PHILOS 2YY3 Lecture Notes - Feminist Ethics, Nel Noddings, Femininity
- Samantha Brennon – Recent work in Feminist Ethics
- Feminist ethics critique the traditional theories, written by privileged men have certain
o Male experiences as the norm – theories were then constructed upon this norm.
Failure to recognize the female perspective/experience
o Issues in private realm devalued
Emphasis put on the public realm, and the division of the public and private
realm is a problem for morality.
Therein the females are relegated to the private realm, with no
theories based on this realm.
o Men as morally mature, females taken as morally immature.
Reasoning as a quality applied to males, not females.
Their ability to act apart from their emotion as a positive indicator
o Masculine characteristics overrated (independence, autonomy, the intellect)
Taken to be the most important characteristics overall, the value emphasis is
put on these associatively ‘male’ quality.
“female” characteristics of interdependence, etc. not included in theories
o ‘male’ ways of reasoning (rights, rules, impartiality) over the ‘female’ way
(relationships, responsibility, particularity)
This legitimizes women’s subordination – rational ability to reason is
important for almost all philosophies, which simultaneously dictating
women’s inability to rationalize
Critique of Utilitarianism:
o Total happiness is important, but this may exclude acting for loved ones –in the
requirement for impartiality.
Extreme impartiality does not allow for family to be valued more.
o Relationships are only indirectly relevant.
Utilitarian would reject this criticism; allowance for relationships on the
basis of its contribution of the overall good, and then would still only be
Feminist ethics determine that persons and relationships as intrinsically
o Sees persons as ‘bearers of utility’ – people are not valuable in and of themselves.
Criticisms of Kant:
- Denied women full moral status
o Not rational, unable to separate themselves from their emotions.
- Abstract reasoning
- Moral law above personal considerations.
o Nowhere in the universalization of maxims do feelings come into consideration.
- Ignores specific experiences and interests of oppressed groups.
Critique of Aristotle
- Men’s virtues are those required for freedom and political life.
o Women did not develop the same virtues as men
- Women’s virtues are obedience and silence
o In both the private and public sphere.
- Justifies excluding women from political life and limiting influence in the home,
Subordination of women is seen as a natural situation for Aristotle
*Important distinction between feminine and feminist ethics.
Feminine Ethics: Ethics of Care
- Developed because traditional theories did not speak to feminine experience
- Carol Gilligan: ethics of care vs. ethics of justice
o Women speak in a different voice than men, and if men speak in the voice of justice
and autonomy, women speak in the language of care.
o Instead of devaluing care, she equalizes it in tandem with justice.
o Gilligan finds that women can speak equally about both justice and care, but men
and boys find it difficult to talk about ethics in any other context than justice.
- Nel Noddings: care and relationships
o The action that is most caring is the most right action
- Virginia Held: mother-child relationship alternative model for moral thought.
- Takes a political perspective: focuses on addressing dominance and oppression
o Not a full blown theory, but incorporable aspects for other theories to take in.
- Commitment to justice and caring
o Both necessary in equal relationships and finding what is just.
- Reconceives the individual within social relationships
o Common for theories to be individualistic; feminist ethics looks at the individual in
context of the situation surrounding.
- Makes gender explicit; contextualization through gender and gender identity.
- Always consider the implication on the lives of women.