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Nel Noddings' Caring : a critical analysis Sowerby, Eileen Margaret


In this thesis I will provide a critique of the positive contributions and limitations of Nel Noddings' ethics of caring. My thesis is that although the ethics of caring approach has an important contribution to make in ethics, in Noddings' version it is limited by its inability to account for the possibility of moral relations with strangers. Noddings' ethics of caring, I shall suggest, suffers, not only from an inability to account for ethics in the public domain, but also from an unavoidable potential for a reduction to caring for only one other "cared-for". That it does not appear to be vulnerable to the latter problem in Noddings' explication is because, I suggest, she is relying implicitly on an abstracted though still personal "ethical ideal". An exposition of this ethical ideal will suggest how caring can be legitimately enlarged, not only to a larger private domain, but also to the public, or non-intimate, domain to produce a more adequate ethics. Nodding's ethics of caring is described in her book "Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education." I give a summary of this book in Chapter One, relying heavily on quotations from Noddings herself. In the following two chapters I focus on criticisms of Noddings' ethics. They tend to fall into two main groups: criticisms about her claim that her ethics is an alternative to mainstream ethics while lacking any universalization component; and, secondly, the inability of her ethics to account for ethical relations with the non-intimate, i.e. in the public domain. In Chapter Four I focus on a criticism, not discussed in the literature to date, that there is an inherent risk of shrinkage to the dyad in her ethics. By closer examination of the ethical ideal I show how Noddings' ethics of caring can be enlarged into the public domain. In Chapter Five I describe a moral dilemma which demonstrate how the use of this new ethical ideal produces a more adequate ethics of caring. Finally, in Chapter Six, I contrast the roots of Noddings' ethics with mainstream ethics to emphasize the radical departure of Noddings' ethics from mainstream ethics, and I mention briefly the important problem of autonomy of the caring agent which is not addressed by Noddings.

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