Understanding Consequentialism and Feminist Ethics: 2 Interesting Concepts

The Essence of Feminist Ethics Explained through Consequentialism!

Understanding Consequentialism in Feminist Ethics

Understanding Consequentialism and Feminist Ethics: 2 Interesting Concepts

It is often understood that consequentialism can quite effectively address the concerns of feminist ethics. Consequentialism is highly ignorant of the individual’s responsibility towards his/her family and friends and is too demanding for the individual itself. Instrumental justification for partiality can be explained, even though it is not instrumental in itself. Consequentialism largely deals with concerns regarding impartiality of a given norm, which results in several morally relevant issues if considered in the individualistic sense. Utilitarianism which is considered as a sub-variant of consequentialism as a moral theory: is highly imposing of the principle of Utility, which specifically derives its inclination towards considering a generalised moral understanding of any given moral issue regardless of its given context. Therefore, in the given context of women’s issues of feminist ethics, there are certain issues which are not specifically addressed by utilitarianism as such. Feminist ethics demands of a more gender-neutral moral theory and a universal theory by its nature, which accommodates the moral issues of both men and women. There has been quite an ambiguous understanding regarding the issues that concern feminist ethics and they generally revolve around relationships with embodied persons and are therefore considered to be highly abstract. On the other hand, writers like Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings pointed out that women’s experience of morality centers around issues which are much more concrete such as those concerning close and caring relationships as opposed to abstract embodied relationships and impartial norms. Driver argues that impartiality is considered to be a fundamental component of ethics since it corrects for the particular judgements, biases, prejudices that can help one enhance and influence their judgements. If one considers the moral doctrine as conceived conventionally, then perhaps it is to state that partiality towards friends and family is a form of illicit nepotism and favoritism. Several contradictions have been posed by Noddings such as those involving the unconditional love and care as presented by a mother to her children. And her primary argument by presenting the given instance is that of stating that several human relationships require some sort of partiality inherently involved to them. Several obligations to other humans arise as a result of display of sentiments towards the other individual such as being expressed in the realm of ethics of care. Without this partial caring for an individual, there would eventually be no morality in existence. Even Gilligan claims that women have a perspective about relationships which is highly concrete about the relationships in which they are in some or the other manner involved, such as engaging in communication and negotiation, and make the facts clear in a dilemma situation. The basic difference noted by philosophers such as Gilligan and Noddings is that they address the clear distinctions observed in the temperamental blueprint in that of men and women. Women do not observe or consider themselves as being in isolation, but rather in relation persistently with other individuals and therefore, women do not require a system of rules or norms to understand others and be impartial towards each other. According to Driver, it is essential to understand that partiality marks as an important milestone in terms of ethics and morality and there is necessarily no place for impartiality in ethics.

Understanding Feminist Ethics through Consequentialism Closely

“The observation that the good life must have a special place for norms that underlie and are characteristic of relationships and of self-perfection has not been restricted to feminists, but feminists have certainly lent it support, particularly by claiming that women seem to be the ones who emphasize partiality-it is relationships in the domestic sphere, for example, that are often marked by partiality. What kind of ethics would really prescribe a disinterested attitude here? We ought to pay more attention to our children than to humanity as a whole. We owe our family and friends more consideration, and ideals of family and friendship hold that it is perfectly okay, morally, to do what one wants to do, to go along with one’s feelings-and that, indeed, this can even be morally better than taking the god’s-eye view of one’s actions.” In regard to this, several philosophers attempted to accommodate partiality as a necessary norm directing their proposed ethical theories, since without them no other philosopher or audience was ready to accept an ethical theory which was impartial in all regard and aspects. Driver has attempted to accommodate consequentialism and utilitarianism as its sub-unit as being sensitive towards women’s issues and feminist ethics. Driver’s proposition: Consequentialism is understood to be functioning in an agent-neutral state, where the agent performs a morally correct action and is said to be morally correct, only if it maximizes the greater good and not the individual or particular good only benefitting himself or his sect/community. But at the same time, it can be further stated that regardless of consequentialism operating as agent-neutral, it does not necessarily have to be impartial, since it can as well tend to accommodate any act/behavior which might be partial towards themselves or their families.

But partiality can be observed in an ethical theory only to the extent that it consciously propagates the idea that it is appropriate for each individual to engage in it and not necessarily to be performed or observed by a selective few. Since otherwise it is necessarily regarded as a special pleading. Necessity of impartiality: It is helpful as a concept in deducing the issue of distributive justice, not limited primarily to government policy, but also in regard to intimate relationships, close-knit relationships with other family members and friends, etc. Driver suggests that consequentialism is not so close-ended in its approach, as do it might appear upon reasoning it practically. Therefore, if one combines impartiality along with conscious instrumentalism, then it might lead one to understand the method of engaging in moral thought. But at the same time, she considers that it is not the correct approach to understand consequentialism and is generally observed in a criticism of consequentialism.

