General Question

whiteliondreams's avatar

Which is a more fundamental human value between 'care' and 'justice'?

Asked by whiteliondreams (1693 points ) August 13th, 2012

Philosophy of Feminist Ethics
Care > Justice (traditional ethics: Male)

If care can exist without justice, can justice exist without care? It seems so within a judicial system and social contracts around the world, but is care necessary to have ethics? (Don’t answer with a simple yes or an emphatic “absolutely”, please.)

However, prior to the existence of polis, as there were families and clans of families, would their existence and survival have depended on care or justice (or both)?

How do you hold the view that without care, there wouldn’t be a polis, rules, laws, contracts, etc…?

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16 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

How would you define “care”? It is a very vague term.

I care about my family.

I take care of my cat.

I take care to stop at red lights.

“I cared for my mother when she was very sick” has two meanings.

Justice has meaning only within the legal code established by the clan or tribe or unit of government.

bolwerk's avatar

Anthropological and historical evidence probably points towards justice being a secondary concern in more primitive communities. In pseudo-civilized Germanic tribes, concepts like wergeld were developed to attempt to alleviate the burden of antisocial behavior. It wasn’t possible to administer a complex system of justice, but a need to deter antisocial behavior without resorting directly to vengeance or immediate execution was also seen.

But, then, you can make a really strong case that living in a society where there is no “care” causes antisocial behavior too. The United States seems to show a great deal of evidence for that, as I suspect the people who fall through the cracks tend to be economically impoverished and have no support network.

wonderingwhy's avatar

“is care necessary to have ethics?” To an extent yes, you must care about something in order to define the foundation of your ethical system. However I don’t believe it’s necessary to care for your fellow man in order to develop an set of ethics (I don’t do this out of love for you I do this because it’s right).

…prior to the existence of polis… Both seem to have a place and the capacity to achieve the similar ends. A set of formal laws ensures everyone understands what is and isn’t acceptable as a society and holds that standard high (but as above this implies that those who set forth the laws do care about something if not necessarily the individuals around them. A caring bond breeds a set of informal laws based on each individuals circumstance and reciprocation and ensures that those who are members maintain those bonds lest they be ostracized.

thorninmud's avatar

I once taught a comparative religions class alongside a Muslim imam (I was presenting the Buddhist view), and this question emerged as a fundamental differing point. Islam places great emphasis on the ideal of justice, whereas Buddhists put compassion in that central position. At the time, I gave this a lot of consideration because I found it interesting that the word justice rarely surfaces in a Buddhist context, and compassion rarely gets mentioned in an Islamic context.

To my mind, Justice is inextricable from notions of right and wrong. There are a few things most people will agree to be right or wrong, but there is also a great deal of disagreement on other things. Social groups have gotten around this ambiguity by setting up an arbiter of right and wrong, whether that be Allah, Jesus, or the government. It’s not too surprising that a justice-centered system would tend to marginalize compassion, because compassion tends to muddy-up dichotomies like right and wrong.

To put compassion at the center, you have to be comfortable with ambiguity and lack of absolutes. The overriding consideration is the welfare of those involved, not the application of a standard. There are often no clear answers, so one just has to act from the “heart” (or not act at all). The notion of Justice can get in the way of this compassion-centered paradigm, because the dictates of justice sometimes outrage the sense of compassion.

Which is more fundamental? I’m not sure that’s the best way to frame the question. They’re based in different parts of the brain. Studies have demonstrated that non-human animals and very young children have a sense of fairness, which is a form of justice. Compassion seems to come online somewhat later. But they’re both right there in our makeup.

Which should have priority in our moral dealings? On an interpersonal level, I’d say compassion, hands down. On an institutional or societal level, I think justice has to hold the reins.

gailcalled's avatar

^^^I used to watch the mother barn swallow every summer as she tried to teach her fledglings how to fly. She made her nest on a wooden support beam in our boat house, over open water.

From time to time, a baby bird fell into the lake and drowned, in spite of our best efforts to intervene. The mother bird seemed resigned…if that is even an appropriate word to use.

Our kids, then all under 15, were very upset (as was I.)

bolwerk's avatar

@thorninmud: ”...a fundamental differing point. Islam places great emphasis on the ideal of justice, whereas Buddhists put compassion in that central position,” is an interesting observing. It seems to apply to most of the Judeo-Christian spectrum. I wonder if that how much that explains their respective fanatics’ low levels of moral development.

LostInParadise's avatar

Must justice be opposed to care? Blindly following a set of rules is not the same as justice. Just because the rules apply equally to everyone, does not make them just. A case in point is the voter ID legislation that is being pushed in a few states. The rule applies to everyone, but those who are poor are at a disadvantage, which is of course the real reason behind the legislation..

I have probably recommended this book before, but it is worth repeating. Michael Sandel’s book on justice is a very readable summary of some of the most important philosophical ideas on justice, including those of John Rawls, along with Sandel’s slant on it.

marinelife's avatar

The human brain can hold multiple, parallel trains of thought.

I think it is false to connect care and justice. One can definitely exist without the other,

I don’t think that they necessarily have to both be present for one to work without the other.

DaphneT's avatar

It seems to me that care would be a more fundamental human value. In earlier human eras we think a mother ‘cares’ for her child until the child reaches an age of self-reliance. A male ‘cares’ for a female long enough to beget a child and may ‘care’ for that child until the age of self-reliance. Care in the social-justice sense grew along with the development of intelligence and the development of social constructs. As males and females bonded and created communities, ‘care’ expanded to include more that just having a child reach an age of self-reliance. At some point the organizational social construct developed the non-emotionally involved societal justice construct, thus separating certain cares from certain instances justice. it is really tough to write a considered discourse with a teenager in the room arguing with his mother (not me)

ETpro's avatar

My first thought was very much in line with what @DaphneT expressed. Care is fundamental to real justice. Our justice system is designed to protect what we care about. In Medieval times when feudal lords designed the justice system, it only related to what they cared about—themselves and the power and wealth of their family. It was imminently unjust to almost everyone (serfs) because the lord didn’t care a hoot about them. When we care about all oppressed people, our justice system is designed to protect the powerless. If we decide we care only about the wealthiest among us, then the justice system is tilted to punish the poor for stealing a loaf of bread but let the rich slide by when they fraudulently obtain millions or even billions. What we care about drives what we think justice is.

LostInParadise's avatar

A political conservative would say that in a just society, each person receives according to what he is able to produce. John Rawls questioned this. He said that we are not truly born equal. Purely by chance, some of us have advantages that others do not. Some are born to wealthier families, some have greater abilities and some have greater self-discipline. It is not just that people should be rewarded based on happenstance. A truly just system would provide compensation for those less fortunate. Coincidentally, this is also a more caring system.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@LostInParadise But is a caring system a socialist system when it comes to government? More or less?

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bolwerk's avatar

“A political conservative would say that in a just society, each person receives according to what he is able to produce.” Actually, @LostInParadise, that ideology is called liberalism.

LostInParadise's avatar

@whiteliondreams , A caring and, I am arguing, more just system would be more socialist. Is that a problem? People treat socialism and even government as if they oppose the natural order. They are human innovations and are no more or less natural than airplanes or computers.

whiteliondreams's avatar

@LostInParadise Oh no, I don’t see socialism as being a big problem, but I can only agree with so much. I am not very familiar with socialist governments and don’t have the time to become frequent with any. However, as I had read a brief scope, it seemed very Army-life. As a soldier I was able to relate to everything socialism has to offer and soldiers have no problem with it at all. In fact, despite their “affiliations” with asses and elephants, they seemed to crave socialism and more equal opportunity. shrug

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