Criticizing the philosophical assumptions underpinning practices that denied girls adequate education, Wollstonecraft articulated an Enlightenment ideal of the social and moral rights of women as the equal of men.
Wollstonecraft also broadened her critique of social structures to encompass ethical theory, especially in resistance to the arguments of influential men that women’s virtues are different from men’s and appropriate to perceived feminine duties.
Not all feminist ethicists correct all of (1) through (3).
Some have assumed or upheld the gender binary (Wollstonecraft 1792; Firestone 1970).
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).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.Feminist ethicists who are attentive to the intersections of multiple aspects of identity including race, class, and disability, in addition to gender, criticize and correct assumptions that men are historically privileged, as if privilege distributes equally among all men regardless of how they are socially situated.They instead focus more on criticizing and correcting oppressive practices that harm and marginalize others who live at these intersections in order to account for the distinctive experiences of women whose experiences are not those of members of culturally dominant groups (Crenshaw 1991; Khader 2013).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.They argued that since females are rational, their unequal access to learning was immoral and unjustifiable.They explored meta-ethical questions about the preconditions for morality, including what sorts of agents can be moral and whether morality is equally possible for different sexes.For example, in 1694, Mary Astell’s first edition of , that challenged “those deep background philosophical and theological assumptions which deny women the capacity for improvement of the mind” (Springborg, “Introduction,” in Astell 2002, 21).At the time, some apparently attributed the first not to Astell, but to Damaris Cudworth Masham, a one-time companion of John Locke, since such criticisms of the injustice of women’s lot and the background assumptions maintaining their subordinate situation were familiar to Masham (Springborg, “Introduction,” in Astell 2002, 17).