Kinds of Ethical Theories
This section briefly summaries the kinds of ethical theories that most often figure in discussions of topics in applied ethics. It should be noted both that these are kinds of theories and that no theory or kind of theory should be regarded as widely accepted.
Act-focused theories focus on acts (including omissions) and are primarily concerned with matters of right and wrong, obligation or duty, individual rights, etc. They try to answer one of the two fundamental practical questions of ethics, “What ought I to do?” (the other being “How ought I to be?”). Such theories can be thought of as offering alternative answers to the question, which features of acts (including omissions) determine whether they are right or wrong, or which features of acts make right acts right and wrong acts wrong.
- To a first approximation, consequentialist theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends only on the non-moral value of relevant consequences, either the consequences of the act itself (direct consequentialism) or the consequences of something related to that act (indirect consequentialism), such as the social acceptance of moral rules that require or prohibit that act. The most prominent consequentialist theories are versions of act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism.
- Some things have non-moral value and disvalue. That is, there are some things (e.g., pleasure) that would be good, and other things (e.g., pain) that would be bad, even if there were no right or wrong, and no virtue or vice. Thus, some states of affairs have greater non-moral value than others (because they contain or realize more non-moral value than others).
- Consequentialist theories claim that rightness and wrongness (and also virtue and vice) are determined, either directly or indirectly, by the non-moral value of consequences, or outcomes—that is, consequent states of affairs. For instance, act consequentialist theories claim that the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined (directly) by the non-moral value of its consequences. And rule consequentialist theories claim that the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined (indirectly) by the non-moral value of the consequences of our accepting a moral code that requires or prohibits that act.
- Utilitarian theories claim that the overall value of a given outcome (consequent state of affairs) depends only on how much happiness or well-being it contains (or that is realized therein). Egalitarian and prioritarian theories claim that the overall value of a given outcome also depends on how happiness or well-being is distributed among the individuals therein. Egalitarian theories claim that more equal distributions are preferable, ceteris paribus. Prioritarian theories claim that distributions favoring those who are worse off over those who are better off are to be preferred, ceteris paribus. (In practice, utilitarians and prioritarians often favor promoting the well-being of those who are less well-off as a means of promoting greater aggregate well-being or more equal distributions thereof.)
- Consequentialist theories typically claim that the happiness or well-being of all sentient beings is of fundamental moral significance and, moreover, that a benefit (or harm) to any one individual (sentient being) is of equivalent value (or disvalue) to any other benefit (or harm) of equivalent size to any other individual. (This is consistent with the further claim that humans can be benefitted or harmed in ways that non-human animals cannot be.)
Act Consequentialist Theories
- To a first approximation, act consequentialist theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends only on the non-moral value of its consequences (the consequences of the act itself).
- Act consequentialist theories claim that morally appropriate (or ethical) actions, policies, practices, institutions, etc. are those that have good consequences, or outcomes.
- Most claim that morally appropriate actions, policies, practices, institutions, etc. are those that have maximally good consequences—i.e., optimal outcomes—and, thus, that an act is right if and only if its consequences are at least as good as those of available alternatives. Act utilitarians typically accept the following principle, “the principle of utility”: an act is right if and only if it maximally promotes sentient happiness or well-being (“maximizes utility”).8
- Contemporary act consequentialists deny that agents should decide what to do on particular occasions by calculating which act of those available to them would have the best consequences. (Recall that ethical theories are not theories about how people should make decisions.) For there are compelling reasons to believe that this method of decision-making is generally counterproductive. Instead, contemporary act consequentialists generally advocate following rules that are framed in advance, on the basis of consequentialist reasoning: rules that require conduct that is generally (but not invariably) productive of optimal outcomes (e.g., keeping promises and helping those in need), and rules that prohibit conduct that is generally (but not invariably) productive of suboptimal outcomes (e.g., wanton killing and lying). Moreover, many contemporary act consequentialists claim that agents should be blamed or feel guilty, not when they act wrongly, but rather when they decide what to do by using an unreliable method. The goal, they say, is to do what will have the best consequences. And that goal is best promoted by judging ourselves and others based, not on whether we achieve that goal on any particular occasion, but rather on whether the methods we use for pursuing it are reliable ones.
