Ethics and Gender

Sandra LaFave

“Guy morality”

  • Values individuals, but only as abstract, faceless, ahistorical agents

  • Supposes equality of rational capacity

  • Emphasizes the (supposed) equality of all persons considered as autonomous units, who all can make equitable agreements with other equally powerful autonomous agents.

  • Justice, fairness, and liberty are primary values. Emphasizes especially rights of non-interference – the right to be left alone.

  • Emphasizes the contract model – the model appropriate to public life, dealings with strangers

  • Uses theoretical, deductive methods: what’s moral follows logically from application of general rules and principles. E.g., from “All abortion is sinful” it follows deductively that “Mary’s abortion is sinful,” and that’s the end of the moral analysis.

  • Since women do not typically reason about moral matters in this way, “guy morality” usually downgrades women’s moral capacity. E.g. both Schopenhauer and Freud (not to mention some versions of Christianity) say that females are morally childlike, inferior, and in need of moral guidance from men.

  • Emphasizes on “clean hands” – decency vs excellence, casuistry, hair-splitting.  The big question is: can I justify my behavior in terms of some rule? If yes, then I’ve done all I need to do.  There’s no need to strive for more moral excellence than is required by the rules of my contract with society.

  • Emphasizes the need to change people who are “bad,” for their own good!


“Gal morality”

  • Moral cases concern individuals, no two of which are exactly alike, and all of whom have individual histories and faces

  • The world is full of disparities of power and rational capacity. Poor people are less powerful than rich people, children are less powerful and less rational than adults, women in many cultures are far less powerful than men, old people sometimes cannot function autonomously, etc. Women see these disparities of power very clearly because they often experience them, and because women tend to be the ones responsible for taking care of the other less powerful people: children, the sick, the old.  Women know that you can’t just leave some people alone (e.g., babies).

  • Concepts of rights and equality must therefore be balanced by concerns for those who simply cannot participate fully in contracts. “Gal morality” emphasizes rights of recipience.

  • Moral judgments are not necessarily arrived at deductively: sometimes morality requires creative, integrative responses that preserve relationships, even at the expense of “principle”

  • Emphasizes accepting others without necessarily changing them

  • Emphasizes excellences of virtue – going beyond what is stipulated in the rules of the contract. Think of all the things you’d do to raise your children well. Now think about how many of them are commanded by, say, the 10 commandments.





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