Two distinct problems observed in Consequentialism under Feminist Ethics

  1. Impartiality: When practicing consequentialism to its ultimate essence, one has to necessarily forego their familial bonds and friendships, in order to pursue the purpose of maximizing the good for all alike, which demands them to help each individual, and not particularly focus upon a selected- few intimate relationships one engages in.
  2. Theoretically Unlimited Demands of Consequentialism: Since consequentialism, in its most traditional sense, places a heavy emphasis upon the doer to maximize the overall good, it seems like a persistent, unending task upon the performant, since it nullifies his/her individual existence and also neglects his personal needs and commitments of spending time with family members, engaging in recreational activities, pursuing personal problems, etc. since the sole responsibility of the individual in a consequentialist and impartial framework is that of maximizing the good of all, and thereby thinking of society on all occasions, pursuing tasks which involve the fulfilment of that purpose, even if it requires a heavy self-sacrificial attitude.

Therefore, in regard to feminist ethics, women oppose this approach to moral behaviour, since it is highly oriented towards a lot of sacrifice as has been observed historically in case of women and also that of men, in circumstances of warfare sacrifices, etc.

“The Angel of the House”under Feminist Ethics

Illustrated by Virginia Woolf, represented as an ideal female figure suitable for the household. Described as intensely charming, highly sympathetic, utterly unselfish, sacrificed herself daily, never had a mind or a wish of her own, preferred to sympathize with the wishes of others. Not represented as a real person, an inherent danger to someone caught in a benevolent ideal, needs to be wary of. It is used as an instance by Hampton, in a negative aspect to represent the ethics of care, but as per Driver, consequentialism as well demands a sort of self-sacrifice, even one restricts themselves to such self-obligations. These two problems can be addressed separately, but when one considers them as a universal entity in regard to consequentialism, then according to Driver, one arrives to a concept which can be considered awful than the former, it is termed as “the angel of the world” (gives her all to the others, in an impartial sense). This is considered more awful and requires more efforts towards the perspective of women, since it requires not just self-sacrifice, but also sacrificing a huge proportion of the love and affection towards the sole beneficiaries of it from a woman, such as her family, her children, loved one, friends, etc. Therefore, in the regard of both the angel of the world and the angel of the house, consequentialism seems to perpetually neglect the personal intuitions of a woman, and presses upon her the demand of considering the societal good as her topmost priority and it is criticized due to the inappropriateness placed towards one’s friends and family. Therefore, if consequentialism has to be practiced in a society, with regard to feminist ethics, then it has to be accommodative of a woman’s personal intuitions, and not primarily lead her to practice maximization of societal good. The issue that prevails along with neglecting special ties and relationships that require engaging in partiality, involve a particular attitude of self-sufficiency in ethics

