- The Nature of the Disposition to Care:Discursive and Pre-discursive Dimensions
Vrinda Dalmiya's Caring to Know is an exciting, impressive, and above all important work on caring in ethics and epistemology. Its central focus is to articulate what Dalmiya calls "care-knowing"—which proposes care as a basic intellectual virtue (Dalmiya 2016, p. 22). In developing its dual aspects—caring as a process and caring as a disposition—Dalmiya offers a systematic argument that defends the viability and efficacy of care-knowing. The early chapters set the stage by offering a "thumbnail" account of the main moves in the literature on care ethics and virtue epistemology. All the building blocks are then assembled to develop the central concept of the book, namely the virtue of "relational humility," a notion introduced "as the bridge between caring and knowing" (p. 2). A "fresh repertoire of conceptual resources" (p. 287) enables this assembly that is fashioned through an "against the grain" reading of the Sanskrit epic, the Mahābhārata. The last few chapters offer ways of historicizing this concept, through which it becomes appropriate for feminist knowings, doings, and beings.
I find Dalmiya's central argument to be very compelling, and I appreciate her comparative approach tremendously. After working through this engaging book I am also thankful to Dalmiya for bringing this sustained comparative methodology to epistemology and feminist philosophy—two areas in contemporary philosophy where the cross-cultural approach is least employed. I will open my comments by outlining a few points in Dalmiya's account that I find incredibly helpful. I will then raise a clarification/exposition question in relation to the distinction between "little-d/small-d dharma" and "big-D Dharma" that is introduced on page 58. Finally, in the last section I want to [End Page 863] explore a possible candidate to be added to the disposition to care, which Dalmiya takes to be a necessary constituent of relational humility.
Section I: A Few Major Points that I Find Valuable
1. Dalmiya's book is incredibly well researched; its ability to pull together strands from a wide range of scholarship on care ethics, virtue epistemology, the Mahābhārata, feminist theory, and issues in contemporary India is simply breathtaking. The book's central contribution has to do with its seamless weaving of these disparate strands together in a distilled and clear account of care-knowing that is appropriate for all.
2. The virtue/value of this book is in the details. I love when Dalmiya writes, "But much water needs to flow under the bridge before the ethical agency of embodied, and thereby vulnerable, subjects in the Mahābhārata can be recast as feminist political agency" (p. 50). Starting with this clear acknowledgment, she then gets down to accomplishing that recasting project.
3. I commend Dalmiya's attempt to construct the "bigger picture" of how the Mahābhārata conceptualizes the good life, moving beyond the typical confines of the Gitā, a text that is the focus of philosophers when they turn their attention to Indian theories of ethics. I also applaud her attempts to articulate the Mahābhārata ethics in terms of care, thereby extending the scope of philosophical engagement with this fertile text. Finally, through deft use of the fact that the epistemology-ethics distinction is blurred in the Mahābhārata, Dalmiya's relational humility and careknowing blur this distinction, too, and thus expands our philosophical imagination and the very framework to understand and be in our reality.
4. Dalmiya introduces and/or creatively refashions a number of concepts—for example, non-violence versus non-cruelty, the positive valence of ignorance, the virtue of samatā, and drawing the meaning of an episode from its "silences" (p. 51), to name just a few—that I think will be very useful for philosophers in a wide variety of areas beyond ethics and epistemology.
5. I also found it refreshing that when offering examples for her points Dalmiya goes to Indian examples as readily as Western ones. Thus, she seems to be practicing what her book asks us to consider, namely making room for "unfamiliar" voices and bodies at the...