- Act consequentialist theories are often criticized for being overly reductive and, in particular, for implausibly reducing our various moral obligations to a single, general obligation to promote optimal outcomes and for failing to adequately account for the nature and content of moral rights.
Rule Consequentialist Theories
- To a first approximation, rule consequentialist theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends only on the non-moral value of the consequences of certain rules being generally accepted: moral rules that require or prohibit that act.
- Rule consequentialist theories claim that the rightness or wrongness of an act is determined (indirectly) by the non-moral value of the consequences of our accepting a moral code that requires or prohibits that act.
- Most claim that morally appropriate (or ethical) actions, policies, practices, institutions, etc. are those that are permitted or required by the moral code whose general acceptance would have the best consequences and, thus, that an act is right if and only if it conforms to the code of rules whose general acceptance would have the best consequences. Note that the relevant code is not the one that is, in fact, generally accepted, but rather the one whose general acceptance would have the best consequences (whether or not it is, in fact, generally accepted).
- Rule consequentialist theories are often criticized for elevating a means of promoting optimal consequences—namely, compliance with moral rules—to the status of an end in itself, because they claim that we ought to comply with the moral code whose general acceptance would have the best consequences even when we know that doing so will have suboptimal consequences.
Non-Consequentialist (incl. Deontological) Theories
- To a first approximation, non-consequentialist theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends on factors other than or in addition to the non-moral value of relevant consequences.
- Non-consequentialist theories accept constraints, options, or both. Non-consequentialist theories that accept constraints are often referred to as deontological theories.
- Constraints are limits or restrictions on what we may do to promote good ends or optimal outcomes—limits on what it is permissible to do, even to achieve noble ends or the greater good. Thus, theories that accept constraints deny that it is always permissible to do whatever would have the best consequences. Both general obligations, such as duties not to harm or lie to others, and universal human rights would be constraints. So would special obligations, including duties of care and other role obligations. Moreover, constraints would include not only duties of and rights to non-interference (negative duties and rights), but also duties to provide and rights to goods or services (positive duties and rights), such as assistance, an education, or health care.
- Options are limits on what we must do to promote good ends or optimal outcomes—including, most prominently, permissions to pursue our own interests or projects even when doing so would have suboptimal consequences. Thus, theories that accept options deny that it is always obligatory to do whatever would have the best consequences.
- Moreover, non-consequentialist theories accept constraints or options on non-consequentialist grounds. In contrast, act-consequentialist theories reject both constraints and options. They may accept rules that specify constraints or options, but only as guidelines or heuristics, and only on the basis of consequentialist reasoning (see above). And while rule-consequentialist theories may accept constraints or options, they may do so only on consequentialist grounds. Thus, most rule-consequentialist theories may (and do) accept them only insofar as the code of rules whose general acceptance would have the best consequences provides for them (see above).
- Neither non-consequentialism nor deontology should be confused with moral absolutism, the view that some or all moral prohibitions or rules hold without exception. Absolutism in this sense most often takes the form of the view that certain actions are morally impermissible simply in virtue of being members of certain identifiable kinds of action, such as lies, acts of adultery, and deliberate killings of the innocent. It may also take the form of the view that there are absolute moral rights, that is, moral rights that may never be permissibly infringed. Although some non-consequentialist ethical theories are absolutist in this sense, many non-consequentialists —including many deontologists—reject such absolutism.
- To a first approximation, contractarian theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends on whether or not it conforms to norms of mutually beneficial cooperation that are, or would be, agreed to by self-interested agents.
- Contractarian theories generally view people as primarily motivated by self-interest and morality as a conventional response to a collective action problem, a situation in which each can benefit only by securing the cooperation of others.
- Contractarian theories claim that morally appropriate (or ethical) actions, policies, practices, institutions, etc. are those that conform to norms of mutually beneficial cooperation that are, or would be, agreed to by self-interested agents under certain conditions.
- Contemporary contractarians do not claim that morality is a contract or agreement. Rather, they regard the fact that self-interested agents would agree to a given norm as indicative of the (self-interested) reasons they have and, in particular, of what conventional norms they have (self-interested) reasons to accept provided that others reciprocate. For example, the fact that such agents would agree to a norm prohibiting wanton violence shows or evinces that self-interested agents have (self-interested) reasons to accept conventional norms that prohibit such violence provided that others also accept them.
