Worldly Ethics

Democratic Politics and Care for the World

Worldly Ethics

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: Published: February 2013

Author: Ella Myers

Politics > Political Theory, Sociology > Social Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

What is the spirit that animates collective action? What is the ethos of democracy? Worldly Ethics offers a powerful and original response to these questions, arguing that associative democratic politics, in which citizens join together and struggle to shape shared conditions, requires a world-centered ethos. This distinctive ethos, Ella Myers shows, involves care for "worldly things," which are the common and contentious objects of concern around which democratic actors mobilize. In articulating the meaning of worldly ethics, she reveals the limits of previous modes of ethics, including Michel Foucault's therapeutic model, based on a "care of the self," and Emmanuel Levinas's charitable model, based on care for the Other. Myers contends that these approaches occlude the worldly character of political life and are therefore unlikely to inspire and support collective democratic activity. The alternative ethics she proposes is informed by Hannah Arendt's notion of amor mundi, or love of the world, and it focuses on the ways democratic actors align around issues, goals, or things in the world, practicing collaborative care for them. Myers sees worldly ethics as a resource that can inspire and motivate ordinary citizens to participate in democratic politics, and the book highlights civic organizations that already embody its principles.


“Myers’s rejections of attempts to politicize Foucault and Levinas are some of the richest sections of the book. Political theorists in particular will appreciate this attempt to articulate a democratic ethos.” — J. L. Miller, Choice

“Ella Myers’s new and debut book offers a timely and most welcome invitation to democratic theorists to rethink two influential versions of the so-called “ethical turn” that has, for some time now, influenced much of the discussion in contemporary democratic theory—namely, Foucault’s ethics of self-care and Levinas’s ethics of care for the Other.” — Gent Carrabregu, Theory & Event

“[This book is] … a work that should be seriously engaged by feminist ethicists interested in developing a politically rich and subtle ethics of care. Ella Myers frames an important and under theorized aspect of caring—caring for the world—that a robust argument for the place of care in politics ought to address.” — Richard A. Lynch, APA Newsletter: Feminism and Philosophy

"Myers makes a compelling case that political theorists need to focus more pointedly on collective action, and that we should begin with contextualized, political relations rather than cultivating rarefied judgments or ethical dispositions and presuming that the 'right' politics will follow. Her care for the world embraces political projects at once critical and programmatic, and goes a long way towards broadening the conditions of political action beyond individual judgment." — Nancy Luxon, Theory & Event

"Worldly Ethics is a nifty, brilliant book. Myers’s writing is superb: smooth, jargon-free and moves at a steady clip." — Shalini Satkunanandan, Political Theory

"Worldly Ethics is the smartest, subtlest treatment of the fraught relationship between democratic politics and the 'ethical turn' I have ever read. Ella Myers is not the first theorist to warn against the reduction of political questions to ethical ones, but this is no mere screed against the easy target of 'Kantian' moralism. Instead, through a series of engagements with other theorists who have brought more capacious ethical visions to bear on political life, Myers shows—with Arendt—that a properly political ethics must make the world rather than the self or the Other into its first object of concern, and—against the Arendtian grain—that such a worldly ethics can help bring problems of material deprivation and inequality into politics, rather than keep them out. Myers is a generous and incisive reader, and a perceptive observer of contemporary politics, and Worldly Ethics is a terrific debut." — Patchen Markell, author of .Bound by Recognition

"Ella Myers's contribution—to compare self-caring ethics to other-caring ethics to world-caring ethics—is original, simple, and brilliant. Worldly Ethics makes its most important contribution in conceptualizing politics and ethics differently. There is no single book that deals with this topic in this way. Using caring—for the self, for others, for the world and worldly things—is unique and powerful. I think that this book is very important and—I rarely use this word—wise." — Joan C. Tronto, author of Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ella Myers is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Gender Studies at the University of Utah.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction. Tracing the Ethical Turn 1

1. Crafting a Democratic Subject? The Foucauldian Ethics of Self-Care 21

2. Levinasian Ethics, Charity, and Democracy 53

3. The Democratic Ethics of Care for Worldly Things 85

4. Partisanship for the World: Tending to the World as Home and In-Between 111

Epilogue. Self/Other/World: Forging Connections and Fostering Democratic Care 139

Notes 153

Bibliography 195

Index 207
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5399-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5385-0
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