The second set of issues concerns the ways in which a non-reductive understanding of love and caring—and of the ways they shape rational decisions—can contribute to our understanding of moral motivation, moral character, and moral standing. In recent years, several philosophers (e.g. Harman 1999 and Doris 2002) have argued that the traditional notion that agents possess stable, enduring virtues of character is irreconcilable with empirical findings in social psychology showing that behavior is, in fact, highly context-dependent (Ross and Nisbett 1991). Can an adequate account of the way in which caring shapes decisions rescue from this critique the idea that there are virtues of character? The understanding of caring that we offer suggests the following possibility: perhaps we should understand an “honest person” (for example), not as someone who acts honestly in every situation, but rather as someone who cares about acting honestly (Seidman 2010)—where this is understood to involve coordinated emotional dispositions of the sort discussed earlier. Because people care simultaneously about many things, an agent’s caring about honesty may shape his deliberation and determine his emotions, even in contexts where the conflicting demands of other things the he cares about ultimately win out in his decision to act. This understanding might allow us to see his character, in other words, as context-independent, even though his overt behavior is not.
If caring involves the rationally interconnected emotional dispositions that we suggest it does, then our capacities for love and caring might bear upon our moral (and legal) standing in at least two, related ways. First, does reflection on cases of disordered affect, in which moral standing is undermined, suggest that the sort of emotional integrity and sophistication involved in healthily functioning love and caring is what gives us our standing as moral persons (Jaworska 2007a)? This conception of moral personhood would stand in contrast to intellectualist conceptions, according to which bare rationality, conceived in accordance with the belief-desire model of the mind, is sufficient for personhood, and to broadly utilitarian conceptions, according to which simply the capacity to feel pleasure and pain confer moral standing, and so the moral standing of humans and that of less sophisticated animals differ only in terms of degree. Second, should we suppose that our respect for the moral personhood of others, that is, our recognition of their moral standing, involves—or, more radically, may even be constituted by—rational patterns of “reactive attitudes” towards them, such as resentment, gratitude, indignation, forgiveness, and guilt (Darwall 2006, Helm forthcoming-b)? Such reactive attitudes seem inextricable from the sort of emotions involved in love and caring; indeed, it is hard to see how such reactive attitudes could have any intelligible place in the psychology of beings who neither loved nor cared about anything. So, are our capacities for love and caring necessary, not merely for our own moral personhood, but also for our recognition of and respect for the moral personhood of others?