The Ethical Importance of Close Relationships

The main task of this paper is to draw a normative picture of close interpersonal bonds and demonstrate why they are ethically relevant and important. I start by showing that the notion of ‘close relationships’ is a notion in its own right—overlapping with but not reducible to the notion of ‘love,’ ‘friendship,’ or ‘kinship.’ Then, I go on to discuss particular features of close relationships. I start with consensuality, reciprocity, persistence in time. After that, I move on to non-instrumental treatment and the mutual sharing of responsibility, which is connected with treating the interests of the close other as one’s own. Another features I discuss are truthfulness in the way we narrate our autobiographical stories, openness to the close other’s co-creation of our narrative truth, and the readiness to co-create the narrative truth of the close other in return. Finally, I focus on trust; I show that the kind of trust which is characteristic of close relationships is connected with particular competences that a person should manifest in order to be a trustworthy close-relationship partner. From the fact that no person is morally infallible, it can be inferred that we need to depend on competent others in order to take full respon­sibility for ourselves as moral agents (we need to be inter-responsible). The people we choose to be in close relationships with are precisely such competent others; they are the guardians and the co-authors of our moral agency and our narrative identity.

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