Essay on The Ethics of Feminism

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The Ethics of Feminism

Just seeing more of life, just recognizing that there are an awful lot of things that are common among people. There are certain things that you come to learn promote a better life and better relationships and more personal fulfillment than other things that in general tend to do the opposite, and the things that promote these things, you would call them morally right.[1]

The normative questions that come to fill one’s life, in this woman’s account, presume goals and methods that are inseparable from the history that creates a person as s/he is. However, that, over time, people change in moral thinking does not mean that everyone develops along a single track to moral enlightenment in a set ethical system. Rather, the perhaps unavoidable social impulse towards what is “morally right” can take folks on different paths towards different possibilities. That there is potential for difference here does not mean all people come to understand their moral world in radically different ways. Instead, it is quite likely that, as in ideology, economy, society and so on, dominant forces will channel many people into particular patterns of thought. From these modes of thought, one may be tempted to demand change, and appeals to what is “morally right” are common grounds for this. Difficulty arises with the realization that the world’s structure is far from neutral or inevitable, but has indeed been often intentionally, and always functionally, structured in ways that are not only open to contestation, but are capriciously biased. Feminism fed extensively on analyses of the complex systems of economic exchange, which ensured women’s domination by the shadow work of the home (Okin 228-229), social forces, whic...

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...el Kant. Ed. Schott, Robin May. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Press, 1997

Okin, Susan Moller. Women in Western Political Thought. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Press, 1979

Sedgwick, Sally. “Can Kant's Ethics Survive the Feminist Critique.” In Feminist Interpretations of Immanuel Kant. Ed. Schott, Robin May. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State Press, 1997

Spelman, Elizabeth V. “The Virtue of Feeling and the Feeling of Virtue.” 1991 In Feminist Ethics. Ed. Card, Claudia. Lawrence, KS.: University Press of Kansas, 1991.

Sevenhuijsen, Selma. Citizenship and the Ethics of Care. London, UK: Routledge, 1998

Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Ruttland, VT: Tuttle, 1995


[1] Anonymous third year law student, as quoted in Gilligan, p. 21

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