Ethics has been discussed largely in the language of the father, Nel Noddings believes: in principles and propostions, in terms such as justification, fairness, and equity. The mother's voice has been silent.

The view of ethics Noddings offers in this book is a feminine view. "This does not imply," she writes, "that all women will accept it or that most men will reject it; indeed there is no reason why men should not embrace it. It is feminine in the deep classical sense—rooted in receptivity, relatedness, and responsiveness. It does not imply either that logic is to be discarded or that logic is alien to women. It represents an aternative to present views, one that begins with the moral attitude or longing for goodness and not with moral reasoning."

What is at the basis of moral action? An altruism acquired by the application of rule and principle? Or, as Noddings asserts, caring and the memory of being cared for? With numerous examples to supplement her rich theoretical discussion, Noddings builds a compelling philosophical argument for an ethics based on natural caring, as in the care of a mother for her child. The ethical behavior that grows out of natural caring has at its core as care-filled receptivity to those involved in any moral situation, and leaves behind the rigidity of rule and principle to focus on what is particular and unique in human relations. "The hand that steadied us as we learned to ride our first bicycle did not provide propositional knowledge, but it guided and supported us all the same, and we finished up 'knowing how.'"

Noddings's discussion is far-ranging, as she considers whether organizations, which operate at a remove from the caring relationship, can truly be called ethical. She discusses the extent to which we may truly care for plants, animals, or ideas. Finally, she proposes a realignment of education to encourage and reward not just rationality and trained intelligence, but also enhanced sensitivity in moral matters.