Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education

Nel Noddings

Book cover

I appreciated this book immensely and was very close to giving it 5 stars. There were a couple of sections where it dragged, and I think it probably would have been even more compelling as a 150-page book than as a 200-page book.

I got interested in care ethics from reading about (my hero) Jane Addams and her ethical perspectives, which are a sort of precursor. This book nails what seems to me to be a very robust and compelling alternative to rules-based moral frameworks without degenerating into wishy-washy-touchy-feeliness (what Noddings calls “agapism”) in any way. This is too brief a space to give her framework its due, but at heart, she begins with the fundamental caring relationship between mother and child. She then extends this and related types of “natural caring” into the realm of “ethical caring”, meaning situations with the potential for caring where it does not necessarily come instinctively to us. She bridges this gap by describing an individual caring for his or her own “ethical self”, the realistic but aspirational ideal of oneself as one-caring. This seems to address the perceived conflict that Carol Gilligan discusses at length between “selfishness” and “giving”.

Noddings seems to me to be a clear successor to Addams in her strict focus on achievable virtue and ideals that are grounded in the history of the self. There is no call to “love everyone” or to care for anonymous people on the other side of the world as much as for one’s own family and immediate community.

My favorite part of this book was the section on perceptions of everyday routines, which really struck a chord with me.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars