The Ethics of Distribution of Care: We Should Bear the Responsibility of Care?

published: 2018-02-13Japanese

enlearge image (to back to press x)Books that address fundamental questions concerning the act of providing care and its necessity: Sei no gihō[Ars Vivendi], Sei arumono ha mina kono umi ni somari[All Living Things Intermingle with Sea Floor], Haha yo! Korosuna[Mother! Don’t kill].

Books that address fundamental questions concerning the act of providing care and its necessity: Sei no gihō[Ars Vivendi], Sei arumono ha mina kono umi ni somari[All Living Things Intermingle with Sea Floor], Haha yo! Korosuna[Mother! Don’t kill].

Where is research conducted? This differs depending on the field of study. The field of my study is a branch of philosophical ethics, and is a study of ethical action.” The main method of inquiry involves written discourse and written texts —books and essays —can be considered the place where this research is conducted in a direct sense. Specifically, my research is centered on the issues surrounding the question “Who ought to provide care?” To examine the topic of care, one must consider both dominant social norms and the treatment of women who have historically borne the main burden of caregiving. While this method of inquiry overlaps in places with the so-called “ethic of care —it is derived from compassion and is in opposition to the tradition of ethics —”it is nevertheless clearly distinct from this approach. While illustrating the traditional role of women in providing care and its significance, this perspective also emphasizes the disproportionate burden of care borne by marginalized people within society, such as slaves, immigrants, and the poor.

It is often said that human beings need care in order to live. This “need for care” can be considered as having two dimensions. One is the dimension of survival. Babies and children, people living with illnesses or disabilities, and elderly people weakened by age directly depend on the care of others for survival. It is a norm of this society that requires someone to provide care for those who are not able to survive on their own in order to extend their life. The other dimension of “need for care” is that of realizing a better life. People do not merely seek to stay alive but to live in a manner that allows them to enjoy their lives. This commonly held belief has been a widely held norm throughout the long history of this society.

These two overlapping norms concerning human life can only be realized when there is someone to provide care. So who should be responsible for providing care? The answer to this question is not self-evident. When a person requires care, there must be someone who provides that care. In most cases, this task is performed by someone close to the person who requires care—family members, for example, and women in particular.

enlearge image (to back to press x)Books that reexamine the question of 'Who should provide care?' from the perspective of the distinctive nature of care work and female labor. Servants of Globalization, Forced to Care, Love's Labor

Books that reexamine the question of ‘Who should provide care?’ from the perspective of the distinctive nature of care work and female labor. Servants of Globalization, Forced to Care, Love’s Labor

Following second-wave feminism and the advancement of women in society, many women who had been full-time housewives in the past began working outside the home. However, the work of providing care remained a gendered activity. The burden of care is not divided equally among the family members that make up a household, and the resources it requires are also lacking. So who ought to do this work?

One proposed solution is the “socialization of care,” a perspective which holds that since the provision of care is necessary to human life, society must be responsible for bearing the burden of care. If the view that human beings should be kept alive and their lives should be improved is shared throughout society, then this assignment of responsibility is reasonable. However, there are very few countries in which this system has been realized, and in most developed nations, this work is delegated (through the intermediary of money) to people of color, immigrants, and the poor, and particularly to the women belonging to these groups.

Can having someone else provide care be ethically justified as long they are paid? In the endeavor to provide independent living for people with disabilities, for example, the necessity of that care is universally understood, and the separation of this care from the family is generally accepted. On the other hand, objections have been raised within second wave feminism regarding women being disproportionately assigned the role of care provider. Both assertions are reasonable and valid. However, is it right to mobilize women from other countries on the basis of their own self-determination and have them do this work for low wages? I believe that in order to answer this question, we must approach it from the perspective of normative ethics and the question of who should provide care, which forms the core of the study I am currently engaged in.

When it comes to such questions, doubts are sometimes raised about how meaningful it is to use this conceptual framework. If the role of caregiver being disproportionately assigned to women is a problem, then this should be corrected. Should not money be spent on care, and policies formulated to achieve this goal? Why is there any particular need to examine topics like the history of “responsibility?” The problem exists here and now, so we should simply deal with it. As this is not so easily done, however, no attempts are being made. It is therefore necessary for us to carefully assemble evidence and try to get to the truth of the matter while looking back at the history of this issue in order to gain a clearer understanding of the problem.

Ethics, a field whose name originates in the Greek term “ethos” meaning “everyday customs,” investigates questions concerning the nature of daily life and morality. It is also a field that examines the relationship between facts and norms, and in particular their “disconnectedness.” The question of who should provide care may at first seem very familiar and lacking any novelty, but the investigation of this disconnectedness remains incomplete. My research is therefore guided by the idea that reexamining what at first appears to be self-evident in everyday life, while it may seem circuitous, can provide a useful way to examine these problems.

SATO Sayaka (Osaka Shoin Women’s University)

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