Canadian. b: 8 July 1926, Glasgow, Scotland. Cat: Philosopher and educationalist; founding member of the Feminist Party of Canada. Ints: Feminist theory; social and political theory. Educ: York University, Ontario, 1966-76. Infls: Marx and Hegel. Appts: Lecturer, Assistant, Associate, then full Professor of Sociology in Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 1976-87.
O'Brien develops a feminist concept of'reproduction' that replaces traditional social and political conceptions of history and culture. In The Politics of Reproduction (1981), her theory of 'reproductive consciousness' revises Marx's stages of human history. For women, childbirth constitutes a 'mediated dialectic' which establishes continuity between individual and species. By contrast, men's reproductive consciousness alienates them from species-continuity. The first stage of reproductive consciousness is the discovery of paternity in which men seek to artificially establish speciescontinuity through 'potency principles', that is, primogeniture, legal rights and other institutions. The result is male domination and the relegation of women to the private sphere. The second stage in the dialectic of gendered consciousness is reproductive technology, which is revolutionary in enabling women to choose parenthood. She has since argued that a third revolution, a radical transformation of the patriarchal state, is possible only by following a strategy dictated by a feminist social theory. Although her ideas have strongly influenced feminist thought, some feminists have suggested that her position leads to biological determinism. However, she claims that women's reproductive consciousness is a social phenomenon despite its natural roots.
Sources: Somer Brodribb (ed.) (1989) 'Feminist theory: the influence of Mary O'Brien', special issue of RFR, 19, 1, Sep; Center for Women's Studies in Education, Ontario Inst. for Studies in Education.
British. b: 23 August 1941, Aughafatten, Northern Ireland. Cat: Philosopher of ethics; Kantian; political philosopher. Educ: Somerville College, Oxford, 1959-62; Harvard University, 1963-9. Infls: Kant. Appts: Assistant, then Associate Professor, Barnard College, Columbia University, 1970-7; Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, then Professor, University of Essex, 1977-92; 1992-, Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge.
O'Neill is concerned with developing a reading of Kant's ethical theory which counters the objection that it is too abstract and inflexible to be a practical guide for human action. She interprets Kant's critique of reason as constructivist and antifoundationalist. The authority of reason stems not from the solitary reasoner but from principles of thought and action that can be freely adopted by a community of reasoners. For Kant, then, both practical and theoretical reason rest on the categorical imperative. O'Neill views the categorical imperative as a principle of universalization applied in different situations to assess the agent's intentions, and so it is not the source of a general set of rules, but rather it tells us how to act rightly in each particular case. She argues that the