Wollstonecraft asserted: “I here throw down my gauntlet, and deny the existence of sexual virtues,” adding that “women, I allow, may have different duties to fulfil; but they are duties, and the principles that should regulate the discharge of them … The revolutions of the Enlightenment age motivated some men as well as women to reconsider inequities in education at a time when notions of universal human rights were gaining prominence.As Joan Landes observes, Marie-Jean-Antoine-Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis de Condorcet was an extraordinary advocate for the rights of women in France during the same period who argued in 1790 for “the admission of women to the rights of citizenship” and “woman's equal humanity on the grounds of reason and justice” (Landes 2016).
Although Masham sharply disagreed with aspects of Astell’s work, she too would later come to be credited with “explicitly feminist claims,” including objections to “the inferior education accorded women” (Frankel 1989, 84), especially when such obstacles were due to “the ignorance of men” (Masham 1705, 169, quoted in Frankel 1989, 85).
Masham also deplored “the double standard of morality imposed on women and men, especially …
Readers interested in themes evident in the fifty years of feminist ethics in philosophy will find this discussion in section (2) below, “Themes in Feminist Ethics.” Prior to 1970, “there was no recognized body of feminist philosophy” (Card 2008, 90).
Of course, throughout history, philosophers have attempted to understand the roles that gender may play in moral life.
Not all feminist ethicists correct all of (1) through (3).
Some have assumed or upheld the gender binary (Wollstonecraft 1792; Firestone 1970).Feminist philosophical endeavors include bringing investigations motivated by feminist ethics to bear on ethical issues, broadly conceived.Feminist ethics as an academic area of study in the field of philosophy dates to the 1970s, when philosophical journals started more frequently publishing articles specifically concerned with feminism and sexism (Korsmeyer 1973; Rosenthal 1973; Jaggar 1974), and after curricular programs of Women’s Studies began to be established in some universities (Young 1977; Tuana 2011).Whatever the focus of feminist ethicists, a widely shared characteristic of their works is at least some overt attention to power, privilege, or limited access to social goods.In a broad sense, then, feminist ethics is fundamentally political (Tong 1993, 160).Yet such philosophers presumably were addressing male readers, and their accounts of women’s moral capacities did not usually aim to disrupt the subordination of women.Rarely in the history of philosophy will one find philosophical works that notice gender in order to criticize and correct men’s historical privileges or to disrupt the social orders and practices that subordinate groups on gendered dimensions.This is not necessarily a feature of feminist ethics that distinguishes it from “mainstream” ethics, however, since feminist analyses of ethical theory as arising from material and nonideal contexts suggest that all ethics is political whether its being so is recognized by the theorist or not.Since feminist ethics is not merely a branch of ethics, but is instead “a way of ethics” (Lindemann 2005, 4), philosophers engaged in the above tasks can be concerned with any branch of ethics, including meta-ethics, normative theory, and practical or applied ethics.Representative authors writing in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries discussed below explicitly address what they perceive to be moral wrongs resulting from either oppression on the basis of sex, or metaethical errors on the part of public intellectuals in believing ideal forms of moral reasoning to be within the capacities of men and not women.In the early-to-mid-twentieth century, at the same time that became a more popularly used term in Europe and the Americas, more theorists argued influentially for ending unjust discrimination on the basis of sex.