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State Whether You Agree/Disagree With the Feminist Perspective on Ethics and Give Reasons for Your Position

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Feminists working in all the main Western traditions of contemporary philosophy are using their respective traditions to approach their work, including the traditions of analytic, Continental, and pragmatist philosophy, along with other various orientations and intersections

As they do so, they are also intervening in how longstanding basic philosophical problems are understood. As feminist philosophers carry out work in traditional philosophical fields, from ethics to epistemology, they have introduced new concepts and perspectives that have transformed philosophy itself.

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Typically contrasted with deontological/Kantian and consequentialist/utilitarian ethics, care ethics is found to have affinities with moral perspectives such as African ethics, Confucian ethics, and others

Critics fault care ethics with being a kind of slave morality, and as having serious shortcomings including essentialism, parochialism, and ambiguity. Although care ethics is not synonymous with feminist ethics, much has been written about care ethics as a feminine and feminist ethic, in relation to motherhood, international relations, and political theory. Care ethics is widely applied to a number of moral issues and ethical fields, including caring for animals and the environment, bioethics, and more recently public policy. Originally conceived as most appropriate to the private and intimate spheres of life, care ethics has branched out as a political theory and social movement aimed at broader understanding of, and public support for, care-giving activities in their breadth and variety. In 1984 Noddings published Caring, in which she developed the idea of care as a feminine ethic, and applied it to the practice of moral education. Starting from the presumption that women “enter the practical domain of moral action…through a different door”, she ascribed to feminine ethics a preference for face-to face moral deliberation that occurs in real time, and appreciation of the uniqueness of each caring relationship. Drawing conceptually from a maternal perspective, Noddings understood caring relationships to be basic to human existence and consciousness. She identified two parties in a caring relationship—“one-caring” and the “cared-for”—and affirmed that both parties have some form of obligation to care reciprocally and meet the other morally, although not in the same manner. She characterized caring as an act of “engrossment” whereby the one-caring receives the cared-for on their own terms, resisting projection of the self onto the cared-for, and displacing selfish motives in order to act on the behalf of the cared-for. Noddings located the origin of ethical action in two motives, the human affective response that is a natural caring sentiment, and the memory of being cared-for that gives rise to an ideal self. Noddings rejected universal principles for prescribed action and judgment, arguing that care must always be contextually applied. In Feminist Morality (1993), Held explores the transformative power of creating new kinds of social persons, and the potentially distinct culture and politics of a society that sees as “its most important task the flourishing of children and the creation of human relationships”. She describes feminist ethics as committed to actual experience, with an emphasis on reason and emotion, literal rather than hypothetical persons, embodiment, actual dialogue, and contextual, lived methodologies.

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In the pivotal year of 1848, Frederick Douglass insisted that “all that distinguishes man as an intelligent and accountable being, is equally true of woman”. In the same year, the Declaration of Sentiments was signed at a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, and socialist and anarchist revolutions took place in Europe. The revolutionaries included public thinkers who advocated communal property and sexual equality, and who criticized the involvement of state and church in marriage. Their arguments about practical and feminist ethics influenced Emma Goldman and other turn-of-the-century thinkers. Philosophical thinkers of different backgrounds gained greater access to education and printing presses in the nineteenth century, resulting in a plurality of approaches to the project of understanding, criticizing, and correcting how gender operates within our moral beliefs and practices. For example, the attachment of some protofeminist thinkers to the domestic virtues shaped their ethical recommendations. Some white and middle-class activists argued for the end of slavery and, later, against the subordination of emancipated women of color precisely on the grounds that they wished to extend the privileges that white and middle-class women enjoyed in the domestic and private sphere, maintaining the social order while valorizing domestic feminine goodness. As Clare Midgley says, “Women’s role was discussed in terms of family life. Emancipation would mark the end of the sexual exploitation of women and of the disruption of family life, and the creation of a society in which the black woman was able to occupy her proper station as a Daughter, a Wife, and a Mother” (Midgley 1993, 351). In contrast, some former slaves including Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and descendants of slaves including Mary Church Terrell, grounded their work for women’s rights and arguments for women’s moral and sociopolitical equality in rather different priorities, asserting more interest in equal protection of the laws, economic liberation, political representation, and in Wells-Barnett’s case, self-defense and the exertion of the right to bear arms, as necessary to the very survival and liberation of Black Americans (Nussbaum, Martha, 1986).

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In either case, it is the nature of secret agendas that some members in the decision—making process have more information than others. No true group decisions can be reached if one segment of members manipulates, misinforms, under—informs another. Each woman feels/knows that a secret agenda is being played out. And decisions made under those circumstances will never hold. It will become part of the history of warring, old wounds, inexplicable factionalizing later. It will be over—turned, block movement, create hostility so great and wearying that old and new members alike leave in turmoil and disgust. I am not describing the event of members leaving because they cannot support the decision, but of those who will/must leave because they cannot support a dishonest process.

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Midgley, Clare, 1993, “Anti-Slavery and Feminism,” Gender & History, 5 (3): 343–362.

Nussbaum, Martha, 1986, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Offen, Karen, 1988, “On the French Origin of the Words Feminism and Feminist,” Feminist Issues, 8 (2): 45–51.

Okin, Susan Moller, 1989, Justice, Gender, and the Family, New York: Basic Books Inc.

Pateman, Carol,1988, The Sexual Contract, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

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