Caring for others: A theory of moral reasons

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Michael Stocker


Caring, Moral reasons, Ethics

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Ethics and Political Philosophy | Philosophy


The challenge for any theory of moral reasons is to determine which considerations should carry weight in ethical deliberations, motivate ethical behavior, and justify our choices to others. Traditional views appeal to social utility and Kantian duty. Informed by work in psychology and encouraged by many feminists, this dissertation argues for an additional class of moral reasons based upon our care and concern for others. Without replacing traditional ethical notions, I argue that care-based reasons are capable of standing alongside their traditional counterparts and seek to establish care's moral legitimacy.

In building my case, I examine a thirty-year-old debate over ethical impartiality. Philosophical orthodoxy favors dispassionate procedures over emotions that are thought to be either irrelevant or detrimental to good ethical decision-making. Critics complain that emphasizing impartiality obscures the obvious importance of moral goods, such as friendship, trust, and love. Updating the debate, I show that many common criticisms of ethical impartiality are overstated in the current context. Many Kantians, for example, now allow emotions to aid ethical deliberation and motivation. However, I argue that a theory of moral reasons is incomplete until emotions are allowed to justify moral behavior--a conclusion resisted by most contemporary defenders of ethical impartiality. Thus, this work seeks to re-focus the current debate and offers the prospect of a more complete theory of moral reasons.

Drawing upon standard accounts of moral duty, I offer a series of parallel arguments showing that care-based reasons share each important feature. For example, if duties garner authority because they contribute meaning to our lives, then emotions possess similar forms of authority because they confer meaning in similar ways. Against the view that care is a gush of feeling, I argue that care can withstand contrary inclinations. Against the view that care is strictly a personal feeling, I argue that care is grounded in our common nature as emotional beings (not unlike the way that duty is grounded in our common nature as rational beings). While not always the over-riding ethical feature, care can guide ethical deliberation as well as motivate and justify ethical behavior.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.