University of David
Moral psychology, broadly construed, deals with issues relating to motivation of moral action. More specifically, it concerns how we see or fail to see moral issues, why we act or fail to act morally, and whether and to what extent we are responsible for our actions. Fundamentally, it is concerned with our moral agency, the kind of beings we are or ought to be, morally speaking. Feminist moral psychology deals with what feminists, in particular, have contributed to the field of moral psychology, or the ways in which their approach to these issues is motivated by feminist concerns, especially in connection to understanding and attempting to end women’s oppression. The feminist contribution to moral psychology has been at least three-fold. First, some feminists emphasize the role of emotion in action; in particular, they stress the motive of care in prompting action. They do so for the reason that emotion in general, and care in particular, have been ignored or denigrated in traditional moral theory due to their association with women. They believe that if we are to end women’s oppression, we should incorporate into our philosophical theories things associated with women and with the feminine and so previously left out. Other feminists, though, worry about how care in particular can be harmful to women, and believe that incorporating care into moral theory will perpetuate women’s oppression. Still other feminists challenge the internalist thesis that motivation is necessarily present in the rational agent who recognizes a reason to act morally. Second, feminist attention to oppression has led those feminists working in the field of moral psychology to acknowledge the role of systematic oppression in the psychology of both victims of oppression and oppressors themselves. One issue is the role that patriarchy plays in a person’s motivation and subsequent action. How does patriarchy affect women’s desires? Can women be autonomous if their desires are deformed by patriarchy? Does the satisfaction of women’s deformed desires contribute to their own oppression? What motivates those who perform sexist acts that contribute to women’s oppression? A related issue, the third that feminists working in the field of moral psychology are concerned with, is that of responsibility. To what extent are we responsible for our actions when they are motivated by desires deformed by patriarchy? Are victims of oppression in any way responsible for their own oppression? Are they responsible for resisting oppression? Are members of the dominant social group responsible for understanding oppression, and how can they come to understand it? Are men collectively responsible for women’s oppression, even when it is not the case that each man harbors sexist intentions?