LIBERALISM, THE SCHOOL OF POLITICAL thought from which liberal feminism has evolved, is in the process of reconceptualizing, reconsidering, and restructuring itself,1 which makes it difficult to determine the status of liberal feminist thought. If we wish to gauge the accuracy of Susan Wendell's provocative claim that liberal feminism has largely outgrown its original base,2 then we must survey the state of contemporary liberal thought and decide for ourselves whether liberal rhetoric does in fact resonate with feminist oratory.
Alison Jaggar, in Feminist Politics and Human Nature,3 observed that liberal political thought holds a conception of human nature that locates our uniqueness as human persons in our capacity for rationality. The belief that reason distinguishes us from other creatures is relatively uninformative, so liberals have attempted to define reason in various ways, stressing either its moral aspects or its prudential aspects. When reason is defined as the ability to comprehend the rational principles of morality, then the value of individual autonomy is stressed. In contrast, when reason is defined as the ability to determine the best means to achieve some desired end, then the value of self-fulfillment is stressed.4
Whether liberals define reason largely in moral or prudential terms, they nevertheless concur that a just society allows individuals to exercise their autonomy and to fulfill themselves. The "right," liberals assert, must be given priority over the "good."5 In other words, our whole system of individual rights is justified because these rights constitute a framework within which we can all choose our own separate goods, provided we do