11-30-99 Feminist Ethics is not a special ethic in the manor that business, medical, or environmental ethics are. Feminist ethics have not attempted to determine special rules for special circumstances, rather they present the opportunity to examine a historically neglected perspective when it comes to traditional ethical thought. Feminist Ethics has been an attempt to revise, reformulate, or rethink those aspects of traditional western ethics that have historically depreciated or devalued a women's moral experience, and a womens perspective on ethical thought. Among others, feminist philosopher Alison Jaggar has faulted traditional western ethics for failing women in five related ways. First, she argues that it shows little concern for women's as opposed to men's interests and rights. Second, it dismisses as morally uninteresting the problems that arise in the so-called private world, the realm in which women cook, clean, and care for the young, the old, and the sick.
Third, it suggests that, on the average, women are not as morally developed as men. Fourth, it overvalues culturally masculine traits like independence, autonomy, separation, mind, reason, culture, transcendence, war, and death, and undervalues culturally feminine traits like interdependence, community, connection, body, emotion, nature, immanence, peace, and life. Fifth, and finally, it favours culturally masculine ways of moral reasoning that emphases rules, universality, and impartiality over culturally feminine ways of moral reasoning that emphasise relationships, particularity, and partiality.  In essence Jagger is pointing out what has been wrong with traditional ethical thought.
While it is convenient to call this feminist ethics, the term is problematic in that it implies that ther are masculine ethics. These are arguably those ethical thoughts which are biased and centred on the idea of a patriarchal world, or wrong as that old joke says about anything that comes out of a mans mouth. However there is a plethora of thought that is not biased and has been spoken by men, so what is its label For the same reason I would say that there is a wide range of thought that women produce and can produce that should not be labelled feminine and be sidelined as some feminist thought is for that reason. For the purpose of this paper I am going to accept the term Feminist ethics and use it, since it is an answer to what has been wrong with the study of ethics in general, namely the lack of a feminist point of view, and if that is to be termed feminist ethics, so be it. It is possible to argue that the overall aim of most all feminist approaches to ethics, irrespective of their specific labels, is to create a gender-equal ethics, a moral theory that generates non-sexist moral principles, policies, and practices, and it is from this position that I am going to address the issue.
Feminist approaches to ethics, as well as debates about the allegedly gendered nature of morality, are not contemporary developments. A variety of eighteenth and nineteenth-century thinkers discussed what is probably best termed "women's morality." Each of these thinkers pondered questions such as: Are women's psychological feminine traits all natural Or is it only women's positive psychological feminine traits that are natural, their negative ones being somehow socially-constructed Is there a gender neutral standard available to separate women's good or positive traits from women's bad or negative traits As it seems to be an underlying argument that some mens patriarchal traits are negative. Can it not be argued that traits which are moral virtues as well as psychological traits are connected with one's affective as well as cognitive dimensions, indeed with one's physiology as Aristotle and Aquinas suggested, shouldn't we expect men and women to manifest different moral virtues as well as different psychological traits Should all individuals be urged to cultivate precisely the same set of psychological traits and moral virtues, or should there be room for trait and virtue specialisation, provided that this specialisation is not split specifically down gender lines Or even if this specialisation is split down gender lines Is that a negative, or positive idea When it comes to the questions about "women's morality" that have been posed above, the eighteenth-century thinker Mary Wollstonecraft answered that women's and men's moralities are fundamentally the same. Although she did not use the term "socially-constructed gender roles," Wollstonecraft refuted the concept that women are by nature more pleasure seeking than men. She reasoned that if men were confined to the same societal rules and roles women find themselves locked into, as is the case with low-ranking military men, for example, they would develop the same kind of weak characters women have traditionally developed within these roles. Denied the chance to develop their rational powers, to become moral persons who have concerns, causes, and commitments over and beyond their own physical and psychological pleasure, men as well as women would become overly "emotional."  Wollstonecraft believed in the distinction between manners and morals, morals with lead to ethics and manners which are a societal training on the right way to act within a situation.
Manners do not require a subscription to the moral belief behind them, only that you follow them. Morals require educated thought to arrive at them and know why you have them, whereas manners are simply something that you are taught to do and can be mastered by any one. Historically society has taught men morals, and it teaches women manners. More specifically, society encourages women to cultivate negative psychological traits like "cunning,"vanity," and "immaturity," all of which impede the development of more positive psychological traits. Even worse, society twists what could be woman's genuine virtue into vices.
Wollstonecraft specifically claimed that when strong women practice gentleness, it is a grand, even godly, virtue; but when weak women practice it, it is a demeaning, even subhuman, vice. "when it is the submissive demeanour of dependence, the support of weakness that loves, because it wants protection; and is forbearing because it must silently endure injuries; smiling under the lash at which it dare not snarl"  However things had changed a little by the nineteenth-century, women were regarded as more moral though they were still considered to be less intellectual. than men, a view that disturbed the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill. As he saw it virtue along with intellect had nothing to do with the gender of the subject in question.
