Reconciling feminist politics and feminist ethics on the issue of rights

Journal of Social Philosophy 30 (2):260–275 (1999)
Should feminist ethical theories include rights as a component? There is a tension between feminist politics and the endorsement of the language of “women’s rights,” and feminist ethics and its critique of rights.1 In this paper I begin the project of reconciling moral theories that include rights as a component with feminist criticisms of rights. There are two parts to this project. First, I must respond to the criticisms feminists have made against rights theories in order to show that it is possible for a moral theory that includes rights to be a feminist moral theory. Answering these criticisms is necessary if I am to establish that moral theories that include rights are among the candidate theories from which feminists might choose. Second, I must develop a feminist moral theory that encompasses rights, and argue for its superiority to other sorts of moral theories in order to show that a moral theory that encompasses rights is a plausible feminist moral theory. Going beyond responding to criticisms and developing a positive feminist rights theory is necessary if feminists are to find rights theories to be attractive candidate moral theories.2 In this paper I am concerned mostly with the first part of the project, responding to some feminist arguments against theorizing about morality in terms of rights, although in the course of responding to the objections I make remarks that might suggest ways in which some rights theories might be developed as feminist moral theories.
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