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Feminist Ethics.

Why in the world isthe Hastings Center Report publishing a review of Claudia Card's new anthology, Feminist Ethics? After all, feminist ethics is merely a parochial eddy of no great interest to mainstream ethics. Wrong, says Alison Jaggar, in her admirably succinct and informative essag: the aim of feminist theorizing is to eliminate male bias in ethis (p. 97). This concise formula, together with the rest of her article, should lay to rest any notion that feminist ethics is just about women, is just for feminists, or is just a demand for power. On the contrary, such a conception of feminist ethics implies that reason can help us attain better justified and more objective moral judgments.

Mnay readers are no doubt skeptical that there is any significant male bias in ethics, and hence regard the whole project with a jaundiced eye. Before dismissing it, however, it is important to remember two points. First, the discipline of ethics has been until recently the creation of great men' it is therefore quite possible that despite their attempts to be rational and objective, ethics now bears the marks of distinctively male interests--in both senses of the term. Second, those of us in applied ethics cannot tgnore the theoretical disarray of traditional ethics; new perspectives such as those offered by feminism may help us see old problems in a new light.

Before you rush to order a copy of this exciting new addition to the field, however, a warning is in order. This is very largely an "insider's" book. Glaudia Card's priority here is providing a safe environment for feminist exploration and development; to those who want justification of the most fundamental assumptions, "the most persuasive response may be a set of essays not preoccupied directly with addressing that want but engaged, rather, in the nitty-gritty of the work itself" (p. 20). She acknowledges too that feminist conceptions of politeness don't necessarily abide by existing academic practice. "The feistiness of insubordination, however, ranks high on my scale of feminist virtues. It is the feistiness that puts off those who want to object that feminist philosophy is ideological or polemical" (p. 18).

I am of two minds about these issues. Feminist work cannot focus endlessly on foundations; polemical language can both encourage enthusiasm and solidarity, and put you into other people's shoes. The feminist challenge, however, cuts close to the bone: the prerequisites for progress within the tradition may sometimes be at cross purposes with those for persuading others of its importance. Despite these caveats, I believe that there is much here to reward those who are willing to hand on for what may at times seem a rough ride.

Claudia Card's introduction provides the reader with a capsule history of feminist ethics as well as an interesting peek at her own development as a feminist scholar. The following fourteen papers are divided into three sections. The first, "Contexts, Histories, Methods," covers a variety of basic issues. For those who want a scholarly yet powerful introduction to the issues, Jaggar's piece, despite its position at the end of Part 1, would be a good place to begin. Those who are ready for a more shocking plunge into feminist waters might instead start with Joyce Trebilcot's essay, "Ethics of Method: Greasing the Machine and Telling Stories." This section also contains a piece by Marilyn Frye challenging us to develop a conception of ethics not based on the desire for domination, Maria Lugone's plea for a truly pluralist feminism, and a discussion of the relationship between feminism and postmodernism by Christine Pierce. The first two articles successfully jolt the reader out of comfortable assumptions, while the last helpfully differentiates feminism from postmodemism, with special reference to the problem of relativism.

Part 2 (entitled "Character and Moral Agency") may be the most diverse, containing analyses of two specific concepts (terrorism, by Bat-Ami Bar On., and bitterness, by Lynne McFall). It also includes two essays focusing on the nature of the self, one a comparison of feminist and communitarian conceptions of self and community by Marilyn Friedman, the other an examination of the implications of integrity by Victoria Davion. In "Philosophy Is Not a Luxury," a piece that could as well have been placed in part 1, Ruth Ginzberg shows how philosophy is central for the survival of the oppressed.

In part 3, perhaps the most homogeneous of the book, four writers take up "Questions Concerning Women's Voices and Care." Elizabeth Spelman develops the issue raised earlier by Lugones: the absence of care on the part of privileged women toward those of disadvantaged or disfavored classes. Two others direct their attention to influential feminist thinkers. michele Moody-Adams raises excellent questions about Carol Gilligan's work, questions that are especially telling with respect to the problem of diversity. Sarah Lucia Hoagland in turn unearths serious concerns about the implications of Nel Noddings's analysis of caring. Finally, Annette Baier suggests that there may be reasons for distrusting "good" mothers.

All in all, this volume is well worth the time of all those who do ethics. Although its chief value is, I think, in the new insights it forces upon its readers, it should also help to dispel any impression that feminist ethics are either irrational or objectionaly political. Yet new ethics books appear every day: why read this one? Medical ethics, unlike most other academic disciplines, guides practice. So if the health care establishment fails to respect women's interests equally with those of men, or even assumes that it knows (without asking a variety of women) what those interests are, it is up to us to show what is happening and why it is wrong. Before doing that, however, we need both to integrate feminist thinking into our general theory, and think through its implications for applied work. Books like Feminist Ethics help us come to terms with feminist moral theory while its excellent bibliography provides a map for further exploration.

Laura M. Purdy is associate professor of philosophy, Wells College, Aurora, N.Y.
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Author:Purdy, Laura M.
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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