Saturday, 9 June 2012

Caring (and not obedience to principles ) is the Foundation of Morality

The subject of ethics and morality has always baffled me .There are layers and layers of the subject .I had decided not to write on this subject till I thought I had some fair degree of understanding .But  when I read this deeply original book called "Caring . . A feminine approach to ethics and moral education " by Nel Noddings ,I decided to review my decision .It is a challenging and  original  book to read .Its first edition was published in 1984 and second  in 2003.The book has two parts :Philosophy of ethics and Education and teaching.Since I was motivated to read this book mainly for its  exposition  of ethics , I will not dwell on the parts that deal with education.That is not to under estimate  the importance of its contribution in the field of education  where caring can play a crucial part.
                                                      Nel Noddings is Lee Jacks Professor of Education, Emerita , Stanford University.She has developed philosophical argument for an ethics based on natural caring.The book is a part of a revolution that centers moral thought on concrete caring relationships , instead of abstract , universal concepts and principles like truth and justice.In the book,I found a new paradigm that I could understand in a concrete way , rather than in terms of abstract principles .It allows us  to adopt a new way of looking at the world and at being in the world.It proposes and  advocates ethics of caring ,  supremacy  of  caring relationships  over  principles, totally different from the  ethics of principles."Caring is the foundation of and not a mere manifestation of morality." It rejects ethics of principles as ambiguous and unstable.Whenever there is a principle , there is implied its exception and too often, principles function to separate us from each other.We may become dangerously self righteous when we perceive ourselves as holding a precious principle not held by the other.Ethics of caring supports while the ethics of principles goes against unity and oneness.
Ethics has so far been guided by Logos , the masculine spirit whereas the more natural and perhaps stronger approach would be through Eros , the feminine spirit".Men  and women think about caring differently.The father might sacrifice his own child in fulfilling a principle .The mother might sacrifice any principle to preserve her child .The book puts forth  ethics from feminine perspective.It also seems to advocate a view that women are intuitively non- competitive and have less interest in power and more in  being caring , supporting and cooperating and that , possibly a woman should remain in touch with her deep , feminine psychological structure and bring its great strength into public world of work .                                                 What is caring?It is not an easy question to answer.There are two parties of the relation  ."one -caring" and "cared-for".Let us consider  four  types of situations and ask questions to understand what it means to be caring.
1. I think of a person often and worry about her.I am in a burdened mental state.Does it mean I care about her?(The person could be  mother or some relation or  friend).Is externally observable action necessary for caring?
2.I do not see her more often because I have so much to do , long working hours , kids and a spouse who need my companionship.I am in a conflict of caring.But does it mean I care for her?When we are overwhelmed by the responsibilities and duties of the task of caring, we run the risk of caring.
3. I pay the bills to meet her expenditure but there are others who can provide company.Does it mean that I care for her?We do not say that a person cares if he acts routinely according to some fixed rule , like paying the bills.
4.Then ,there is a possibility of "institutional caring", known as the third person view of caring .The first person view is of the personal one-caring .The second person view is of  caring as per the expectation of the cared-for.Is it caring when we send a person to an old age home or a similar institution?
None of  of these indicates that I care .Indeed , caring is very complex, intricate and subjective.Caring is a thought , feeling , emotion , attitude and an observable action , all rolled in one.
                                                                    I care when the other's reality becomes a real possibility for me.I act to actualize her dream , not to project my own reality onto her.I do not try to motivate , reward or manipulate her to my view point because I have data or logic to support me. I begin to see the reality from her eyes.I will      not   be disappointed in her or in myself  if she does not come up to my     reality."Apprehending the other's reality , feeling what she feels as nearly as possible , is the essential part of caring from the point of view of the one -caring.For if I take on other's reality as possibility and begin to feel its reality,I feel also that I must act accordingly.;that is , I am impelled to act as though in my own behalf, but in behalf of the other.This feeling that I must act , may or may not be sustained.I must make a commitment to act.The commitment to act in behalf of the cared for, a continued interest in his reality throughout the appropriate time span , and the continual renewal of commitment over this span of time are the essential elements of caring from the inner view."
When I care , there is a motivational shift.My motivational energy flows towards the cared for.I allow my motive energy to be shared.I put it at the service of the other.In extreme form , I live for others( like a mother for children)."To care for another person ,in the most significant sense, is to help him grow and actualize himself" writes Milton Mayeroff in book "On caring" (New york , Harper Row. page1).
For the "cared-for" attitude of "one-caring" is important.Whether the act is performed generously or grudgingly , is important.One can learn to care and to be cared for.As I care for others and am cared for by them,I become able to care for myself.Cared-for gives the gift of responsiveness and shares experiences with the one-caring.There is a risk of feeling guilty when I care.The risk of guilt is present in  all caring.                                                                                                                                   The author rejects the notion of universal caring-that is -caring for every one.It is impossible to actualize.It leads to abstraction and mere talk of caring.In order to care adequately for anyone,we must give up romantic notions of  caring for  every one.Masculine ethic of universal love is illusion .Some , in terrible disillusion, kill to establish the very principles which should have entreated them not to kill.Thus are lost both persons and principles.
                                                        Caring need not be accompanied by love.(agapism or obligatory love.)" But an act of ethic locates morality in the pre-act consciousness of the one-caring.Yet it is not a form of agapism.There is no command to love.
                                                       The book tries to suggest how to develop communities that will support and not destroy caring relations.We need to acquire skills and competence  in care taking.Three great means of the ethical ideal and to maintain and enhance caring are;
1.Dialogue.
2.Practice.
3.Confirmation.
Dialogue is talking ,listening ,to understand, to meet the other and to care .
Practice is the celebration of everyday life.It contributes to the maintenance of the ethical ideal.Maintaining as ones caring through a general strengthening of self image.If I find something delightful , I share it with cared-for.These could be stories,puzzles , poems,songs or films.It is also talking about anxiety.Confirmation takes place when we attribute the best possible motive to the cared- for, consonant with reality.It needs sensitivity and open communication.
                                                                As a philosophical question , we can ask what is the aim of life .Is it to find happiness?Or is it to find perfection in the sense of preparation for another life?The author says neither of the above is the aim of life .She says that the aim of life is to care and to be cared for."We have seen in this century sufficient horror induced in the name of obedience.we need not have respect or obedience for rules or law but for contribution to the maintenance of caring .Obedience to law is simply not a reliable guide to moral behaviour.There is no escape from the requirement of caring for one who would be moral."
                                                               I must confess that this book has deeply changed my concept of ethics and living .I am aware that there are hundreds of questions still to be answered when we accept and adopt the ethics of caring ,still I am of the view that  this  perspective  is a  great step forward in our understanding of morality . It has the seeds of making our world much better and humane than the ethics of principles and obedience can ever achieve .In this sense , this book succeeds in causing a revolutionary shift in our thoughts , behaviour and life .I recommend that every thinking person must read this book .