- Libertarian theories claim that the primary motive for agreement is a fear of depredations by others. Self-interested agents concerned to protect themselves from such depredations would, they claim, agree to norms that prohibit them from using force or threats of force to achieve their own ends provided that others reciprocate. Liberal theories claim that the primary motive for agreement is a desire for the positive benefits that mutual cooperation makes possible. Self-interested agents concerned to benefit from mutual cooperation would, they claim, agree to norms requiring that they aid others in need and contribute to mutually advantageous social insurance schemes provided that others reciprocate.
- Contractarian theories are often criticized for being unable to account for our obligations to and the rights of those who cannot reciprocate, including children, the disabled, and non-human animals.
- To a first approximation, contractualist theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends on whether or not it conforms to principles or rules that could or would be accepted by all rational beings or that could not be reasonably rejected by any rational being.
- Contractualist theories generally view people as motivated, not only or even primarily by self-interest, but also to act in ways that they can justify to others as free and equal beings. For instance, T.M. Scanlon’s theory claims that reasonable persons want to live together on terms that no one could reasonably reject. Thus, speaking very roughly, whereas contractarian theories see moral principles as rules that (self-interested) individuals would agree to from their own, diverse perspectives, contractualist theories see moral principles as rules that individuals could or would agree to (or could not reject) from a common perspective, the perspective of one free and equal person among others.
- Contemporary contractualists do not claim that morality is a contract or agreement. Rather, they regard the fact that reasonable persons could or would agree to (or could not reject) a given principle as indicative of the reasons they have. For example, the fact that such persons would agree to a rule prohibiting wanton violence shows or evinces that reasonable persons have reasons to accept principles that prohibit such violence.
- Neither of the two most prominent contractualist theories—those of John Rawls and T.M. Scanlon—is a complete moral theory. Thus, neither claims to offer a complete account of which features of acts determine whether they are right or wrong, and neither claims to offer a complete specification of which actions are morally appropriate (or ethical).
- Rawls’s theory is a theory of justice and, in particular, a theory of just political and social institutions (political constitutions, legal systems, economies, etc.). It claims that just political and social institutions are those that conform to principles that it would be rational to accept in an “original position” behind a “veil of ignorance”—that is, the principles that it would be rational for one free and equal person among others to choose were such a person ignorant of any and all features that individuate different persons or their societies, including the resources available to them; their abilities, talents, gender, race, and socioeconomic position; and their own interests or values. (“The original position is, in effect, the perspective of a, that is, an arbitrary, free and equal individual.” 9)
- Scanlon’s theory is a theory of what he calls “narrow morality,” which consists of what rational persons owe each other. It claims that, within the scope of narrow morality, morally appropriate (or ethical) actions are those that conform to principles that no one could reasonably reject. More precisely, it claims that “an act is wrong if its performance under the circumstances would be disallowed by any set of principles for the general regulation of behavior that no one could reasonably reject as a basis for informed, unforced general agreement.”10
- Contractualist theories are often criticized for being unable to account for our obligations to and the rights of merely sentient beings, including non-human animals.
- To a first approximation, Kantian theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends on whether or not it respects rational nature “as an end in itself.”
- Kantian ethical theories are a broad class of ethical theories that include both the ethical theory of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and contemporary ethical theories that are inspired by Kant’s theory but diverge from or add to it in various ways, including the contractualist theories of John Rawls and T.M. Scanlon (see above). The most common point of departure, not only for contemporary Kantian theories but also for contemporary interpretations of Kant’s own theory, is Kant’s second formulation of what he calls the Categorical Imperative: So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means. This principle enjoins us to always treat rational nature (which is what Kant means by “humanity”) as an end in itself, and never as a means only.
- Many Kantian theories claim that our fundamental moral obligation is to respect rational beings and, in particular, their rational natures (their capacities for rational thought and action) as “ends in themselves.” Thus, they claim that morally appropriate actions, policies, practices, institutions, etc. are those that respect rational nature as “as an end in itself.” (In Kant’s own theory, this obligation is taken to be a requirement of practical reason: a standard of rational choice and action.)
