The Maternal Factor

The Maternal Factor: Two Paths to Morality

Nel Noddings
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp657
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  • Book Info
    The Maternal Factor
    Book Description:

    In this provocative new book, renowned educator and philosopher Nel Noddings extends her influential work on the ethics of care toward a compelling objective—global peace and justice. She asks: If we celebrate the success of women becoming more like men in professional life, should we not simultaneously hope that men become more like women—in caring for others, rejecting violence, and valuing the work of caring both publicly and personally? Drawing on current work on evolution, and bringing concrete examples from women’s lived experience to make a strong case for her position, Noddings answers this question by locating one source of morality in maternal instinct. She traces the development of the maternal instinct to natural caring and ethical caring, offering a preliminary sketch of what a care-driven concept of justice might look like. Finally, to advance the cause of caring, peace, and women’s advancement, Noddings urges women to abandon institutional, patriarchal religion and to seek their own paths to spirituality.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94780-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-9)

    Much work is being done today on the evolution of morality. Anthropologists, psychologists, evolution scientists, and philosophers are looking for the roots of altruism, empathy, solidarity, and cooperation.¹ Surprisingly, in seeking these roots, scholars rarely look at female experience. It may well be that one wide and increasingly influential approach to moral life—care ethics—can be traced to maternal instinct.

    I will not argue that an ethic of care evolves in a blindly biological way. Thinking, experimenting, reflecting, analyzing, and conceptualizing are all involved in developing an ethic. As Virginia Held has argued, when we consider naturalizing morality, we...

  5. ONE The Evolution of Morality
    (pp. 10-32)

    In this book, I am interested primarily in the evolution of morality through female experience and how that morality might be described. It makes sense, then, to start with a discussion of maternal instinct, infant bonding, and the empathic capacities developed through the basic experience of mothering. After laying out this story, we’ll look at some current work on the evolution of morality—work that often ignores female experience entirely. The chapter will conclude with an outline of topics and questions to be addressed in later chapters.

    The instinct to nurture and care for offspring is basic to the survival...

  6. TWO The Caring Relation
    (pp. 33-66)

    Many feminist philosophers view human beings as relational selves—selves constituted by the relations in which they are embedded.¹ For care theorists, thecaring relationis morally basic, and it is the purpose of this chapter to describe its development from the original caring relation established by maternal instinct to natural caring. The last section of the chapter will explore how we might best prepare people to establish and maintain caring relations.

    In exploring a path to morality rooted in maternal caring, we must look at instinctive caring, natural caring, and ethical caring, but these should not be considered stages...

  7. THREE Ethical Caring and Obligation
    (pp. 67-98)

    In this chapter, we’ll discuss the move from natural caring to ethical caring. We’ll also take a close look at caregiving—long defined as “woman’s work.” Carework is both the incubator of natural caring and a current site of contention. On one hand, it represents the set of activities in which females have developed an enhanced capacity for empathy. On the other, society’s expectation that women will continue to do the lion’s share of care labor is a legacy of the second source of female empathy—subordination.

    Discussion of caregiving will lead naturally to one on moral obligation and the...

  8. FOUR The Limits of Autonomy
    (pp. 99-124)

    In this chapter, I will look at autonomy from several angles. First, I’ll consider the familiar social/political idea of autonomy as individual independence, or self-sufficiency. Second, I will spend some time on the influential Kantian concept of the autonomous will and some significant critiques of that concept. Third, having rejected important facets of both previously discussed concepts of autonomy, I’ll explore a possibility compatible with care ethics—that of limited autonomy conceived as choice and responsibility within a certain span of control. Finally, I’ll discuss the connection of critical thinking to what might be called intelligent heteronomy.

    Martha Fineman writes...

  9. FIVE Relation, Virtue, and Religion
    (pp. 125-156)

    Care ethics shows several important similarities to other approaches to moral theory, and some of these similarities have received considerable attention in the past few years. We will look first at the similarities and differences between care ethics and virtue ethics, then at those between care and Confucianism, and finally at those between care and Christian agape. The chapter will conclude with a critique of women’s involvement in religion.

    Virtue ethics and care ethics share a significant basic characteristic. Both turn to something inside the moral agent instead of to a principle when faced with making a moral decision. The...

  10. SIX Emotions and Reason
    (pp. 157-179)

    In the last chapter, I attempted to distinguish care ethics from Confucianism, Christian agape, and more generally virtue ethics. Now we must look at the school of moral theory often thought to be the philosophical forebear of care ethics—moral sentimentalism. Michael Slote, in explaining the possibility of a care ethics more widely applicable than that described in feminist philosophy, remarks: “The ethics of care is historically rooted in the moral sentimentalism of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, Hume, and Adam Smith, all of whom were men.”¹ And Annette Baier has suggested that David Hume might be considered “the woman’s philosopher.”² There is...

  11. SEVEN Needs, Wants, and Interests
    (pp. 180-204)

    Care ethics is oriented to needs rather than rights. This orientation seems exactly right in the context of families and small communities, but it becomes more difficult to sustain in larger settings. Indeed some philosophers have argued that the concept of needs is too complex to employ usefully in policy decisions. I mentioned earlier in my very brief discussion of a care-driven approach to justice that care ethics is centrally concerned with needs. In the same chapter, I explored some of the difficulties we face in caring at a distance and deciding which obligations are individual and which collective. Now...

  12. EIGHT War and Violence
    (pp. 205-233)

    Perhaps the saddest evolutionary legacy still oppressing us is the male tendency toward aggression and violence. Many feminist thinkers have insisted that virtually all gender differences in temperament and behavior are products of culture and socialization, but evidence to the contrary has been accumulating. One need not be an essentialist to believe that many differences anchored in our evolutionary past are innate in the sense that they are heavily influenced by biology. When I reject essentialism, I reject the idea that female and male human beings werecreatedwith essential features by God and that these natures should not or...

  13. NINE Convergence
    (pp. 234-250)

    Throughout this book, I’ve been exploring caring, morality, and the development of an ethic of care from their roots in maternal instinct. However, I have not claimed that there is only one evolutionary path to morality. Morality has long been defined by some in terms of God’s word. Obviously, there is also the well-known and well-trodden path from original self-interest. Men have learned that fairness and cooperation often increase their own chances of survival, and that train of thought has led to elaborate (and sometimes competing) systems of moral thought. I have argued that these traditional systems frequently go too...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 251-270)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 271-280)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 281-289)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 290-290)