Remembering Nel Noddings (1929-2022)

Nel Noddings, well known for her conceptual contributions to the ethics of care, passed away on August 25, 2022 at the age of 93.

Noddings started her career in the 1950s as a teacher with an educational background in mathematics and physical science. Later in her career she developed into an important scholar in the field of educational philosophy (Spector, 2022). Through her book Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education Noddings (1984) brought forward her extensive theory of care. Like Carol Gilligan she put the spotlight on a female and more phenomenological approach to moral reasoning in opposition to a purely rational Kantian view on education, which was dominant at that time. In the second and updated edition of her book Noddings (2013) replaced in the title the term feminine by relational.

Central to Noddings’ theory is the epistemological term caring which – to her understanding – should be stated at the basis of all moral action within an educational system. To her opinion everyone is a caregiver, a one-caring. Noddings describes caring primarily as a committed relation or an encounter between a one-caring and – at the receiving end – a cared-for, who are reciprocally dependent, each in unequal positions. In this sense caring-for is to act with special regards for a particular person in a concrete situation, aimed at protecting or enhancing the well-being of that other person and by attempting to respond positively to her or his need.

Noddings puts natural caring first, the caring motivated by love or inclination like from a mother to her child. That care requires engrossment and motivational displacement by the one-caring. What good care entails – according to Noddings – can’t be judged primarily from Kantian moral principles or duty but appears at the one-caring from being pre-morally affected by the appeal of the cared-for, giving room for feelings of sympathy and memories of caring and being cared for. From this experience the ethical response to the cared-for can be derived whilst preserving the caring relation (Noddings, 1984).

Her care ethical theory was both acknowledged and criticized, and served as a highly valued legacy in the years after for further thinking through and developing care ethics by scholars all over the world.

Noddings, N. (1984). Caring: A feminine approach to ethics and moral education. Univ of California Press.
Noddings, N. (2013). Caring: A relational approach to ethics and moral education. Univ of California Press.
Spector, C. (2022, September 26). Education scholar Nel Noddings has died. Stanford Report.

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