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Relational Morality: Which Relations, Which Morals?

  • Ruth L. Smith
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 165)

Abstract

I began chewing on questions about constructions of the individual and society in liberal moral philosophies and theologies while a graduate student in religious studies at Boston University. My questions developed in relation to my involvement in feminism, in the study of Marx, and previous work in linguistics. During this process, Bob Cohen was a collegial and generous teacher and the second reader for my dissertation on the constructions of the individual and society in Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Marx. Our many discussions were marked by Bob’s insistence on careful attention to the text at hand, by his willingness to consider any argument with the same exacting and exploratory style, and by his rejection of all easy answers. For the past ten years I have continued to think about liberal moral constructions and feminist responses to them, often working by immanent critique. In this article I extend this process by exploring the plural notions of society and morality in liberal thinking that become evident when we consider their gender and class relations.1

Keywords

Middle Class Social Contract Moral Agency Relational Morality Exploratory Style 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Ruth L. Smith, The Individual and Society in Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Marx (Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1982). Portions of this article are drawn from ‘Relationality and the Ordering of Differences’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 9 (Spring/Fall 1993) 199–214. Both articles bring together arguments I have treated separately elsewhere about the juxtaposition of the moral constructions of gender, class, and society. See particularly, ‘Order and Disorder: the Naturalization of Poverty’, Cultural Critique (Winter 1989–90), 209–229 and ‘The Evasion of Otherness’, Union Seminary Quarterly Review 43 (1989)145–161.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    The significance of Marx’s critique for a social and relational account of individuals and their social world is developed by Carol C. Gould in her book Marx’s Social Ontology (Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Lynn Segal, Is the Future Female? Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism (London: Virago, 1987)Google Scholar
  4. Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love (New York: Pantheon, 1988)Google Scholar
  5. Marilyn Friedman, ‘The Social Self and Partiality Debates’, in Claudia Card (ed.), Feminist Ethics (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991), 161–179Google Scholar
  6. Jean Tronto, ‘Women and Caring’, Alison M. Jagger and Susan Bordo (eds.), Genderl Body I Knowledge (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989)Google Scholar
  7. Ruth L. Smith, ‘Moral Transcendence and Moral Space in the Historical Experiences of Women’, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 4 (Fall 1988), 48–68.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Raymond Williams. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (London: Fontana Press, 1976), 291.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s discussion of this problem throughout Knowledge and Politics (London: Macmillan, 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production, translated, by Mark Poster (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1975), 53–56.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Jean Baudrillard, The Mirror of Production (St. Louis: Telos Press, 1975), 57–59.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Classically these formulations belong to Locke and Hobbes respectively. See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: Viking Penguin, 1981; orig. 1651) and John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (New York: New American Library, 1965, orig. 1689). The commonly stated differences between them should not obscure similarities of concern about order and other differences. Carole Pateman argues that Hobbes is much more willing to make evident the political relations, including gender, that precede the contract. The Sexual Contract (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988). 44.Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    See Carole Pateman’s analysis of this issue in The Sexual Contract.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Unger describes this phenomenon throughout Knowledge and Politics. See for example 64-66.Google Scholar
  15. 16.
    See Mary Midgley, Can’t We Make Moral Judgements (New York: St. Martins, 1991) on John Stuart Mill’s fear of society’s encroachment on individuality, 38–41. While this fear was at times expressed in terms of state intervention it also expressed the nine-teenth century fear of the “great masses.” On the threat that women pose to rationality and morality see Carole Pateman, ‘The Disorder of Women: Women, Love, and the Sense of Jusice’, in The Disorder of Women (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989) 17–32.Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    See Carole Pateman’s analysis of this issue in The Sexual Contract, chapter 3.Google Scholar
  17. 18.
    See Christine Di Stefano, ‘Masculinity as Political Ideology in Political Theory: Hobbesian Man Considered’, Hypatia 6 (1983) Pateman discusses the issue of who counts as an individual throughout The Sexual Contract. See particularly chapter 8.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    See Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1960), 340.Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    See Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, ‘The Cross and the Pedestal: Women, Anti-Ritualism, and the Emergence of the American Bourgeoisie’, Disorderly Conduct, Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York: Knopf, 1985), 129–164.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    Mary Ryan. Cradle of the Middle Class, The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981). See especially chapters 2 and 4.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    Mary Ryan. Cradle of the Middle Class, The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981)172; 206–207.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    In varying ways, this problem is present not only in the classical constructions of the social contract but in contemporary ones as well. See discussion in Pateman, The Sexual Contract, for example, pp. 41–43, 230–232.Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (New York: Pantheon, 1988), chapter five.Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    For discussion of contemporary teaching of hierarchical relations to children see Elizabeth Spelman, Inessential Woman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1988), particularly chapter four.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination (New York: Pantheon, 1988), p. 214.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

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  • Ruth L. Smith

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