Category Archives: Feminism

Ethical Theory…

First, a definition — ethical theory is kind of like a formula for ethical behavior or to make ethical decisions… when you APPLY it to a problem.

There are more or less four kinds of ethical theory — theories that look at consequences, theories that look at motivations,  holistic theories that ask ‘what are the elements of being a good person’, and contractual theories.

Consequences: — (or consequentialism) — look at the outcomes of the theory, is the result of the action going to make something “better”.  Better can mean either improving a situation by increasing “good” — OR, decreasing “bad”.  The most commonly discussed consequentialist theory is utilitarianism.  It defines “good” as more or less pleasurable.. so, an action is good if it overall increases pleasure or decreases pain.

To make a decision based on utilitarianism, you simply need to look at all the possible pain and pleasure coming from the action, then do the thing that provides the greatest net increase in good/ decrease in pain.  Note, this MAY be different from the ‘greatest good for the greatest number of people’… because, an action may be very good for a small number of people…

What this theory does well is to help a person choose between existing options to do the thing that will do the largest possible net good… so, it tells you which particular action is the best.

Motives — (deontology, Kant.. for the most part) — asks, is the person’s motive or reason for action good.  Kant’s reasoning works like this — The only absolutely reliably good thing is a good will — or good motive.  He then developed the Categorical Imperative as a test to see if a person’s motive for action (or will.. ) is a good one.

To make a decision based on motives, Kant’s Categorical Imperative requires that, if others knew your motives, they would agree to the action — and, it asks if you would want to live in a world in which others acted as you want to act?  This is generally speaking the “universal” formulation of the Categorical Imperative.

Kant continues to give other examples of his Categorical Imperative — one of the really important ones is the means/ ends formulation — which directs you to always treat others as an ends, and never as ONLY a means.  Translated, you should not use people to get what you want — you should not withhold information that would make them disagree with the “plan” (i.e. lie to them) — because, what you’re doing is ignoring the fact that they’re an autonomous person (one who has the ability to make decisions about their own life).

You can see how this is a version of the universal formulation — if the action you wanted to take were “universal” — including knowledge of your motives, would that be acceptable?

What Kant’s theory does well is to eliminate possible actions  — the problem is that it does not suggest one course of action as the “best”possible thing to do.  To narrow down the one course of action among all the permissible ones (the ones that pass the Categorical Imperative), you may use any criteria you’d like.

Holistic theories — The general idea here is to ask what a “good” person does?  So — for example, a virtue theory would ask what a good person would do in a particular circumstance?  The answer, is that they would be virtuous, and a list of virtuous characteristics would follow.  Feminist ethics of care are similar, in that they ask what a good person would do, and the answer centers around making good choices for their family and those in their immediate circle of care.

Contractual — These are theories that are more or less ‘good is what we agree is good’ — kinds of theories.  One major kind of contractual theory is the Social Contract theory — in which, whatever the society deems to be ‘good’ IS good.  Nothing is good objectively, in that there is nothing about the action itself that can determine what is or isn’t ‘right’.

Another version of the contractual theory are the multitude of professional codes of conduct.  So, for example, legal ethics centers on what it means to be a “good” lawyer.  That may include NOT breaking a client’s confidentiality if they tell you they’re guilty etc.

Both holistic and contractual theories are often said to be ‘incomplete’, in that they depend on another theory about what is or isn’t right to come to a final decision about the permissibility of an action.  On the other hand, they tend to capture how we, as human beings actually DO decide what’s right.


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Filed under Business Ethics, Ethical Theory, Ethics, Feminism, Medical Ethics, Military Ethics


Removing life support while pregnant, or why Texas sucks…

This really happened…

In late November Ms. Munoz suffered a medical event that caused her to lose consciousness.  When her husband found her, she was unresponsive and most likely had brain damage.

Munoz was a medical professional who had made it VERY clear to those around her that she didn’t want to be on a ventilator if her prognosis wasn’t good.  That day in November her prognosis was grim.  The hospital in Texas put her on the ventilator anyway, because she was pregnant.

It took her family TWO MONTHS to get this decision reversed.  Two months the poor woman was subjected to treatment she had explicitly said she didn’t want, and she trusted her family to prevent exactly that from happening to her.  The hospital interpreted a Texas law that requires them to treat pregnant woman, because Texas is concerned with the unborn.  Even when there is no evidence of viability, even when the mother’s articulated wishes are otherwise, even when (as in this case) it’s likely that the fetus was so damaged by the medical event that it would not survive the pregnancy.  Nope, woman pregnant = woman’s choice about her medical care denied…

Way to go Texas.

