Since 2002, Margaret Urban Walker PhD is Professor of Philosophy and Lincoln Professor of Ethics at Arizona State University, where she received ASU’s Defining Edge Research in the Humanities Award in 2007. She was a member of the Philosophy Department at Fordham University from 1974-2002. She also taught at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; Washington University at St. Louis; and University of South Florida, where she held visiting appointments. In 2002, she returned to the Catholic University of Leuven as the first woman to hold the Cardinal Mercier Chair in Philosophy. She enjoyed a Laurance S. Rockefeller Fellowship at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values in 2003-2004, and was honored to be Marquette’s Aquinas Lecturer in 2010.
1. Where are you working at this moment?
I am a member of the Philosophy Faculty of the School of Historical, Philosophical, & Religious Studies at Arizona State University.
2. Can you tell us about your research and its relation to the ethics of care?
My earlier research in moral philosophy developed a critical approach to ethical theory that identified impacts of social differences on moral thinking, including philosophical theories of morality. The ethics of care was a leader in demonstrating how concerns about care work and those who need it and do are rendered invisible or marginal in ethics. My current work focuses on the repair of moral relations in the aftermath of wrongdoing, with special attention to political violence and post-conflict justice and repair. The dignity of victims of violence requires multiple forms of caring attention to address material, psychological, social, and moral needs.
3. How did you get involved into the ethics of care?
The ethics of care played a tremendous role for me in showing how feminist ethics could contribute both a unique critique of gender bias and an independent and powerful vision of moral life, agency, and responsibility.
4. How would you define ethics of care?
I believe an ethic of care examines closely the implications of human dependency, vulnerability, and interdependence, and insists on four goods: responsiveness to human needs; responsibility and competence in meeting needs; valuing connection and relationship itself; and valuing of caring labor and activities.
5. What is the most important thing you learned from the ethics of care?
That contributions to human well-being and aspects of human well-being will be absent in moral theory if those who are socially identified with those aspects of life lack voice, social respect, and political agency.
6. Whom do you consider to be your most important teacher(s) in this area?
I had an opportunity to take a seminar with psychologist Carol Gilligan in the 1980s. I admired the work of Sara Ruddick, Joan Tronto, Selma Sevenhuijsen, Virginia Held, Annette Baier, Eva Kittay, and others, and learned from their work, and in some cases, from them personally. Through collaborations with Marian Verkerk at the Center for the Ethics of Care at the University Medical Center, Groningen, I have seen the dynamic role care ethics can play in bioethics.
7. What works in the ethics of care do you see as the most important?
My favorite is Joan Tronto’s Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care (Routledge, 1993), because from the outset it treats care ethics as a social and political perspective that raises questions of citizenship, solidarity, and equality. I have taught the book many times.
8. Which of your own books/articles should we read?
My book ‘Moral Understandings: A Feminist Study in Ethics’, 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press, 2007), shows the consequences of the intertwining of moral and social positions, so that ethics represents only the positions of those with relative privilege. In ‘Moral contexts’ (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), my essay ‘Seeing Power in Morality’ is deeply influenced by care ethics. My most recent work on moral repair and reparations, ‘Moral Repair: Reconstructing Moral Relations after Wrongdoing’ (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and ‘What is Reparative Justice?’ (Marquette University Press, 2010) explore the distinctive moral vulnerabilities of those subject to violence and oppression.
9. What are important issues for the ethics of care in the future?
Recognition and support for care work and care providers at the heart of social, political, economic, and biomedical policy, nationally and internationally, presents a huge field of issues.
10. Our ambition is to promote ethics of care nationally and internationally. Do you have any recommendations or wishes?
Continue your good work. Show that the ethics of care speaks to fundamental moral issues in every area of public and private life.