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How does one approach the question of whether a Western nation should permit

How does one approach the question of whether a Western nation should permit women to wear full-body-covering Islamic dress? I'm not asking for the answer to the question, but for guidance in attacking it. How do you balance individual freedom and religious freedoms against other values? Thank you, Mark M.

Some people take the line that any woman who wears this outfit is irretrievably caught up in a submissive relationship with men, and so the costume should be banned, or at least discouraged. Any woman who says she really wants to wear it is suffering from false consciousness, and the same policy applies. But the evidence is that many woman want to wear it, and say they feel liberated by wearing it, and say with some plausibility that it is the women who are wearing clothes which they think are alluring to men who are in a submissive relationship, not them.

I often disapprove of the clothes people wear. On cold days young women often wear very few clothes since they wish to display their bodies. They have on their feet shoes which look dangerous, even if they are not. There is now an enthusiasm for tattoos, and I am sure they are often dangerous and certainly painful things to have applied to the skin. I remember in the past having a discussion in class about Muslim clothes and the class all highly disapproved of this sort of subjugation to a certain style, while at the same time their faces and bodies rattled with a huge number of piercings that they had enthusiastically paid to have applied to them.

There is a lot to be said for the traditional liberal policy that if something does not harm anyone else, you should allow someone to do it. If I want to walk down my road with a sheet over my body, or dressed as Superman, or as a giant rabbit, I think I ought to be free to do so.

Does the "ethics of care" have a special relationship with Feminism? It seems

Does the "ethics of care" have a special relationship with Feminism? It seems that Feminism can be justified under lots of ethical theories. A Utilitarian could argue that since women experience pain and pleasure, their welfare should be factored into our felicific calculus. A Deontologist could argue that women have rights, and it is wrong to violate those rights. So what makes the ethics of care a more Feminist theory than other moral theories, like Utilitarianism and Deontology?

To expand a little on Charles' answer, some theorists draw careful distinctions between "ethics of care," "feminine ethics" and "feminist ethics." An ethics of care is one in which the locus of moral goodness is in relationship; as such its emphasis is on particular, embodied individuals in concrete, historically-situated patterns of interaction. As Charles points out, it is generally taken to arise from Carol Gilligan's work in moral psychology (as opposed to ethical theory, and this is an important distinction also; moral psychology is descriptive -- saying how things are -- while ethical theory is normative -- saying how things ought to be). Gilligan observed that women are more likely to assign moral value to relationship, and so care ethics is often described as "feminine ethics," although it is certainly not the case that all or only females think this way. "Feminist ethics," as those who draw the distinction understand it, takes care ethics a step further, and focuses on lived relational experience characterized by oppression and marginalization, recommending ways to overcome this oppression and marginalization. Many feminist ethical theorists would say that standard ethical theories (utilitarianism, deontology, Aristotelian virtue ethics, etc.) fail to take seriously the systemic features that entrench oppression and marginalization.

Why does it seem that everything that I read in philosophy always uses "she" or

Why does it seem that everything that I read in philosophy always uses "she" or "her" instead of "his" or "he"?

Hurray for singular "they". Apparently good writers have long used it--

This is not a new problem, or a new solution. 'A person can't helptheir birth', wrote Thackeray in Vanity Fair (1848), and evenShakespeare produced the line 'Every one to rest themselves betake' (inLucrece), which pedants would reject as logically ungrammatical.

Quote (and more on the subject) is here.

Is it morally defensible that men are allowed to go topless in certain public

Is it morally defensible that men are allowed to go topless in certain public situations while women are not (e.g., at the beach or pool, park, gym, etc.)? Are the people opposed to women gaining this right prudes, or do they have a legitimate ethical basis for their position?

Your question raises a number of really interesting issues.

