Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Defending contemporary moral theories from feminist critiques

In Perfecting Virtue: New Essays on Kantian and Virtue Ethics, Marcia Baron offers an intriguing introductory essay discussing the history of dispute between virtue ethics and Kantian ethics (much of this dispute, she notes, is also from virtue ethicists and aimed at all of 'Modern philosophy'). Some disagreement also comes from the realm of feminist philosophy, which she suggests is likely to be misguided.

She writes that "much of what contemporary ethics was faulted for neglecting was, according to the traditional gendered division of labor and of character traits, located under the heading of “feminine.” Rather than diminishing the importance of reason in our conceptions of ethics, Baron suggests:
The problem seems more centrally to be that (a) women have been assumed to be deficient in reason and excessively emotional and (b) it has further been assumed that any such deficiencies reflect inherent differences between the sexes. (p.13)
Quoting J.S. Mill, she suggests that it is not the case that women are less rational and thus 'left out' of contemporary ethical theory unfairly, bur rather that women have simply been oppressed by patriarchal societies.

At the same time, "qualities traditionally associated with women" such as nurturing or caring deserve greater attention in our reflections on morality (p.14).