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A term coined by Sara Ruddick (1980; 1995), maternal thinking refers to the values, intellectual capacities, and metaphysical attitudes that may arise from the daily work of mothering children, whether that work is done by women or men or by biological or adoptive mothers. In developing this concept, Ruddick drew on the philosophical traditions of Wittgenstein, Winch, and Habermas, which treat thought as arising from social practice. At the same time, she contributed to the strong current within 1970s and 1980s feminist scholarship that highlights the value of activities conventionally associated with women.

Maternal practice, Ruddick argues, is governed by three universal but culturally and historically shaped “demands” of children. First, children demand preservation. Protecting a child in the face of life's fragility produces the attitude ...

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