One of these is how to distinguish ethical questions from non-ethicsones. Could it be the case that your question about toplessness doesnot raise any moral issues at all and so isn't the sort of questionthat can be answered by appeal to ethics? You are right, of course,that questions of nudity strike an emotionally-charged nerve in ourculture. But does this necessarily mean that these responses are bestunderstood or assessed as ethical responses? For example, people in ourculture feel strongly about table manners but these seem to beculturally relative and more a matter of etiquette than morality. Arepeoples' positions about toplessness akin to those non-moral questionsof etiquette? If so, maybe it is wrong to seek a specifically ethicalassessment of the norms and conventions you wish to understand.

Another important ethical issue arises no matter how you address theissue I just described: The ethical significance of the norms andconventions surrounding nudity, regardless of whether those norms havean ethical basis or are non-ethical along the lines of merelyconventional judgments about etiquette. What are the significance ofthose norms and conventions on individuals' lives? How do they relateto significant issues of gender and equality? Do they reinforce or arethey reinforced by an unethical cultural system of patriarchy ormisogyny? I suspect that your question engages many significant issuesrelated to feminist philosophy and so could be used to explore thoseissues.

So, those are two wider sets of issues that your question raises in mymind. With respect to narrow answers, different ethical traditions willtry to answer your question in different ways. For example, today I wasreading a wonderful book on ethics, Jesse Prinz's The EmotionalConstruction of Morals (Oxford, 2007). Prinz argues that, on the onehand, morality is subjective, not objective, but, on the other, moralfacts are real. He writes, "Moral facts are like money. They are socialfacts that obtain in virtue of our current dispositions and practices.They are as real as monetary values and even more important, perhaps,in guiding our lives" (p. 167). So, Prinz would answer your question bysaying that the moral fact of the matter about toplessness is to beinterpreted and assessed by looking at "dispositions and practices"embedded in our culture and might say that widespread dispositionsopposing public toplessness by women is a moral fact about our culture.Prinz wouldn't say that moral judgments are objective in the sense ofuniversally valid, but he would say that they nonetheless really existin our culture -- just like money. Other ethical traditions willprovide different answers, and adjudicating between those competinganswers raises another huge question: the comparative strengths andweaknesses of the various approaches to understanding morality andtheorizing about ethics.

I have a question concerning the gender of words that exist in many languages,

I have a question concerning the gender of words that exist in many languages, except in English. What does the presence of grammatical gender in a language say about the mentality of its speakers? A different question is whether the features of a language reflect the characteristics of the societies where it's spoken in a largely unconscious and involuntary way. (Modern) Persian, spoken in Iran and Afghanistan, doesn't have the feature of grammatical gender (anymore), just as English. Many say that the languages that do have grammatical genders are sexist, and that they help to perpetuate the conviction that sex is a tremendously important matter in all areas. For Marilyn Frye, this is a key factor in perpetuating male dominance: male dominance requires the belief that men and women are importantly different from each other, so anything that contributes to the impression that sex differences are important is therefore a contributor to male dominance. Societies whose languages do not have...

As a matter of fact, there are some psychologists and psycholinguists investigating the very question you ask. Lera Boroditsky, at Stanford University, has data that suggest that speakers of languages that use broad gender marking do associate more feminine characteristics with things whose names are marked as feminine, and more masculine traits with things whose names are marked as masculine. You can read a summary of that research here: She argues that these and other data show that language shapes thought. However, psycholinguists at U Penn (Lila Gleitman and John Trueswell), and at Delaware (Anna Papafragou) argue against the view that language shapes thought in this way. (Here's a link to a very readable paper by Gleitman and Papafragou on this topic:

I don't think that Frye's case depends on how this particular debate comes out. Her point is that there are multiple ways in which everyday life demands that individuals make clear what their gender is. She calls this "mandatory sex announcing." The fact that our language gives us no neutral personal pronoun and no neutral form of address (it's either "sir" or "madam" or "miss") is one thing that makes us have to find out someone's gender even if the person's gender is completely irrelevant to our purposes in referring to or addressing that person. Think of writing a letter to someone when you cannot tell from the individual's name whether that individual is a man or a woman. (Think of how hard I had to work to write those last two sentences without using a pronoun!) But language is just one factor, one way in which our social practices and conventions make it necessary for us to classify people as "men" or "women."

