This paper examines the feminist ethics of care as an emergent ethical theory that casts ethical dispositions in a different way to the deontological focus on duties and rules and consequentialist–utilitarian focus on minimising harm. It is closer to, though different from, virtue ethics with its focus on moral character. The paper highlights the philosophical tensions within and between these disparate theories, suggesting nevertheless that discussions about ethics are enriched by these diverse influences. Since it is not possible within the scope of this paper to deal with all of these ethical theories in depth, following a brief overview of the more established theory of deontology, virtue ethics and the ethics of care are discussed. While the feminist ethics of care attempts to provide a more complete view of morality and ethics in social work, there are important philosophical problems with which social work needs to engage in order to discern whether it offers a better understanding of morality than existing approaches in social work ethics and whether it can address the complexities of the problems social workers deal with and the harsh practice environments in which they work where the ‘practice of value’ is becoming ever more difficult and strong reasons to care must be found.
British Journal of Social Work Vol. 40, Issue 6, p. 1794-1811