughters to stand by them? Could the same be asked of a father skydiving on weekends? At least, the latter knows his parachute has a good chance of opening and save his life. Autrey didn't even know there'd be enough space for the subway to pass over him and the stranger over whom he laid. 
Maybe he comes from a long lineage of Greek caregivers?...

Alfredo's picture


Monday, May 18, 2020 -- 7:01 AM

"What is it about the

"What is it about the American psyche? (...) Why are we the way we are?" asks Ken Taylor. This is a great question because its answer may lead us to think differently. 

I believe our behavior stems from the way we view risk. 

In the second volume of his Democracy in America, Tocqueville states that because America emerged as a democratic republic, its citizens see huge rewards in taking risks, more so than Europeans who transitioned into democratic constitutions all the while adapting to their aristocratic and clerical strongholds.

To take a risk is to act autonomously in accordance with one’s inner understanding of what to do and what not to do –- what Aristotle called phronimos (φρόνιμος) or prudence.

If we are taught to care from a young age as Joan Tronto suggests, we may come to believe it as something "to do" and conclude that not caring is not a risk worth taking.


Tim Smith's picture

Tim Smith

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 -- 11:03 PM



Great post Alfredo and great PT. I've been a little preoccupied of late but this show really brings back what I love about Philosophy.

Thanks for this. Sometimes blogging forces me to think, change and most importantly ... care.


Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Tuesday, February 23, 2021 -- 4:46 AM

Fascinating approach. Seems

Fascinating approach. Seems to have a ring of logic to it. I'll bet I know why this has not been broached before? Connect the dots, or "turn the knobs" between feminism and male dominance...oops!

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Sunday, April 11, 2021 -- 7:29 AM

As usual, good and thoughtful

As usual, good and thoughtful comments here. Thought I'd raise a different flag. Women have long been charged with care giving, (mostly?) due to their role in childbearing and childrearing. But, in today's world, men are frequently employed as nurses. If someone has already broached this,I apologize. Anyway, I am wondering how such things as pay range and/or other terms, privileges and conditions of employment affect such positions and their occupants? Another facet of this gemstone involves a somewhat related inquiry: my physician is not an MD or a DO. He is a certified nurse practitioner, working in the office of a DO. I have no idea of how much he is paid. But, as a matter of interest, I would think it should be less than the head of the practice, whom I have never seen let alone met.

A good friend of mine is a nurse for the Veteran's Administration. I know he is paid well. I also know his patients ars primarily male. All of this is academic really. I have no means of discovering answers to my questions; proving or disproving suspicions regarding better terms, privileges and conditions of employment for men working in caregiver roles. Still, I surmise such individuals are likely to be better compensated than their female counterparts. When you always do what you have always done, you always get what you have always got...