I am reading some philosophy and psychology about happiness, and much of the

I am reading some philosophy and psychology about happiness, and much of the work proclaims that we must act in order to be "happy" (Aristotle, William James, as well as more popular writers such as Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie and Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi). As you will notice, they are all men. Are there difference in how female philosophers describe and prescribe "happiness" (or subjective well-being or flourishing)? Thank you.

The four major views of happiness (aka subjective well-being) are that happiness is constituted by:

1) Pleasure (and the absence of pain)

2) Fulfilled Desires

3) Virtue

4) A number of different sources that form an objective list of some sort: usually including things like pleasure, fulfilled desire, virtue, but also friendship, knowledge, or beauty.

Of course, this list of theories is an oversimplification since each of the theories has a number of variations. I'm not aware of any correlation between gender and preferred theories. I think theories one and two are the most dominant theories among philosophers and psychologists. Theory four seems to be the 'common-sense' theory that most people intuit...(but academics are often drawn to theories one and two because they attempt to reduce all the sources of well-being posited in theory four to a single value). Theory three enjoys a lot of classical support and still has contemporary supporters as well.

I should also point out that there is an ambiguity in what you might mean by needing to 'act' in order to be happy. The older thinkers like Aristotle meant that we needed to '(act)ualize' our human potential in order to achieve happiness. I'm not sure that concept 'maps on' to what we currently think of as being 'active'. An interesting variation of Aristotle's theory was advance by Maslow several decades ago.

You might also be interested in my forthcoming book, The Prudence of Love, which argues that there is a connection between possessing the virtue of love and subjective well-being on all four of the above theories.

A state legislator recently came to the local high school recently. Naturally,

A state legislator recently came to the local high school recently. Naturally, teenage boys and girls tend to be convinced that the world is out to get their gender exclusively. One of the boys asked why it was okay for the insurance company to charge him three times as much as they charged his sister for car insurance. Apparently she’s a reckless driver and he’s a shut-in who hardly uses his car. The legislator said that it was a double standard but that there was no gain in attacking it. Instead of lowering the price for men the insurance company would simply raise the price for women and then nobody would benefit. Is this justification for what the legislator allowed as generalizing, stereotyping, and straight sexism acceptable in a modern society? What about the feminist movement? Is it possible that instead of placing new value in women it’s simply devaluing men? If so is it acceptable? Should we try a new more idealistic approach to equality?

It seems to me that the legislator is misrepresenting the argument for charging young men more than young women. The argument is that insurance companies calculate risks based on statistics they gather about groups. Even though the brother and sister are exceptions to the generalizations, the generalizations about dangerous driving are statistically sound, and when calculating risks it is reasonable to rely on generalizations. You are unlucky if you are an outlier in your group, but the existence of an outlier doesn't make it wrong for the insurance companies to use the best statistics they can gather. Whether or not you agree with the conclusion about relying on generalizations, the point isn't about gender at all. It's about how to calculate risk and whether insurance companies should be entitled to charge individuals more if they are in a high-risk group. If we assume that insurance companies are permissible, then I can't see how they can not rely on generaliations, since they wouldn't be able to function otherwise. As far as I can see it, there is no double standard, stereotyping, or sexism here and the legislator is misguided.

On the latter set of questions you raise, it is a common complaint against feminism that it simply reverses the historical devaluation of women and instead values women at the expense of men. I see no evidence of this in the example or in the broader feminist movement. If you think it is true, then it would be interesting to discuss a different case.

Mary Warnock says we have a right to have children. It's a question I asked

Mary Warnock says we have a right to have children. It's a question I asked myself in the waiting room of a fertility clinic as I was registering for IVF treatment - it's a question I continuing asking myself as I see more and more gay fathers flying off to exotic lands for their offspring through surrogacy. How can we conciliate the right to have children with the exploitation of women? Best regards Pensiero Rome, Italy

The right to pursue certain goods (such as having children, or making money) does not justify using immoral means (such as exploiting women, or stealing) and does not entitle one to success (being a parent, or being rich). There are many ways to try to become a parent (or a wealthy person), some legal and some illegal, some moral and some immoral.

