Care and justice in everyday moral reasoning

The ethic of care deals with issues of micro-morality embedded in the dynamics of close relationships, while the ethic of justice is more focused on issues of macromorality, including also strangers and impersonal relationships beyond community. Still, they are often intertwined in moral conflicts people encounter in their everyday lives (Juujarvi, 2005; Sherblom, Shipps, & Sherblom, 1993). Personal relationships can be viewed from both perspectives, and care and justice arguments can support as well as contradict each other. To take a usual example, the individual learns that the spouse of a friend has been unfaithful. When considering whether to reveal the affair to the friend, the individual may weigh the consequences of the decision for relationships against the worth of maintaining the moral principles of honesty or marital fidelity. Middle-aged children may wonder whether assisting a parent with dementia to stay at home is within their responsibilities or whether it belongs to the duties of the state.

In addition to peoples’ private lives, the ethics of care and justice play an important role in public life through professional ethical decision-making. Especially in Western societies, where the moral discourse of the ethic of autonomy is dominant (see Chapter 6), civil servants have the duty to protect the rights of citizens. In helping professions, care and justice considerations are integrated in high-level ethical decision-making, as the ethic of care enhances relationships with clients, and the ethic of justice guarantees individual rights and the equal treatment of citizens. For example, nurses seek to maintain the ethical principle of self-determination, by respecting patients’ autonomous decision-making even when patients take fatal health risks, such as refusing to take medicine, but still sustaining contact and staying attentive to their emerging needs of help (Gremmen, 1999). In increasingly complex healthcare contexts, professionals need to understand various issues of social justice in order to protect the rights of the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the disabled (Juujarvi, Ronkainen, & Silvennoinen, 2019).

Although care and justice reasoning represent divergent developmental paths, they have been found to be correlated with each other: the more just one is, the more caring one is, or vice versa, but there is also variation among individuals (Juujarvi, 2006; Juujarvi et al., 2010; Skoe & Diessner, 1994; Skoe et al., 1996; Skoe & von der Lippe, 2002). It is plausible that these two tracks of moral development share the underlying mechanism of perspective-taking and impulse control, because they both describe progress from initial self-oriented concern towards concern for others (Juujarvi et al., 2010). They seem to become integrated in postconventional moral thought which emphasises individuals’ rights and responsibilities for their life choices as an ultimate moral criterion (Juujarvi, 2006; Juujarvi, Pesso, & Myyry, 2011). Thus, Kohlberg’s (1984) assertion that care and justice are fused in mature moral thought, sharing respect for the human dignity of all people, seems valid in light of the empirical findings. This takes place, especially in mature adulthood, when growth in moral reasoning continues into middle age (Armon & Dawson, 1997; Helkama, 2004; Skoe et al., 1996). The same seems to be true for moral motivation as well. In line with the findings mentioned above, on the increase in the importance of universalism values with age, the relationship between communal (working for others) and agentic (achievement) motives changes to mid-adulthood, so that communal motives become stronger, and agentic ones weaker (Walker & Frimer, 2015), even among ordinary people.

Some people are more than ordinary, however, Colby and Damon (1992) initiated the study of persons who other people admired for their extraordinary moral qualities, sustained commitment to volunteer work, or promoting human rights. A central finding from this study of 22 Americans was that for them, personal and moral concerns had become fused, so that they had overcome the tension between personal interests and prosocial causes. This kind of hierarchical integration of moral concern with personal ambitions has also been observed in the subsequent research programme by Walker and hrs associates (e.g., Frimer, Walker, Dunlop, Lee, & Riches, 2011). A typical design has been to ask a number of people to nominate others whom they admire, and compare these exemplars with a matched sample of ordinary people. In addition to ordinary adults, speeches and interviews of famous 20th century public persons, some judged by experts as possessing moral character, others less, were studied using a variety of sophisticated techniques, with a view to distinguish instrumental and terminal (ultimate) goals. The message of this research is unambiguous: the moral exemplars, in effect, seem to follow the principle “I use my social status to help others”, and not “I help others to improve my social standing”. These moral exemplars can be seen as wise people who have transcended their egoistical selves into serving selflessly others through self-development (Ardelt, 2008).

We have described two trajectories related to reflective moral problem-solving, care, and justice, pertaining to thorny issues of right and wrong in everyday lives. The capacity to resolve those issues is called wisdom in everyday language. Wisdom is also one of those values related to self-transcendence whose importance grows across the lifespan. Wisdom has been defined as a combination of cognitive, reflective, and affective qualities with which a person desires to know the truth, is capable of looking at events from different viewpoints and feels compassionate love for others (Ardelt, 2008). These qualities are also characteristics of mature care and justice reasoning which end up in seeking moral truth through balancing the perspectives of all those involved in a situation. Being honest with oneself as well as others signals both moral maturity and wisdom.

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