Major Ethical Systems

This chapter outlines the three broad categories of ethical systems normative ethics, applied ethics, and meta-ethics. Use the navigation arrows on the right and left side of the page to move forward through the eleven sections in this chapter. By the end of this reading, you will be able to define the three broad ethical systems and describe several approaches to ethics. Be sure you have a good understanding of the important approaches for Unit 1: deontology, consequentialism, and natural law.

Ethics of Care

Also known as feminist ethics, ethics of care is primarily concerned with caring for others. This has evolved from the need to care for those who cannot care for themselves, such as infants. It is a system that assists us in our relations with other people and thereby strengthens how we positively interact with people. The concept of ethics of care is consistent with many peace-keeping and peace-making roles within law enforcement. Officers routinely find themselves refereeing non-assault domestic and civil arguments while attempting to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Ethics of care is, at times, an important perspective for law enforcement officers when they see a person in need and decide to perform an act of care or kindness. Officers who perform a caring act are, according to ethics of care, acting out of compassion rather from a sense of duty; it is within this context that ethics of care can be a reminder to law enforcement officers that often an ethical solution may be to make peace through consensus and understanding, rather than resolve issues formally through charges.

Ethics of care also supports the notion that issues should be resolved with compassion while building human relationships. In this way, a person should strive to build relationships with the community or individuals. With individuals, the building of rapport is critical to providing compassion to those in crisis and/or need.

Q. How can ethics of care theory assist law enforcement in moral dilemmas?

Building rapport with members of the community is an important aspect of community policing. This enables officers to identify issues and to deal with them with compassion. For example, an officer who builds rapport with students in a high school may become aware of a bullying situation. It is with compassion that the officer will be pushed to action to resolve this issue. Or an officer who is called to a grocery store to arrest a mentally ill street person who is stealing food may, instead of arresting the suspect, find an alternative route, such as connecting the suspect with a social service agency, or arranging for a social worker to help the person find a home.

Law enforcement officers should attempt, where possible, to address such issues with compassion and respect for all the parties involved.