- What respecting rational nature as “as an end in itself” entails is a matter of considerable controversy among Kantians. For example, some regard it as a matter of treating rational nature as having a special kind of value (“dignity”) that is to be “honored” (e.g., preserved, developed, and exercised) rather than promoted (e.g., produced or maximized), while others regard it as a matter of acting on or in accordance with rules or principles that could or would be accepted by all rational beings or that could not be reasonably rejected by any rational being (see Contractualist Theories, above).
- Kantian theories generally claim that our obligation to respect rational nature limits what we may do to promote our own well-being or the greater good. Thus, they accept constraints. But both Kant and many contemporary Kantians also claim that respecting rational nature also requires promoting both our own perfection (developing our own rational capacities) and the happiness or well-being of others. That said, Kantians generally accept options, too, and, in particular, permissions to pursue our own interests or projects even when doing so would have suboptimal consequences.
- In keeping with the view that our fundamental moral obligation is to respect rational nature, Kantian theories typically deny that the interests of merely sentient beings, including non-human animals, are of non-derivative moral significance. And for that reason, they are often criticized for being unable to account for our obligations to and the rights of merely sentient beings, including non-human animals.
Natural Law Theories
- To a first approximation, natural law theories claim that whether an act is right or wrong depends on whether or not it is a non-defective response to a basic human good. Such theories should not be confused with the view that morality is natural as opposed to conventional (or otherwise artificial), which is compatible with most ethical theories, not just natural law theories.
- Natural law theories are a broad class of ethical theories that claim morally appropriate (or ethical) actions, policies, practices, institutions, etc. are those that respond appropriately to basic human goods, and that which goods are basic human goods is determined by human nature. In this way, natural law theories claim that human nature determines the content of morality, which they often refer to as “the natural law” or “the law of nature.”
- Most natural law theories claim that there are a variety of defective responses to basic human goods. Notably, many claim that the intentional destruction of a basic human good is a defective response thereto, even when it is necessary to promote or preserve another such good. (Thus, natural law theories tend to accept constraints.)
- Natural law theories should not to be confused with the moral theory accepted by the Roman Catholic Church, which is only one of many natural law theories and reflects the influence of religious dogma and papal authority. Notably, Roman Catholic proponents of natural law ethics (including Thomas Aquinas) generally claim that life is a basic human good, and that the intentional termination of human life is a defective response thereto. They also tend to be absolutists more generally, holding that lying, adultery, etc. are never morally permissible. But these additional positions rest on further claims that are contested within natural law ethics—further claims about human nature, about what the basic human goods are, and about which responses to those goods are defective.
- Nor should natural law theories be confused with the view that certain acts are wrong because they are “unnatural” in that they violate basic principles of biological functioning (e.g., that non-procreative sex is wrong because the biological function of sex is procreation). For while some proponents of natural law ethics do endorse this view, many others rightly regard it as absurd.
- Natural law theories are often criticized for being unable to offer a tenable account of human nature, for being unable to account for our obligations to and the rights of non-human animals, and (in some versions) for being implausibly absolutist (e.g., for claiming that lying is always wrong).
Rossian Moral Pluralism
- To a first approximation, Rossian moral pluralism claims that there is no single feature, however general, on which the rightness or wrongness of an act depends. Rather, whether an act is right or wrong depends (it claims) on the interplay of an irreducible plurality of factors, describable only by a plurality of fundamental moral principles. Rossian moral pluralism is often treated as a point of departure for developing or defending alternative ethical theories, both consequentialist and non-consequentialist11. And it is often (implicitly) taken for granted in various discussions, both in theoretical ethics and in applied ethics.
- Rossian (or Ross-style) moral pluralism names a class of ethical theories that share certain features with the ethical theory developed by W.D. Ross (1877–1971). An ethical theory may depart from or add to Ross’s own theory in various ways yet still be classified as (broadly) Rossian.
- Rossian pluralism claims that there is an irreducible plurality of fundamental moral principles, identifying an irreducible plurality of fundamental moral obligations (or duties). Rossians do not deny that some obligations are reducible to others. For example, they typically claim that the obligation to not kill and the obligation to pay one’s debts are special cases of, and therefore reducible to, the obligation to not harm and the obligation to keep one’s promises, respectively. Rather, what they deny is that all of our various moral obligations are reducible to a single, fundamental obligation, such as an obligation to promote optimal outcomes or an obligation to respect rational nature “as an end in itself.” Moreover, Ross himself argued that our various moral obligations are reducible to five fundamental obligations: to produce as much good as possible; to avoid harming or injuring others; to show appreciation for and to reciprocate the benefits that we have received; to acknowledge and make amends for the wrongs we have done and the harms and injuries we have inflicted; and to keep our promises, including our implicit promises.