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March 24, 2014 · 2:37 pm

Feminism and ethics… the ethics of care..


So, feminism — The idea is pretty simple, a person’s sex or gender shouldn’t be the reason to get more benefits or carry heavier burdens than another person.  It’s evolved in many different directions, but in general feminism (now) sees male/female/ambiguous persons as worthy of equal consideration.

How this relates to ethics is a bit more complicated.  Feminists recognize that a person’s point of view is both inescapable AND informs their perceptions of the world.  SO, I’m a white, female, liberal, northern, heterosexual, hippie with a good education.  That means my point of view (or standpoint, as it’s often called) influences how I relate to the world and how I interpret the actions of others.

Everyone does this, there is NO ‘neutral’ point of view.  The problem is that the wealthy, educated, white, male, philosophers and scientists didn’t see this.  They assumed, because they only really talked/worked/collaborated with folks like themselves, that everyone was like them.  Thus, they came up with the idea of objectivity, they thought it was possible AND they thought they were objective.  People who didn’t think like they did were somehow deficient, irrational or otherwise non-functional.  Often that group included all women.

The ethics of care developed when feminists realized that the ‘objective’ point of view was flawed, because objectivity isn’t possible.  SO, anything that has objectivity as a founding premise has a flawed premise.  Systematic means of making moral choices fell into that category, thus they needed to be supplemented or replaced.  The proposed replacement is the Ethics of Care.

Now, don’t get me wrong here — feminists don’t outright reject ethical theory, because of the underlying ideas that we should maximize utility, have good intentions, try to be overall good people, or abide by the social contract — it’s just that they realize that there is another good way to make moral decisions that doesn’t also reject the way that women have been making moral decisions on behalf of their families for generations.

The practice of the Ethics of Care is relatively simple, the idea is that a person can and should make moral decisions within a context.  So, what may be a good decision at one point may not be so good later.  It requires a person to take all impacted persons into account and do the thing that is the best overall for the family, group or person — balancing interests and realizing that sometimes a family needs to make a sacrifice for the good of one person, just as one person may need to make a sacrifice for the good of the group.

The point of the Ethics of Care isn’t to imply that men cannot be moral in that way, only to recognize that traditionally women have been making moral decisions based on the principles of the Ethics of Care for a long time, along the way raising good men and women to go out into the world and do good things.  Until very recently, women have been the ones at home with the family and men have been out there in the ‘real world’ making money etc.. so, it’s traditionally been the case that women have made these decisions.  It would be against feminist principles to assume that men cannot make decisions using the Ethics of Care.

On a personal note, y’all should realize that I’m the main breadwinner in my family — my husband cooks, cleans, does photography etc… and is generally more responsible for the domestic tranquility than am I.  It’s the way things work out between us, and I’m happy that we can make it work that way, because he’s much better at all of that than am I :).

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Filed under Business Ethics, Environmental Ethics, Ethical Theory, Ethics, Feminism, Medical Ethics

Sex… some choices are ok, others aren’t?

family image


In my spare time (i.e. while folding the laundry), I’ve been watching “Sister Wives

As you may have figured out by now, I’m a feminist.  I’m married to a man who is my partner.  I happen to make more money than he does, and he happens to be a much better cook than I am.  It works out that I buy the groceries, he cooks them…

IF we were a gay couple, it would generally be ok with society and in many states we could get married.  BUT, if we were a polyamorous couple/triad, a polygamous group etc, we’d be looked down upon.

The problem is folks like Warren Jeffs — who seem to conclude that their faith-based call to have multiple wives trumps basic decency, child abuse law etc.  What’s refreshing about the show Sister Wives is that every wife enters into the relationship as an adult.  They are not related (although one of the wives’ mother is married to the husband’s dad — or something like that).  They send their kids to public school and generally give them the freedom to see the options other folks take. They have decided, as adults, to arrange their family lives in an unusual way, but a way that works for them.

It doesn’t take long watching the show to conclude that the husband is a goof-ball, and the real strength of the family is the wives’ relationships with one another.  They actually like their alone time, they know where he is when he’s not with them, and clearly he has sex with all of them, as he has at least 18 kids between the 4 wives.

