While most contemporary ethicists subscribe to one of the three major theories in normative ethics—consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics— there are other notable views. Here we explore two: ethics of care and particularism.
Ethics of care
According to the ethics of care, morality is defined by a relationship of care between individuals in an interconnected social network.
Instead of abstract principles like duty (deontology) or maximizing good outcomes (consequentialism) guiding our moral life, the ethics of care argues that the emotional and personal experience of caring for others should set the scope and depth of our moral obligations. This has different implications for different theorists. Some have argued that the ethics of care implies that we have a much stronger moral duty to those close to us, with whom we have a genuine caring relationship, than we do to individuals who live far away from us. Other theorists provide broader definitions of care that make the application of this theory more universal.
Moral particularism holds that when we make moral judgments, we should not use general moral principles, but should instead just apply our moral judgment to the case at hand.
Take a particular case—an individual is murdered. The consequentialist will argue that this is wrong because it will have harmful long term consequences, while the deontologist will argue that this is wrong because it violates a moral prohibition against murder. The particularist, on the other hand, will argue that we have a clear moral judgment that murder is wrong, and it stands independently of our belief in any of these moral theories. We shouldn’t rely on these principles both because no theory has adequately synthesized all of our judgments, and because these moral theories derive their plausibility from our moral judgments. Instead, particularists claim, we are better off appealing to these judements directly.
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