many philosophers, Norman Care came to the subject by an indirect
route. He was born in Gary, Indiana, on December 20, 1937. After
graduating from the Gary public schools, he went to Indiana University
to study percussion and music composition, working his way through
by leading the Norm Care Orchestra and other musical groups. His
interests turned to philosophy late in college and, with undergraduate
work in both music and philosophy, he received the BA from Indiana
in 1959. Norman earned an MA in philosophy from the University of
Kansas in 1961 and completed his studies at Yale University. These
studies included a year at Oxford University on a Fulbright Fellowship
in 1962-63. He received his PhD from Yale in 1964 with a dissertation
on the theory of action.
teaching at Yale for a year, Norman came to Oberlin in 1965. He
returned to Oxford on a research leave in 1969-70. His extensive
research and writing was supported by several research status appointments
from Oberlin, as well as by grants from the American Council of
Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
December 2000, he stepped down from his regular teaching duties
and planned to assist the College in developing its First Year Seminar
Program. These plans were cut short in 2001 when it was discovered
that he had a brain tumor. He died on September 4, 2001.
primary interests as a teacher and scholar were in ethics, social
and political philosophy, moral psychology, and environmental ethics.
He also taught the philosophy of art for many years. Scores of letters
from his appreciative students confirmed what his colleagues all
knew: Norman Care was one of the outstanding teachers of his generation
at Oberlin College.
received two major teaching awards from Oberlin. His popularity
as a teacher arose not from the entertainment value of his classes,
but from the quality of the philosophizing that took place in them,
his passion for philosophy, and his deep concern for his students.
Many students were inspired to major in philosophy by his introductory
course, Philosophy and Values, and over the years he
was a valued supervisor to dozens of Honors students and their projects.
service to the College was also extraordinary. He was a staff member
for the Education Commission during 1970-72 and an exemplary department
chair for ten years. He was often elected to faculty committees,
especially the Educational Plans and Policies Committee and the
General Faculty Council. He served on many other committees, as
well as on a wide variety of special task forces.
was a committed and creative committee member. Underneath his self-effacing
manner, he was an activist at heart. Committees on which he served
often brought new ideasbasically his ideasto the faculty
for action. Possessing a lucid and distinctive writing style, he
wrote many of the reports in which those ideas were presented.
He was also active professionally. He served on six committees of
the American Philosophical Association and was a tireless reviewer,
referee, or evaluator for articles, books, grant proposals, personnel
decisions, and departmental reviews. For many years, he was on the
editorial board of the journal Ethics and on the advisory
committee of the Case Western Reserve University Center for Biomedical
Ethics. With Charles Landesman, he co-edited Readings in the
Theory of Action (1968). He also co-edited the proceedings of
the Oberlin Philosophy Colloquia in 1967 and 1971.
Care loved to write. He lectured widely on many subjects, and his
numerous articles and essays appeared in a wide variety of publications.
The three books which he published reveal much about him as both
a professional philosopher and a human being. While social and political
considerations are central to them, they deal less with the structures
of societies than with the demands which morality places on individuals
within those societies. Taken together, they constitute a position
that might be called anti-moralistic moralism.
was a moral rigorist who rejected any form of relativism and was
more at home with Kant than with any other major ethicist. In On
Sharing Fate (1987), he argued that worldwide destitution and
environmental degradation place severe moral demands upon us. In
this respect, he was an idealist. In his other two books, though,
he attacked the judgmentalism that so often accompanies high ideals.
with Ones Past: Personal Fates and Moral Pain (1996) and
Decent People (2000) both argue against what Norman called
persona moralism, the moralistic view of persons as
abstract and unified moral agents who are routinely censured for
failing to do what they should. He was interested in the variegated
moral lives of real people and in the process of moral recovery
by which they can recover a sense of moral agency.
Norman combined high moral ideals with a realistic conception of
human capacities and hopes for moral improvement. This was not merely
a philosophical position, for it reflected the deep respect for
persons that was at his core. He had known times when his own life,
productive as it was, had to be lived one day at a time.
He deeply empathized with people who were doing their best to be
decent people, and he wanted to assist them.
people will testify to Normans deep humanity. He was a wonderful
listener. Talks with him would range from the abstractly philosophical
to the mundanely collegial to the deeply personal. Always he would
be there for us, listening and reacting, with a twinkle in his eye
and a gentle laugh.
life testified to the importance of human relationships. The love,
respect, and support which he and Barbara shared since high school
were there for all to see. Equally obvious was his delight in talking
about his children, Steven and Jennifer, and his grandchildren.
The many people whose lives he touched miss him greatly.
D. Merrill is professor emeritus of Philosophy at Oberlin.
This Memorial Minute was adopted by a rising vote of the General
Faculty of Oberlin College on April 16, 2002.