The Natural Basis for an Ethic of Care

Gerald Casenave, M.D.
The fundamental question of ethics is not “What is the right thing to do?” The fundamental question is “Why be ethical?” If there is a divine basis for ethics, the answer is simple, “To not get punished.” But post Nietzsche, it is problematic to base ethics on religion. Rationality produces the categorical imperative which is formal and without content, and leads to the question of “Why be rational?” The idea of finding a natural basis for ethics has always been appealing, but by nature we do terrible things to each other. Hume argued that ethics derives from feelings. Scheler laid out a non-formal ethics of value. Ian McGilchrist argues that ethics arises as a feeling in the non-dominant, usually right, hemisphere.
Heidegger argues that the fundamental nature of human being is care; we care about the world. We evaluate and determine worth. Our care and concern about the world is a continuum, from just noticing to caring about intensely. We are strange creatures that care about the infinitesimally small and the ungraspable immensity of the universe. We have increasing explicit knowledge of the connectedness of things. Out of these aspects of our nature arises the soft obligation we have to take care of each other and the world.
Our ethical feeling and care about each other and things is fragile. It develops when nurtured and encouraged. It can be extinguished. Ethical reasoning, as Kohlberg first laid it out, appears to advance from Pre-Conventional to Conventional to Post-Conventional, when such development is fostered. But only with the Gilligan corrective, the component of care, does ethical reasoning lead to acting ethically.

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  • Skip K.

    Enjoyable and coherent talk.

    March 26, 2014

  • Jeff F.

    Excellent! Very thought provoking! The Board does an excellent job organizing these meetings. Very professionally done. Much better than most Meetup groups.

    March 25, 2014

  • Karen

    Running late..a bit lost.

    March 25, 2014

  • Jeff F.

    The reason we care and should care is that it works, that is, it is mutually beneficial. In addition, positive psychology teaches us that caring is beneficial to the caregiver in and of itself. Caring makes us feel good and gives us meaning in life. Giving care releases bodily chemicals that make us feel good, which further motivates us to continue giving care.

    March 25, 2014

  • Jeff F.

    Why care? It is an evolutionary adaptation. The process of natural selection identifies behaviors that work. Human beings are naturally ethical, not at all times or in all places, but our world works because most human beings are ethical and do care. Caring for one another evolved through the process of natural selection because when we lived in tribes it was crucial for survival to care for one another. We learned to depend on one another for survival. Hence, the purpose of the tribe, the group, the society was for mutual benefit. We are driven to help others and care for them because we wish to be helped and cared for should we need care in the future. Caring for one another and exchanging mutual benefit is a clear evolutionary adaptation that enables our modern world to work, in spite of man's imperfections which also dwell in us as evolutionary adaptations. Selfishness is also an evolutionary adaptation as it is at times necessary for survival.

    2 · March 19, 2014

    • Zack

      I agree with evolution as an explanation of why care exists, but I do not agree that such an explanation gives us reason to care. In other words, it might explain why we care, but it doesn't explain why we should care.

      March 25, 2014

    • Jeff F.

      The reason we care and should care is that it works, that is, it is mutually beneficial. In addition, positive psychology teaches us that caring is beneficial to the caregiver in and of itself. Caring makes us feel good and gives us meaning in life. Giving care releases bodily chemicals that make us feel good, which further motivates us to continue giving care.

      March 25, 2014

  • Kshitij S.

    Sorry, I cannot make any tuesday or thursday evening meetings for the next 6 weeks. I have classes scheduled at those times. Look forward to attending meetings beginning mid may.

    March 24, 2014

  • Sally R.

    Can't make this one after all :(

    March 21, 2014

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