Feminism, Moral Development, and the Virtues
SUSAN MOLLER OKIN
How does virtue ethics look from a feminist point of view--that is to say, a perspective that expects women and men to be treated as equally human and due equal concern and respect? In this essay, focusing primarily on two accounts of virtue ethics--one of the earliest, Aristotle's, and one of the most recent, Alasdair MacIntyre's--I discuss three respects in which virtue ethics is problematic for anyone, however sympathetic, who approaches this mode of thinking about or practising morality as a feminist. My task in the first section is to enquire whether Aristotle's and MacIntyre's accounts of the virtues, in themselves, meet or fail to meet the feminist expectation of equal concern and respect for all human beings. My next task, following a negative finding on the first question, is to explore the problem that is inherent in these virtue theorists' accounts of early moral education, given their endorsement (or at least acceptance) of the belief that women are incapable of achieving truly 'human' virtue. Third, having shown that the two important examples of virtue ethics I examine involve considerable problems from a feminist point of view, I engage in discussion with those who, in recent years, claim to have found in virtue ethics something especially feminine, or even feminist. I end the essay by making some suggestions about what I consider to be a more tenable and appropriate feminist approach to the virtues.
'The virtues', in predominant conceptions from Homer to Alasdair MacIntyre and beyond, have often been presented as human virtues. But what have actually been emphasized and regarded as unqualifiedly