“The Angel of The World” in Feminist Ethics

Subsumes her individuality, in wake of the world’s demands and does not carve out space for special obligations. Is not in possession of special concerns for her family and friends. To be specific, it would be paradoxical in a manner to describe her to be in observance of any form of friendship, since it shall not serve to maximize the good. She would engage solely in such friendships which serve to maximize the good and promote societal well-being. In her perspective, those individuals with whom she shall be interacting shall be the potential beneficiaries of her goodwill and benevolence but, at the same time would be potential contributors to the overall good of the society they live in. This is in contrast to the basic motive of engaging in a friendship, since friends are not considered to be a given means to propagate and promote happiness and overall good in the world, they are in turn considered to be ends in themselves, so are children and other family members. Critics of consequentialism point out this flaw in the moral theory and state that it views family and friends in an instrumental light. Which is not what the essence of consequentialism stands for, as per Driver, since it creates a distinction between decision making and forming a criterion to decide the rightness of an action. The decision-making procedure is performed by the agent himself and is not controlled or directed by utilitarianism as such. If one approaches utilitarianism as a form of consequentialism, that directs the criterion of the rightness of an action, after making the decision to engage in it, as performed by the agent himself, then it would be understood that one performs an action which is right and maximizes the good, but if one engages in the former by considering consequentialism as making the decision for an individual such as one ought to engage in only such actions which maximizes the good, then it might be criticized. But, if one approaches the latter method of the agent being independent to make the decision for performing the action, and then consequentialism proposing it as being morally correct or morally incorrect on the basis of whether it maximizes the good, then it would be regarded as a more appropriate method to approach consequentialism. Adopting a consequentialist decision-making procedure towards maximizing of the good is an incorrect method to perform the same and is not suggested as legitimate by most consequentialists. A good consequentialist is one who understands the distinctions between the decision-making procedure and the criterion of rightness for an action. For instance, as mentioned in Railton’s discussion about a couple, he mentions about a good consequentialist considering it to be a right action to go visit his ill wife who lives in a distant territory to that of his, it is important to spend money and meet his wife, rather than doing charity, since it represents him of performing duties of a good and responsible husband and as a result of character evaluation, one might consider the given instance as being a good practice of consequentialism, that the right action maximizes the good. But a person might under several circumstances, fail to perform such righteous actions and one cannot blame him/her under such circumstances. “Another way for the consequentialist to go is with a form of indirect consequentialism that defines right action in terms of some other thing, such as a rule, which is given a consequentialist spin. For example, one could argue that right action is motivated by virtue, or an action that the virtuous agent would perform, where virtue is then spelled out in consequentialist terms as, for example, a character trait that systematically produces good. In this case, we could say of Juan that he does the right thing by visiting his wife since that is what the virtuous husband would do. Of course, we are likely to get conflicting virtues-it is also true (or so it seems to me) that a benevolent person would send the money to Oxfam instead. But it should be clear that consequentialism allows for a variety of strategies in approaching this issue. The angel of the world, in this sense would not look at other individuals, or her friends and family members in an instrumentalist manner since it would interfere with the production of the good. One might argue that the impartial good might not be promoted if the angel of the world pursues certain special relationships like these in her life. But if one considers a sophisticated form of consequentialism, then it might in turn be promoting impartial goodness, since it signifies human happiness in a manner, since all humans engage in close relationships with those individuals with whom they experience the utmost happiness and being social creatures, one finds fulfilment in engaging in special relationships. This concession does not eliminate the impartiality of norms since it is employed at a higher level of justification, since one is in realization of the fact that all parents place a more emphasis towards caring for their own children than that of the former’s children. Agent-neutrality justifies the partiality norm, since in order to achieve greater human happiness, one needs to be partial towards their children in thought and action, since that is how humans as social creatures’ function. A consequentialist is not committed to follow an instrumental decision-making procedure in regard to making friends, or making the decision of making friends in the first place, similarly, one does not also choose their family members, but one can certainly make the decision about what sort of relationship one has to pursue with them. Therefore, consequentialists can evaluate special relationships and friendships instrumentally. Such kind of evaluation and monitoring is necessary, even if it is observed in the most passive sense, since it is inclination to what one believes in theory of a friendship to observe, to be implemented similarly in its practice. By this then, the angel of the world challenge can be met. One is still left with resolving the angel of the house strategy, and Driver suggests another strategy to be applied to the angel of the world as well. The demands one gives in to, creates further demands in the future and creates a burden of expectations for the individual pursuing each demand. A nuanced analysis of the element of trust and to what extent does it strive is essential in order to understand why the angel of the house is functioning in an incorrect manner. In relationships that are partial, one requires a certain aspect of involvement of mutual respect and the angel does not operate in such a manner. The angel does not expect a considerable amount of love and respect from those to whom she serves unconditionally her entire soul by way of sacrifice, and she should in fact expect the latter to give her some respect, even if they do not give it to her, since otherwise she is taken advantage of and by giving in to each of these demands, she is escalating the scope of future demands. Since she gives in to all the demands that arise, she is in a way raising the bar of expectations of desirable behaviour to arise from her side and since she is not displaying resistance over fulfilling any of these demands, therefore, she is wrong in being subservient to the idealism of maximizing the good by sacrificing her dignity, honor and worth. An exception can be made in the case of the younger children such as infants and babies, since they are the foremost beneficiaries of the mother’s unconditional love and care, but this cannot be applied in the same manner to the elder children, spouse, other family members. If the elder members do not reciprocate to her, then her affection for them is being abused. Consequentialism demands not the maximization of the good as performed by a single individual such as the angel of the house, but it needs to be manifested alike by all other individuals, to whom she serves her love and affection, and others. Since there is evidence of an uneven distribution of the responsibilities and love and care to be displayed equally by all individuals, and by performing more than one’s fair share allows them to do and sacrificing their personal needs of respect, affection, resources such as food, shelter, etc. one is gradually alienating themselves from the network of reciprocity, and it is crucial to observe it in all personal relationships. This is also against the general model of moral behavior, since all are expected to perform their respective moral duties to their fellow individuals to maximize the good, but since they do not let others perform these duties (exception of the most vulnerable) then they are taking unfair advantage of the goodwill of the angel. The angel is not doing a bad job by itself by performing all of her duties faithfully and giving in to demands of others, but to the extent she makes the task of the maximization of the good all the easier and more convenient for others to somehow engage in, she is acting in a deferential manner. Apart from her, her loved ones such as her friends, family members, spouse, children, etc. should be called upon since they hinder her trust upon them and also by taking advantage of her generous nature, she is misplacing her share from the network of reciprocity. Therefore, the purpose of consequentialism is not being fulfilled, since it does not maximize her happiness, since she is concerned with the happiness of others and not pursuing her happiness in that regard. Consequentialism at its core does not expect an individual to subserviently sacrifice their interests, identity and demands in order to maximize the good for others who are under their love and affection and it also does not expect individuals to break all ties of special friendships in pursuit of impartiality. It simply demands one to be concerned with a mutual network of reciprocity in a relationship, where there is mutual respect, care, affection, love, the good is maximized alike by all in their fair distribution of fulfilling their respective responsibilities and there is some level of partiality in order to experience happiness by making certain exceptions for their loved ones along with recognition of the norm of impartiality applicable to all. It also recognizes the exception to be made towards the vulnerable, as observed historically.


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