Considerateness

Authors: 
Edna Ullmann-Margalit
Abstract: 

A stranger entering the store ahead of you may hold the door open so it does not slam in your face, or your daughter may tidy up the kitchen when she realizes that you are very tired: both act out of considerateness. In acting considerately one takes others into consideration. The considerate act aims at contributing to the wellbeing of somebody else at a low cost to oneself.Focusing on the extreme poles of the spectrum of human relationships, I argue that considerateness is the foundation upon which our relationships are to be organized in both the thin, anonymous context of the public space and the thick, intimate context of the family.The first part of the paper, sections I–III, explores the idea that considerateness is the minimum that we owe to one another in the public space. By acting considerately toward strangers we show respect to that which we share as people, namely, to our common humanity. The second part, sections IV–VIII, explores the idea that the family is constituted on a foundation of considerateness. Referring to the particular distribution of domestic burdens and benefits adopted by each family as its “family deal,” I argue that the considerate family deal embodies a distinct, family-oriented notion of fairness.The third part, sections IX–XV, takes up the notion of family fairness, contrasting it with justice. In particular I take issue with Susan Okin's notion of the just family. Driving a wedge between justice and fairness, I propose an idea of family fairness that is partial and sympathetic rather than impartial and empathic, particular and internal rather than generalizable, and based on ongoing comparisons of preferences among family members. I conclude by characterizing the good family as the not-unjust family that is considerate and fair.

Date: 
July, 2011
Published in: 
Iyyun, The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly 60 (July 2011): 205–244
Number: 
584