Ethics: A Liberative Approach

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Some feminist ethicists contend that virtue ethics, which focuses on living a good life or flourishing, offers the best approach to ensuring that ethical theory correctly represents the conditions permitting vulnerable bodies to flourish in oppressive contexts.

Philosophers who argue for feminist ethical virtues raise concerns that sexist oppression presents challenges to the exercise of virtues on the part of women and gender non-conforming people. Advocates of feminist virtue ethics and critical character ethics consider the relationships of gender to accounts of character, virtues, vices, and good lives Baier ; Card ; Cuomo ; Calhoun ; Dillon a; Snow ; Tessman ; Green and Mews ; Berges ; Broad ; Harvey Some virtue ethics also focus on what opportunities for virtue are available to agents in particular social contexts, which is useful in feminist ethics when it comes to delineating our responsibilities as relational beings and as characters who may exhibit vices resulting from oppression Bartky ; Potter ; Bell ; Tessman a; Slote ; Boryczka Indeed, the ethic of care bears so many important similarities to virtue ethics that some authors have argued that a feminist ethic of care just is a form or a subset of virtue ethics Groenhout ; Slote ; McLaren ; Halwani Others believe that at a minimum, care and virtue ethics should inform each other and are compatible with each other Benner ; Sander-Staudt Here, too, however, feminist ethicists disagree.

Some contend that lumping together care and virtue might render the complexity of moral experiences and available moral responses less understandable rather than more articulate Groenhout Others suggest that this consolidation might overlook important theoretical distinctions, including the capacity for virtue ethics to be gender-neutral while the ethic of care maintains a commitment to embodied, particular, and gendered experiences Sander-Staudt Virtue ethics provides wider opportunities for feminist ethics to attend to virtues such as integrity and courage in oppressive contexts that the ethic of care tends not to prioritize Davion ; Sander-Staudt Tessman argues that when agents live under conditions of systemic injustice, their opportunities to flourish are blocked and their pursuits may even be hopeless.

For example, feminists have argued for distinctive virtues in contexts such as whistleblowing and organizational resistance DesAutels , healthcare Tong , and ecological activism Cuomo Some care ethicists, most notably Nel Noddings , argue that virtue ethics can be overly self-regarding rather than attentive to the point of view of another, and that it locates moral motivation in rational, abstract, and idealized conceptions of the good life rather than in the natural well-spring of moral motivation that is generated by encounters with particular persons.

As is evident from the foregoing, feminist ethics is not monolithic. Feminists have sometimes clashed over being essentialist or anti-essentialist. Some feminist work is authored by members of privileged groups, while other feminist work is written by and attends to concerns of those in marginalized groups. Some feminists have located solidarity in commonality, while others advocate coalition in the presence of intersectionality.

The different approaches of feminists to ethics raise questions as to whether feminist ethics can be either universalist or absolutist. Feminists have observed that just as some men in the history of philosophy have falsely universalized from their own experience to describe the experiences of all humans, some feminists have presumed false universal categories of women or feminists that elide differences between women or presume to speak for all women Grimshaw ; Herr ; Tremain Feminist ethicists who have endorsed visions of universal human rights as liberating for all women have been criticized by other feminists as engaging in absolutism in ways that may prescribe solutions for women in different locations and social situations rather than attending to the perspectives of the women described as needing such rights Khader b; Herr The predominant association of feminist ethics with an ethic of care, which is dichotomous with traditional ethical theories on many levels, together with decades of feminist critiques of the work of canonical absolutist theorists, might lead to a perception that feminist ethics is fundamentally opposed to universalism and absolutism in ethics.

This perception, however, is not built into the nature of feminist ethics, which has been employed to understand, criticize, and correct the role of gender in our moral beliefs and practices by deontologists, utilitarians, contractarians, and virtue ethicists, who hold some universal principles or absolute requirements to be basic to their views.

However, it is evident that the preponderance of scholarship in feminist ethics tends to prioritize all of the following: the moral contexts in which differently situated and differently gendered agents operate, the testimony and perspectives of the situated agent, the power relationships and political relationships manifest in moral encounters, the vulnerabilities of embodied actors that yield a plurality of approaches to ethical situations, and the degrees of agency or capacity that are shaped by experiences with oppression and misogyny.

Such priorities tend not to result in relativism, though they certainly depart from rigid forms of absolutism. Feminist ethics is often expressed in morally plural ways, including pragmatism Hamington and Bardwell-Jones , transnationalism Jaggar ; Herr ; McLaren ; Khader b , nonideal theory Mills ; Schwartzman ; Tessman b; Norlock , and disability theory Wendell ; Garland-Thomson ; Tremain Feminist Ethics First published Mon May 27, Feminist Ethics: Historical Background 1.

Themes in feminist ethics 2. Themes in feminist ethics In the fifty years that feminist ethics has been a subject of philosophical scholarship in initially Western and increasingly international discourse, theorists have considered metaethical, theoretical, and practical questions. Bibliography Adams, Carol J. Anderson, Elizabeth S.

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Marso, Lori J. This title is not available as a gratis copy. To discuss your use of this title for a particular course please e-mail the Textbook Adoption Consultant for review. Click here to email. This survey text for religious ethics and theological ethics courses explores how ethical concepts defined as liberationist, which initially was a Latin American Catholic phenomenon, is presently manifest around the globe and within the United States across different racial, ethnic, and gender groups. Students will thus comprehend the diversity existing within the liberative ethical discourse and know which scholars and texts to read and will encounter practical ways to further social justice.

Skip to main content. This paper can address any aspect of the reading, and engagement questions are suggested for each session. These papers are short for a reason: no parishioner wants a 5 page answer to a question. They want a concise, thoughtful response that helps them continue thinking through a dilemma. The point is not to cover every aspect of the readings, but focus on an element that stood out to you for its insight, interest, inadequacy, or controversy so you understand how a particular author or method helps you think through ethical questions.

Please email the whole class at least four days before each session. Please send an email to all member with a subject that includes your name , the class name , and the session day.