The Challenge of Care to Idealizing Theories of Distributive Justice

In Lisa Tessman (ed.), Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Theorizing the Non-Ideal. Springer. pp. 105--119 (2009)

Authors
Anca Gheaus
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Abstract
The ideal of distributive justice as a means of ensuring fair distribution of social opportunities is a cornerstone of contemporary feminist theory. Feminists from various disciplines have developed arguments to support the redistribution of the work of care through institutional mechanisms. I discuss the limits of such distribution under the conditions of theories that do not idealize human agents as independent beings. People’s reliance on care, understood as a response to needs, is pervasive and infuses almost all human interaction. I argue that the effect of care on shaping the social opportunities of all individuals is huge, although often invisible. Much of the optimism of theories of distributive justice comes from ignoring or downplaying the way in which care influences most factors of social success. Jonathan Wolff distinguished between three types of resources whose fair distribution is important: internal, external and structural. Care, I argue, does not fit well in any of these types. Inseparably interwoven with relational realities, care cuts across these categories and thus poses a challenge to the feasibility of equal chances. I focus on the under-analyzed issue of bad care and show how difficult it is to dismantle legacies of bad care. Their effect on even close-to-ideal social arrangements is too significant to be disregarded, yet very difficult to tackle through institutional mechanisms. A commitment to certain elements of individual ethics – as opposed to merely political institutions – is required in order to bridge the gap between ideal theories of justice and feasible practical aims.
Keywords distributive justice  care
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