I’m not sure why we ought to be judging their behavior?  They choose to live that way, they can leave just as easily as any other married person, yet one of the themes of the early shows is their persecution by the Utah authorities…

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Filed under Applied Ethics, Feminism

Care ethics.. or ethics based on feminism..



Feminism is more than just the project that women are people too… it’s a way of looking at the world using a lens of concerning ourselves with the suffering of others — while valuing differences among us.

Feminists looked at the theories you’ve learned so far (utilitarianism, deontology, virtue ethics, social contract ethics) and realized that, among those theories, there was nothing to account for the way in which women often made decisions within the home.  Thus, the ethics of care.

They are explicitly reacting to the seemingly objective standards produced by the other theories.  Those theories purport to look at a situation using a particular lens and decide, objectively, what is or is not moral.  Instead, the ethics of care advocates that we ought to 1) pay attention to folks around us, looking for a means to help if we can, 2) accept the responsibility we all have for one another’s happiness and well-being, 3) act in a competent manner to help when we can, 4) accept the idea that individuals are sometimes vulnerable, and if YOU are the vulnerable one, you should accept help.

This may result in seemingly ‘unfair’ situations — for example, it may be the case that parents making decisions on behalf of their kids will choose in one circumstance to permit a behavior, and in another circumstance to punish that same behavior.  This is because the parent are considering several factors — including the impact on the whole family, the particular combination of child and circumstance, as well as what seems to work best overall at the time.

The advantage to care ethics is that it recognizes the fact that we ARE inter-connected, that we CAN see what others need, and that we CAN help them, and we have a responsibility to do so.

When you think about the actions of feminists in a larger-picture, you see that the ethics of care are at the base of many of their movements toward social justice, fighting the patriarchy, addressing issues of privilege etc.  It’s a good thing :).

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Filed under Ethical Theory, Feminism

Pinkwashing… ask questions…

blog, pink mixer..

The ubiquitous pink ribbon month is here.  You can’t buy tic-tacks or a blender without a frigging pink ribbon.  I can’t buy cat food, milk, coffee or many other products without participating in pinkwashing.

Five years ago I was doing chemo — for breast cancer.  I was bald, exhausted, and generally sick of thinking about cancer every day.  The pink ribbons made me want to hide in my apartment until November.

The thing is, it feels to me like very little of the money actually goes to breast cancer research and support of breast cancer patients.  If a reasonable percentage of the profits from the sale of everything with a pink-ribbon on it went to help actual patients or research every breast cancer patient wouldn’t have to think about paying their bills while in treatment — the folks doing the cancer research wouldn’t have to fight for money to continue their research and generally treatment would be less expensive (my relatively brief treatment was about $500,000 —).

If it were the case that this money actually went to help breast cancer patients, my VERY first stop when I went to the cancer center for the first time wouldn’t have been with the woman who checked my insurance, saw it was good, and let me go — although, being the inquisitive person that I am, I asked her what would have happened if my insurance hadn’t been good… she said she’d then ask about my 401K, whether I own a house or generally have a lot of money.  I shudder to think what would have happened if I didn’t have the means to pay for it.

Every morning my partner and I stop for coffee on our way to campus.  Most mornings I just decline to buy Amy’s Blen — some mornings I tell them that I gave a breast to breast cancer research and other times I tell them I took my clothes off for Of Scars

of scars, me..


On the other hand, if y’all want to participate in pinkwashing, go ahead — if it makes you feel better, makes you get rid of some karma, make  yourself somehow immune to breast cancer by buying cat-litter with a pink ribbon, go ahead.. but understand that most companies are using the pink ribbon to sell stuff and aren’t all that forthcoming about how much actually ends up supporting cancer and cancer patients..

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Filed under Applied Ethics, Business Ethics, Feminism


It’s sexual harassment… dumb-ass…

So — this article ticks me off, a lot.

First, the tone-deaf attitude that it’s easy to bring sexual harassment charges when you’re a grad student and the harasser is a prominent member of your department — umm.. NOPE!

Second, the implication that she only thought it was sexual harassment when her boyfriend decided to stand up for her — putting himself at risk too..

The thing about grad school is that it’s a huge gamble — you dive in hoping for a job.  Those jobs depend on good recommendations from prominent people in your field.  One of those people decides that they take a shine to you and you have no good way to resist.

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October 9, 2013 · 9:56 am