Can traditional ethical theory meet the challenges of feminism, multiculturalism, and environmentalism?

Journal of Ethics 6 (4):383-405 (2002)
This paper aims to evaluate thechallenges posed to traditional ethical theoryby the ethics of feminism, multiculturalism,and environmentalism. I argue that JamesSterba, in his Three Challenges to Ethics,provides a distorted assessment by trying toassimilate feminism, multiculturalism, andenvironmentalism into traditional utilitarian,virtue, and Kantian/Rawlsian ethics – which hethus seeks to rescue from their alleged``biases.'''' In the cases of feminism andmulticulturalism, I provide an alternativeaccount on which these new critical discourseschallenge the whole paradigm or conception ofethical inquiry embodied in the tradition.They embrace different questions, goals, toolsof analysis, and wider audiences, typicallyignored or marginalized by traditionalethicists.I illustrate my argument through briefinterpretations of writers such as Susan Okin,Catharine Mackinnon, Sandra Bartky, JohnStoltenberg, Richard Wasserstrom, AnthonyAppiah, Charles Mills, Will Kymlicka, CharlesTaylor, and Martha Nussbaum. In many of thesecases, I suggest that they provide us with newways of being ethicists.In the case of environmentalism, I defend amore conservative and negative assessment.Sterba embraces authors such as Peter Singer,Tom Regan, and Paul Taylor in order to advancean environmentalist ethic of ``speciesequality/impartiality'''' and ``biocentricpluralism.'''' Here I argue that the traditionalKantian/Rawlsian ethics – which Sterba hopesto accommodate – actually provides compellingmoral reasons for rejecting his principles of``species impartiality'''' and biocentricpluralism. Moreover, Rawlsian ethics canprovide a more coherent, consistent, andplausible account of environmental issues thanSterba''s brand of environmental ethics. Iargue that in practice, his ethics concedeswhat it denies in theory – namely, the specialvalue which inheres in human beings.As such, environmental ethics, unlike feminismand multiculturalism, poses very little in theway of a credible challenge or alternative totraditional ethics.
Keywords critical race theory  environmentalism  ethics  feminism  multiculturalism  Rawlsian ethics  traditional ethical theory
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DOI 10.1023/A:1021242903091
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