- Rossian pluralism claims that our various moral obligations can, and frequently do, conflict. In such cases, at least one action will be morally right, even though it breaches a moral obligation (or infringes a moral right). For example, one’s obligation to save a life might outweigh or override one’s obligation to keep a promise, making it right to breach the latter obligation. (Rossians generally deny that there can be conflicts between obligations that leave the agent with no morally permissible options.) Rossians use terms such as “pro tanto obligation” and “prima facie duty” to refer to obligations of the sort that can conflict with one another in this way. Some also prefer to speak in terms of moral reasons or right- and wrong-making features of actions, rather than obligations or duties.
- Some moral theories claim that the rightness or wrongness of an act depends on a single feature thereof, such as whether or not its consequences are at least as good as those of available alternatives or whether or not it respects rational nature “as an end in itself.” Rossian pluralism denies this. It does allow that right acts are supported by the “balance” of moral reasons. But beyond that, it denies that there is a single feature—however general—that makes all right acts right (or all wrong acts wrong).
- Rossian pluralism also denies that there is a general formula that specifies which actions are morally appropriate (or ethical), such as that morally appropriate (or ethical) actions are those that conform to principles that no one could reasonably reject. Moreover, Ross himself claimed that “no act is ever, in virtue of falling under some general description, necessarily actually right” (1930: 33).
- Rossian theories generally recognize an obligation to promote optimal outcomes both directly and indirectly (e.g., by promoting policies, practices, and institutions that promote optimal outcomes). But they also accept constraints. For instance, Ross’s own theory accepts constraints both in the form of a general obligation to not harm others and in the form of special obligations to promisees, to benefactors, and to those whom we have harmed or wronged. And, recently, some have begun to explore how options might be accounted for within a Rossian theory.12
- Many Rossians claim that the happiness or well-being of all sentient beings is of fundamental moral significance and, moreover, that a benefit (or harm) to any one individual (sentient being) is of equivalent value (or disvalue) to any other benefit (or harm) of equivalent size to any other individual. (This is consistent with the further claim that humans can be benefitted or harmed in ways that non-human animals cannot be. It is also consistent with the further claim that we have obligations to humans that we do not have to non-human animals.)
- Rossian theories are often criticized both for not providing a single, unifying principle from which all of our various moral obligations can be derived and for not providing guidelines that we can use to decide what we ought to do when out obligations (or the rights of others) conflict. (Rossians generally reply that this is a feature of their view, not an objection to it, and that there is no reason to suppose that any such principle or guidelines are to be found.)
Agent-focused theories focus on agents or the relations between them, rather than on acts. They include theories that focus primarily on the kind of person one should be or the kind of character one should have and, thus, on the nature of virtue and virtuous personhood. These try to answer the other fundamental practical question of ethics, “How ought I to be?” (The various theories classified as Virtue Ethics are prime examples of such theories.) Agent-focused theories also include theories that focus on relations between agents (the prime example being caring relations) and on the evaluation of the various aspects and expressions of these relations, and of the social practices and values that sustain them.
Although there are some who view agent-focused theories as alternatives to act-focused ones, many such theories may be seen as necessary amendments or supplements to an adequate act-focused theory or as parts of a more general ethical theory that includes both act- and agent-focused elements. In this regard, it is worth noting both that some virtue theorists (including Aristotle) connect agent to action by claiming that virtue involves doing the right thing for the right reason, and that some act-focused theories connect actions to agents by claiming that relations between agents and other persons (including caring relations) give rise to special obligations to act in particular ways (including obligations of care).
- To a first approximation, theories of virtue ethics propose that what makes a particular act moral, or individual agent morally praiseworthy, is some aspect of the agent’s character.
- Many ethical theories rest on intuitions about various types of virtuous behavior, such as the virtue of beneficence (Utilitarianism), caring for others (Ethics of Care), or justice (various elements of contractarianism). However virtue theories are distinct in proposing that morality consists not only in the existence of particular virtues, but also in the possession of multiple virtues by identifiable agents.
