Communicative ethics and the virtue of giving uptake

Nancy Nyquist Potter

in Mapping the Edges and the In-between

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print June 2009 | ISBN: 9780198530213
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754388 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Communicative ethics and the virtue of giving uptake

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The last section illustrates a heuristic that clinicians can follow when cultivating the virtue of giving uptake rightly. These maxims are rules of thumb, not principles or hard-and-fast guidelines. Keep in mind that giving uptake to patients need not assume that patients are irrational or unable to be reasonable in some domains and some settings. But neither does it mean that, when patients are irrational or when their mental disorder gets in the way of communicating or being understood, clinicians do not need to give uptake to their patients.

Giving uptake is a difficult virtue to learn. I speculate that the reason is that, unlike trustworthiness or empathy, uptake in general is an unknown concept for most people and especially when it is called a virtue. It doesn't have the familiarity of other long-standing moral practices such as being trustworthy or being empathetic. While the skill of being a good listener has currency, it only captures the more superficial aspect of giving uptake. Giving uptake involves not only the moral and epistemic qualities of attentiveness and world-traveling, but also the political potential of claim-making and rights recognition. To do all of this with another is to draw upon a rich background of understanding about the world of structural inequalities, silence and voice, authority and subjugation, and suffering and healing. The virtue of giving uptake needs to be cultivated in us and to become practice, but since it is new as a moral and epistemic concept, it also needs to be theorized and expanded upon.

Despite the difficulty of learning the landscape of giving uptake – or perhaps because of it – clinicians must engage in practical reasoning and development of a critical consciousness in order to find the mean in giving uptake. And again, they will need to have other virtues as well as other moral and epistemic abilities, such as world-traveling, attentiveness, and empathy. It is to this last concept that I now turn.

Chapter.  9141 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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