Kant's moral theory and Feminist Ethics: Women, embodiment, care relations, and systemic injustice

In Pieranna Garavaso (ed.), The Bloomsbury Companion to Academic Feminism. pp. 459-482 (2018)
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By setting the focus on issues of dependence and embodiment, feminist work has and continues to radically improve our understanding of Kant’s practical philosophy as one that is not (as it typically has been taken to be) about disembodied abstract rational agents. This paper outlines this positive development in Kant scholarship in recent decades by taking us from Kant’s own comments on women through major developments in Kant scholarship with regard to the related feminist issues. The main aim is to provide an overview of the philosophical resources already available in the literature as well as a sense of where main interpretive and philosophical challenges currently lie. More specifically, I start with a brief summary of the kinds of statements Kant makes about women that give rise to the many interpretive and philosophical puzzles facing anyone who reads his philosophy carefully. I then provide a brief historical overview of many of the pioneering women Kant scholars who made it possible for there to be so many excellent women scholars in the Kant community today and for firmly establishing the condition of woman as a point of inquiry on the philosophical map. The last section is organized in themes to give the reader a sense of the current, related discussions. I provide an overview of the more recent literature regarding Kant on women, embodiment (sexual objectification, sexual activity, sexual violence, abortion), care relations (marriage, dependents, servants), and systemic injustice (poverty, sex work, and oppression). As we will see, these many engagements with Kant’s philosophy not only help us to better understand our inherited women-undermining and problematic dependency-furthering institutions and practices, but also provide ample philosophical resources that can be utilized in our efforts to envision the project of reform such that we can achieve a better future for each and all.

Author's Profile

Helga Varden
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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