- Virtue Ethics is an agent-centered approach to morality, which addresses the question “How ought I be in order to live the good life?” which can be contrasted with other approaches to ethics which center on the question “What ought I do”.
- The genesis of virtue theories can be found in the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, particularly Aristotle’s presentation of the view in his “Nicomachean Ethics”. Virtue theory fell out of favor until its revival in the latter part of the 20th century, which has yielded many influential modern restatements of the view including those of Philippa Foot Rosalind Hursthouse and Virginia Held.
- Virtues are character traits, which are identified as good. Particular theories differ in those character traits which are counted as virtues, and range from the very broad characterization given by Aristotle, who included bodily and intellectual virtues on his list such as beauty and intelligence, to more narrowly prescribed accounts that focus on more traditionally moral traits such as beneficence and courage.
- Virtue theories generally include some meta-virtues, virtues that facilitate the use of the other virtues. Aristotle’s take on the meta-virtue is the virtue of practical wisdom, the specific intellectual virtue of knowing how to appropriately deploy the other virtues. The importance of meta-virtues such as practical wisdom highlights the contextual dependence of morally appropriate behavior that is central to virtue ethics.
- A virtuous agent is one who acts virtuously, that is, one who possess and exercises the virtues.
- Virtue theories are often criticized in applied contexts for being an agent-focused theory, so although it can answer the question “How ought I live?” its answer to the question “What should I do?” is generally less clear. A notable attempt to generate a more act-focused version of Virtue Ethics is Rosalind Hursthouse’s proposal of v-rules. V-rule are essentially rules of thumb for the practical implementation of the virtues.
Care of Theories
- To a first approximation, care ethics focuses on the socially embedded nature of lives as central to the creation and fulfillment of moral obligations.
- Care ethics partially defines itself as an alternative to the prevailing view of morality as impartial behavior (i.e. Kantianism, Utilitarianism). Care ethics holds that the impartial standpoint ignores important contextual features of our lives, particularly that we are born into a web of relationships and are interdependent, socially embedded beings. Through the focus on impartiality the prevailing view of ethics misses important aspects of morality, specifically, the crucial aspect of “care”, and at worst it promotes a completely unrealistic view of the person, and so fails to capture what morality really is at all.
- The central focus of the Ethics of Care is on the “…compelling moral salience of attending to and meeting the needs of the particular others for whom we take responsibility.”13
- Epistemologically, care ethics values emotion as a way of understanding what it morally best, rather than rejecting it, and treating emotionally based judgments as suspect.
- Methodologically, care ethics rejects claim that the ideal of moral reasoning is abstract, and impartial. Rather it proposes that moral reasoning is about particular interconnected individuals in particular equal or unequal relationships.
- The Ethics of care challenges and reconceptualizes the traditional division between the private and the public sphere by making the ‘private’ domain of relations of family and friends central to morality.
- Care ethics conceives of persons as “relational and interdependent persons” who begin and end their lives as dependents of others, in relations with others that we do not choose – our families. Persons, on this view, are fundamentally dependent on, and connected to, others throughout their lives.
- In care ethics, moral obligations are derived from our relationships to others, they do not exist prior to or separable from these relationships. Moral obligations resulting from care can only be understood by taking circumstances, people, and future interpersonal impact of our judgments into account. Likewise, our moral judgments are particular, that is, they take the context of actions and relations to be important to the moral judgments that we make.
- There is general agreement that care is an activity of taking care of a particular person that requires the carer to expend energy on the cared for. To care for another is not merely to have an attitude of caring about some one or thing divorced from any inclination or motivation to act on that attitude.
- Care ethics is often presented as a form of Feminist Ethics, although this is not necessary. The most noted version of this view comes from the earliest proponent of Care Ethics, Carol Gilligan.
- Care theories have been criticized for several reasons: Care Ethics initially emphasized care and maintenance of relationships at all cost. But: Who does the caring? At what cost? (Note that it is generally women – this is a particularly lively issue in the traditional “caring” professions). By emphasizing care as a female virtue are we gender essentializing? It is arguably easier to understand Care Ethics not as a stand-alone ethical theory, but rather in conjunction with another view, possibly as an amendment or supplement to other moral theories, which identifies an important gap in the prevalent understanding of morality.