Perhaps you think that the right to have children is more of a right than the right to make money? (Like, for example, basic rights for food, shelter, education or health care.) Even if it was a universal human right to become a parent (which I doubt), it would not follow that there are universal human rights to be a parent by any particular means (such as IVF, surrogacy, adoption etc.)

There are many ways to become a parent, and as those in the adoption community often say, "second choice does not equal second best." I wish you the best.

I married from back home because of certain cultural pressures. He seemed like

I married from back home because of certain cultural pressures. He seemed like an all around nice guy but when he got here he changed. He admitted that he had put on a show in order to convince me to bring him here and now he is trying to control me. He also always fights with me over money matters. At the moment we are separated but not divorced and I am contemplating whether or not I should divorce him. He does not leave me alone but constantly hurts me and thinks I am cheating on him. I also caught him trying to start affairs with women both abroad and local and I feel I cannot trust him. When he came here I liked him but now I feel little to nothing towards him and I think he wants to use me for some end (hence why he wants to get back). Also he frequently hints that it's good to use women for money and etc., and then dump them for other women... Although this may not be the right place to ask such a question but what do you philosophers think of the situation? I think it would be interesting...

Leave him. He's a creep.

Let me explain. From your description of him, your husband seems to regard and treat you as a mere object for his own satisfaction, and his satisfaction consists largely in giving you pain. If this is accurate, then it seems to me that you are under no obligation to continue to tolerate his company.

Hi, here comes another question about feminism and philosophy and feminist

Hi, here comes another question about feminism and philosophy and feminist philosophers. I am 30 years old and was a student of philosophy in Germany for 6 years before graduating to Master of Arts. Recently I read a book about 19th century's feminists and stumbled over a small notice concerning John St. Mill's "Subjection of Women". Although I would describe myself as a quite diligent student of philosophy (even in high-school) and also very interested in feminist topics, I never knew about this well known philosopher being a feminist as well. Now I ask myself three questions and hope you can help: 1) How can it be explained that even at university level the discussion of a classic philosopher like Mill never touches the bad F-word (i.e., feminism)? And who is to blame? 2) If even students of philosophy do not touch these topics if not accidentally altough it should be their genuine field of activity, how will other people, to whom the matter is quite distant, ever find out? 3) How many other...

Your experience may be more reflective of philosophy in Germany than of philosophy more generally. There are at least three relevant factors. German students specialize early while students in the US, say, take a broad range of courses in diverse fields during their undergraduate studies. In particular, they take broad (often mandatory) Western civilization courses that focus on philosophical materials that (i) integrate well with non-philosophical materials produced at or around the same time and (ii) are attractive and helpful to students through their relevance to present society. This relates to the second point, that universities in the US tend to reward (often quite directly) teachers and departments for attracting students; and it's rather easier to attract undergraduates to feminist themes than to, say, the philosophy of language. All this in turn reinforces the third point that German academic philosophy tends to be a bit narrow and conservative.

While feminism certainly has a presence in US universities, it tends to be segregated. We have women's studies departments, for instance, and the occasional philosophy course on feminism. Yet gender issues are still not well integrated into courses on moral and political philosophy, professional ethics, and the like. And likewise for philosophical publications. There are some very good feminist writings, but virtually all the major books on moral and political philosophy, professional ethics, and the like ignore the very interesting issues raised by the systematically differential life chances women and men have in virtually all existing societies.

For an accessible discussion of who else has written on this topic, I would recommend Susan Okin's books Women in Western Political Thought and Justice, Gender, and the Family. The former deals with some older, the latter with some more recent treatments of the subject (both feminist and anti-feminist). You can probably also find out a great deal through the internet. One easy way to start is with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy ( with various subentries). But I also found a lot of interesting stuff through a google search for (jointly) feminism and philosophy.