[Subjection & Subjectivity: Psychoanalytic Feminism & Moral Philosophy]

By Meyers, Diana T.; Elliot, Patricia | Resources for Feminist Research, Fall/Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

[Subjection & Subjectivity: Psychoanalytic Feminism & Moral Philosophy]


Meyers, Diana T., Elliot, Patricia, Resources for Feminist Research


Meyers' book appeals to three main groups of readers who, in the normal course of events, may not have much to do with each other: readers of moral philosophy, readers of feminist ethics, and readers of psychoanalytic feminism. It is encouraging to see work that crosses traditional boundaries, even if the contributions from the latter two fields are being used, as they are here, to improve or to challenge the first. Meyers' tendency to speak to and from the point of view of traditional moral philosophy suggests that this readership may benefit most from her book. While drawing on the work of some feminist moral theorists (including, for example, Annette Baier, Carol Gilligan, Barbara Herman, Maria Lugones, Martha Minow, and Margaret Urban Walker), Meyers nevertheless does not locate herself primarily within the field of feminist ethics, nor does she speak primarily to feminist moral philosophers. Readers interested in learning about recent developments in feminist ethics will need to look elsewhere. Readers familiar with the field of feminist ethics may be somewhat disappointed in what appears to be a lack of academic solidarity (Meyers tends to present the contribution of empathic thought to malestream moral philosophy as more or less her own). But these readers may also find her theorization of empathic thought a welcome solution to the problem of dichotomizing an "ethics of care" from an "ethics of justice."(f.1) In this sense, Meyers' book constitutes a significant contribution to ongoing debates in feminist ethics. Readers interested in psychoanalytic feminism will find the richness and creativity of this field affirmed, even though Meyers' interest lies in "mining" and appropriating this literature for the exclusive purpose of developing her own theory of moral subjectivity. As Meyers makes clear in the introduction, her book is "not a work of psychoanalytic feminism," but "an attempt to correct and expand moral and political philosophy with the assistance of psychoanalytic feminism (p. 8)." Indeed, Meyers' relationship to psychoanalysis is extremely ambivalent and her reading of psychoanalytic feminism highly idiosyncratic. While castigating Freud and the field of psychoanalysis in the tiresome tradition of Kate Millett et al. (Meyers is not well read in this field), Meyers nevertheless finds considerable merit in the rhetoric of psychoanalytic feminism. Psychoanalytic feminist theory developed by Nancy Chodorow, Jessica Benjamin, Julia Kristeva and Luce Irigaray is praised for its configurations of gender that serve as examples of what Meyers calls "dissident speech." To summarize, Chodorow's concept of "self-in-relationship," Benjamin's concept of "rational violence," Kristeva's concept of "the imaginary father," and Irigaray's concept of "two lips" are said to "release their readers' imaginations from the confines of orthodox gender concepts and to arouse speculation about alternative understandings of women, men, and their relations" (p. 91). Meyers may be right here, but my own view is that those in search of alternative understandings of women, men and their relations will need to grasp the theory and not just the rhetoric of psychoanalytic feminism. I turn now to Meyers' own theory, and to the place of psychoanalytic rhetoric within it. …

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