Ethics and Gender
West Valley College
Values individuals, but only as abstract, faceless, ahistorical
Supposes equality of rational capacity
Emphasizes the (supposed) equality of all persons considered
as autonomous units, who all can make equitable agreements with other
equally powerful autonomous agents.
Justice, fairness, and liberty are primary values. Emphasizes
especially rights of non-interference – the right to be left alone.
- Emphasizes the contract model – the model appropriate to
public life, dealings with strangers
Uses theoretical, deductive methods: what’s moral follows
logically from application of general rules and principles. E.g., from
“All abortion is sinful” it follows deductively that “Mary’s abortion
is sinful,” and that’s the end of the moral analysis.
Since women do not typically reason about moral matters in
this way, “guy morality” usually downgrades women’s moral capacity.
E.g. both Schopenhauer and Freud (not to mention some versions of Christianity)
say that females are morally childlike, inferior, and in need of moral
guidance from men.
Emphasizes on “clean hands” – decency vs excellence, casuistry,
hair-splitting. The big question
is: can I justify my behavior in terms of some rule? If yes, then I’ve
done all I need to do. There’s
no need to strive for more moral excellence than is required by the
rules of my contract with society.
Emphasizes the need to change people who are “bad,” for their
Moral cases concern individuals, no two of which are exactly
alike, and all of whom have individual histories and faces
The world is full of disparities of power and rational capacity.
Poor people are less powerful than rich people, children are less
powerful and less rational than adults, women in many cultures are
far less powerful than men, old people sometimes cannot function autonomously,
etc. Women see these disparities of power very clearly because they
often experience them, and because women tend to be the ones responsible
for taking care of the other less powerful people: children, the sick,
the old. Women know that you can’t just leave some people
alone (e.g., babies).
Concepts of rights and equality must therefore be balanced
by concerns for those who simply cannot participate fully in contracts.
“Gal morality” emphasizes rights of recipience.
Moral judgments are not necessarily arrived at deductively:
sometimes morality requires creative, integrative responses that preserve
relationships, even at the expense of “principle”
Emphasizes accepting others without necessarily changing
Emphasizes excellences of virtue – going beyond what is stipulated
in the rules of the contract. Think of all the things you’d do to
raise your children well. Now think about how many of them are commanded
by, say, the 10 commandments.