He said that society was wrong to set up an ethical double standard when it comes to assessing a women's morality differently than it assesses a man's morality. Mill concluded that women's "moral nature" is not the result of innate female propensities but of systematic social conditioning. To praise women on account of their great "virtue" is merely to compliment patriarchal society for having inculcated in women those psychological traits that serve to maintain it. Women are taught to live for and sacrifice for others; to always give and never receive; to submit, yield and obey; to be long-suffering. Their "virtue" is not of their own doing; it is something that society imposes it upon them.  Proponents of the feminist approach to ethics like Carol Gilligan and Nel Nodding's have stressed that the traditional western moral theories, principles, practices, and policies are deficient to the degree that they ignore, trivialize, or demean those personality traits and virtues of character that are culturally associated with women.
Gilligan has presented her work as a response to the Freudian notion that whereas men have a well-developed moral sense, women do not. Freud attributed women's supposed moral inferiority to girls' psychosexual development. Whereas boys break their attachment to their mothers out of the fear of being castrated by their fathers if they don't, girls remain emotionally tied to their mothers since the threat of castration has no power over them. As a result of this state of affairs, girls are supposedly much slower than boys to develop a sense of themselves as individual moral agents who are personally responsible for the consequences of their actions or in actions; as persons who must obey society's rules or face its punishments. In a sense this causes men to have to learn morals, while women are able to just follow the manners that they are taught by their mothers, not having to develop a set of moral understandings on their own.  In order to move towards a more gender neutral study of ethics Gilligan has begun to study men's as well as women's moral experience, as opposed to just a womans.
Her central aim is to expose the ways in which society continues to muffle mens sensitivity, encouraging them to be less than caring and fully nurturing human persons. Gilligan stresses that unlike today's women who speak the moral language of justice and rights nearly as fluently as the moral language of care and relationship, men remain largely unable to express their moral concerns in anything other than the language of justice and rights, while women have adapted and shown that they have the same capacity to operate in both spheres of moral thought men have for the most part remained locked into the same pattern of moral reasoning. One index of the importance of Gilligan's work the number of thinkers who have taken her work seriously enough to critique it. To date Gilligan's critics have focused either on the relationship between justice and care, considered as two, gender-neutral perspectives on morality, or on the fact, that women are culturally associated with care and men are culturally associated with justice.
Critics who have adopted the first strategy are primarily non-feminist critics. Some of them argue that even if care is a moral virtue and not just some pleasant psychological trait that some people happen to have, it is a less essential moral virtue than justice is. Among the statements such non feminist critics make is that it is better to act out of a general moral principle like "aid the needy" than a particular caring feeling, because principles are more reliable and less ephemeral than feelings; and that, when justice and care conflict, considerations of impartiality must overcome considerations of partiality: my children's fundamental rights and basic needs are neither more nor less important than anyone else's children's, as opposed to the natural way that most parents would weigh their childrens needs as more important then the needs of other children. The concept of viewing all children as equal including your own is much easier when ones emotions are not allowed into the debate. Or when you are debating from a purely clinical point of view. The one question and problem to this though is, is the tendency to view your own childrens needs as more important, simply a issue of care and therefor not within the male realm of justice for most fathers when faced with the same dilemma would have the same reaction as any mother.
Their childrens needs are more important then the needs of others. To say that this view is essentially a feminist or feminine ethic is to ignore the reaction of most fathers. This calls to question whether or not this aspect of the ethics of care is a trait that can be labelled feminine, or is it one of the traits that can be considered gender neutral. Feminist Ethics offers to women multiple standards that validate a woman's different moral experiences in ways that point to the weaknesses as well as the strengths of the values and virtues that culture has put the label of feminine on.
In addition, they suggest to women several paths, all of which lead toward the one goal that is essential to the project of any women-centred ethics; namely, the elimination of gender inequality. Although feminists' have different interpretations of what constitutes a voluntary and intentional choice, an improper or legitimate exercise of control, and a healthy or unhealthy relationship reassure the intellectual and moral community that, after all, for the most part feminism and most feminists are trying not to be an ideology that prescribes that there is one and only one way for all women to be. However this variety of thought is also the occasion of considerable political fragmentation among feminists. Asked to come to the policy table to express the feminist perspective on a moral issue, all that an honest feminist ethicist can say is that there is no such perspective.
Yet, if feminists have no clear, and unified position on a key moral issue, then a perspective less appealing to women may fill the gap. Although it is crucial for feminist ethicists to emphasise, for example, how a policy that benefits one group of women might at the same time harm another group of women, it is probably a mistake for feminist ethicists to leave the policy table without suggesting policies that are able to serve the most important interests of the widest range of women. In the light of the important contributions made by feminists by the way of theories, perspectives and attention that has been given to issues. Feminist theory has been beneficial in the field of ethics not only in opening up discourse, but offering alternative theories. In this way Feminist ethics has been beneficial to the field of ethics. Given the underlying questioning nature of Feminist ethics, it is a very beneficial avenue of philosophical inquiry, given that a questioning nature and analysis and discourse are important aspects of philosophy.
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