Philosophy Faculty Publications

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Book Chapter

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Global Feminist Ethics: Feminist Ethics and Social Theory


Several feminist philosophers, including Virginia Held, Joan Tronto, and Fiona Robinson, see the need for, and the potential of, care ethics for achieving far-reaching political and even global transformation. Tronto recommends that care be used as "a basis for political change" and a "strategy for organizing" (Tronto 1993, 175). Held advocates that "the ethics of care should transform international politics and relations between states as well as within them" (Held 2006, 161).

During and immediately after World War One, Jane Addams attempted to do just that. She sought to bring perspectives and moral sensibilities that have since been theorized in the ethics of care to bear on concrete, international problems. She worked with the U.S. Food Administration to meet the needs of Europeans who faced malnutrition and starvation because of the war and advocated that the League of Nations adopt as its first and foundational task feeding all those made hungry by the war. In her work on behalf of these organizations, Addams presented a theoretical framework of global ethics that connected women's care-giving activities with structuring international institutions principally in response to basic human needs.

After briefly describing current views on care's potential for international ethics, I will describe how Addams tried to place American women in relations of caring connection with the hungry in Europe. I will then show how she used the proposed League of Nations as a focal point for an international ethic based on meeting human needs. I will conclude by projecting how Addams would respond to contemporary concerns about extending care into the international arena, specifically concerns about how to care for those far distant, and about how to avoid maternalism/paternalism or imperialism in one's efforts to care. To avoid anachronism, I do not claim that Addams's theory was an ethics of care. Her conceptual framework relied upon outdated conceptual apparatus, particularly nineteenth century theories of evolutionary anthropology and psychology. However, Addams's patterns of thought are strikingly similar to those used by contemporary care theorists, and her responses to their concerns may be helpful today.

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The introduction is provided for download by permission of the publisher. Permission documentation is on file. To read the entire book, visit an academic library or see the publisher's website.


Rowman & Littlefield

Place of Publication

Lanham, MD