Against dichotomies: On mature care and self-sacrifice in care ethics

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Abstract

Introduction:

In previous issues of this journal, Carol Gilligan’s original concept of mature care has been conceptualized by several (especially Norwegian) contributors. This has resulted in a dichotomous view of self and other, and of self-care and altruism, in which any form of self-sacrifice is rejected. Although this interpretation of Gilligan seems to be quite persistent in care-ethical theory, it does not seem to do justice to either Gilligan’s original work or the tensions experienced in contemporary nursing practice.

Discussion:

A close reading of Gilligan’s concept of mature care leads to a view that differs radically from any dichotomy of self-care and altruism. Instead of a dichotomous view, a dialectical view on self and other is proposed that builds upon connectedness and might support a care-ethical view of nursing that is more consistent with Gilligan’s own critical insights such as relationality and a practice-based ethics. A concrete case taken from nursing practice shows the interconnectedness of professional and personal responsibility. This underpins a multilayered, complex view of self-realization that encompasses sacrifices as well.

Conclusion:

When mature care is characterized as a practice of a multilayered connectedness, caregivers can be acknowledged for their relational identity and nursing practices can be recognized as multilayered and interconnected. This view is better able to capture the tensions that are related to today’s nursing as a practice, which inevitably includes sacrifices of self. In conclusion, a further discussion on normative conceptualizations of care is proposed that starts with a non-normative scrutiny of caring practices.

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