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Care and Commitment: Taking the Personal Point of View

by Jeffrey Blustein


Care and Commitment is the best work to come out of the ethics of care vicinity. Rather than claim care, deontology, and consequentialism are constantly at odds, Blustein attempts a three-way dovetail. Bluestein delivers many good ideas, arguing that we should value individuals for more than their status, talents, and willingness to do things for us.



The author covers what caring is and is not. Quoth Annette Baier, “A [sometimes] reliable sign of caring is the intolerance of ignorance about the current state of what we care about.” Blustein sees caring as being moved to do something that affects the thing we care about.


There are, he points out, advantages in not caring. Not caring protects us from anxieties and problems arising when care is misplaced, excessive or leads to other disasters. Caring in the wrong ways wrecks character. Yet not caring, strips life of uniquely human qualities. A splendid section covers the depression suffered by J.S. Mill when Mill no longer cared about his goals. Blustein explains how we can learn to care more on a metalevel—caring about caring.


Blustein claims we are often mistaken about how much we care and how much we care about a thing compared to other things. We may think we care more about romance than football, but the opposite is often the case, especially if we look at receipts and time spent.


Another splendid section discusses Harry Frankfurt’s ideas on wantonness. Non-wantons often think about their motivations, selecting and rejecting motivations. They choose desires and can choose to act in opposition to their desires. They can identify with a desire so that the desire resounds within them. (Change what you want? What a strange concept in the world of “I want what I want and there is no changing my mind.” Heaven forbid that anyone should develop a new interest for reasons other than or in addition to impulse or entertainment.)


Individuals acting wantonly are unable or unwilling to know their motivations, not caring which desires are strongest. They act on whichever desire is strongest. Various desires compete and take hold of them.


Constantly losing interest, being easily distracted without thinking about the losses caused by being distracted or not thinking where interest should be directed are wantonly behaviors. Those who reason, carefully choosing their actions and desires, but do not do what they believe they should do, are not wantons. They are weak-willed.


The section on integrity and self-transformation argues that we should often re-evaluate, find better commitments, and get rid of misplaced guilt. “Keeping my options open” is often code for making halfhearted efforts toward the options supposedly committed to. Never doing more than toying with life roles is a disgrace to self. We should make worthy commitments despite uncertainty.


Bluestein argues for limited propinquity, meaning paying more attention to situations close to us and not interfering in distant situations we know little or nothing about. Interfere in far away situations—species, planet, and universe--when we know what we are doing.


He proposes that major commitments to nearby humans are important for developing identity, integrity and a sense of being valuable and needed. We have better knowledge of what would benefit or harm those closest to us than those farthest from us, no matter how much information flows through the Internet. We have better knowledge of what treatment those closest to us deserve also. Some humans can function with zero propinquity--they can understand and treat strangers 5,000 miles away the same way they treat their siblings--but most of us cannot function without close attachments. Some individuals seem inclined toward xenocentrism. They loath what is around them, yet offer assistance to distant strangers they know little about. If zero propinquity were always the rule for all individuals, we would end up with broken individuals and societies.


Those who understand what benefits intimates are sometimes better able to understand what benefits strangers. In proper doses, close relationships may encourage general compassion and connectedness--more than permanent disconnection and alienation accomplishes, though some close relationships encourage misplaced hostility toward out-groups. Oxytocin, the cuddle chemical, causes both bonding and hostility toward outsiders.


This is a complex work with dense text, not for the faint of mind. The sections on wantonness and the importance of caring are terrific. Recommended. 273p (C) 1991        


book review article by JT Fournier, last updated October 17, 2014


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