Inequality, Vulnerability, and Morality

Dissertation, University of Illinois at Chicago (1996)

Authors
Barbara Solheim
William Rainey Harper College
Abstract
Throughout our lives we participate in relationships in which inequality of power is unavoidable. We are infants and parents, students and teachers, employees and employers, to name a few. Contemporary moral theory has had little to say about the moral significance of these relations, yet any adequate moral theory must offer us guidance in our dealings with those who are vulnerable to us. ;The relations on which I focus are structurally unequal--they have a power differential as an inherent structural feature. I analyze these relations in terms of vulnerability, and then demonstrate vulnerability's moral significance. Among structurally unequal relations, the most extreme power differential is between parents and their children. I examine this relationship and develop an account of its morally significant features. I consider whether duty-based moral theory has adequate resources to guide parents. Due to children's vulnerability, I argue that parents' developing certain character traits is fundamentally important. I then conclude that a virtue theoretic approach offers better resources, both for the parent-child relation and, ultimately, for the many other kinds of structurally unequal relations
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