Beyond the Individualistic Paradigm of the Self with Donald Winnicott and Carol Gilligan

  • Petr Urban Institute of Philosophy Czech Academy of Sciences
  • Alice Koubová
Keywords: care ethics, Carol Gilligan, Donald Winnicott, relationality, dependency, play, negative emotions, object relations, well-being


The main aim of this paper is to shed light on two somewhat underappreciated theories, which, by drawing attention to the embodied and relational nature of the self, both went beyond the disembodied and individualist paradigm long before most current leading approaches in the field. The paper first considers the routes out of the crisis of this paradigm proposed by care ethics. The first part focuses mainly on Carol Gilligan’s relational account of subjectivity, which served as an inspiration for the development of care ethics as a moral theory, and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of her account. In the next step, the paper sets out to compare the view of the self deployed by care ethics with Donald Winnicott’s account of the transitional area of play. The paper argues that both care ethics and Winnicott’s theory make it possible to understand human subjectivity as at the same time dependent and mature, ambivalent and integrated, vulnerable and responsible, relational and non-arbitrary. Winnicott and care ethicists jointly demonstrate that it is neither an absolute symbiosis with others, nor a total separation from them, that is decisive for the well-being of an individual and a social field. Rather, it is beneficial and morally desirable to cultivate concrete interpersonal relationships in the area of complex relationality. The paper concludes that the crisis of the disembodied and individualistic paradigm of the self cannot be overcome by an uncritical emphasis on the positive function of relational, embodied and supra-individual aspects of human existence. Though essential, these aspects are at the same time complex and developmentally conditioned.

How to Cite
Urban, P., & Koubová, A. (2019). Beyond the Individualistic Paradigm of the Self with Donald Winnicott and Carol Gilligan. HUMANA.MENTE Journal of Philosophical Studies, 12(36), 170-188. Retrieved from