Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy

Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy

Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy

Starting at Home: Caring and Social Policy


Nel Noddings, one of the central figures in the contemporary discussion of ethics and moral education, argues that caring--a way of life learned at home--can be extended into a theory that guides social policy. Tackling issues such as capital punishment, drug treatment, homelessness, mental illness, and abortion, Noddings inverts traditional philosophical priorities to show how an ethic of care can have profound and compelling implications for social and political thought.

Instead of beginning with an ideal state and then describing a role for home and family, this book starts with an ideal home and asks how what is learned there may be extended to the larger social domain. Noddings examines the tension between freedom and equality that characterized liberal thought in the twentieth century and finds that--for all its strengths--liberalism is still inadequate as social policy. She suggests instead that an attitude of attentive love in the home induces a corresponding responsiveness that canserve as a foundation for social policy.

With her characteristic sensitivity to the individual and to the vulnerable in society, the author concludes that any corrective practice that does more harm than the behavior it is aimed at correcting should be abandoned. This suggests an end to the disastrous war on drugs. In addition, Noddings states that the caring professions that deal with the homeless should be guided by flexible policies that allow practitioners to respon


In the last two decades, much has been written about caring as an approach to moral life and about care theory as a contribution to ethics. Feminist writers (both women and men) have been strong advocates of caring, tracing its central ideas to women's relational experience and arguing that women and men alike might enjoy richer lives if they shared the tasks and the joys of caring.

The approach I take here reverses a long philosophical tradition. The custom, since Plato, has been to describe an ideal or best state and then to discuss the role of homes and families as supporters of that state. What might we learn if, instead, we start with a description of best homes and then move outward to the larger society? The question is intriguing in itself, but answering it should effectively address an objection that has sometimes been raised against care theory—namely, that it is a fine “domestic” theory but has little to contribute to policy making at the societal level.

Caring, as a moral orientation, is neither domain nor gender specific, but taking this position does not compel us to deny that the origins of care may be domain specific—that they lie in the small group setting that we have come to call “home” and, probably, in parental love. If this is true—if, that is, our sense of caring and being cared for starts at home—then it is reasonable to examine this beginning seriously, to study it philosophically. We can then ask about the social policy implications of care theory and the development of care in individual lives. I believe that school as well as home should be central in any adequate . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.