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More thoughts on Okin’s “Reason and Feeling in Thinking about Justice”

Another thing occurs to me as I consider Okin’s paper. Okin may be idealizing the family relationship and before using that idealized relationship as the basis for criticizing both Kant and Rawls. For example, I described in an earlier posting how the mother love bond may be a fundamental form of love, but it is not the only type of love. Why should this type of love, and only this type of love, invalidate Kant? Okin answers that mother love has a special place in the moral development and each individual human. But mother-love has not prevented hundreds of thousands of mothers from abusing their children in one form or another. And it is not clear that this abuse is exclusively a result or consequence of patriarchal dominance within a society. Families are functional or dysfunctional to the degree that their individual members are virtuous or not virtuous. These autonomous individuals influence each other, and influences most strong in the case of parents in influencing their children. However, influences have to include both positive and negative, and the negative must be capable of being transcended by individual choice. Were this not the case then society would be subject to some form of moral entropy, whereby over the course of generations individuals gradually devolve into complete immorality as each generation is further degraded by the generation that precedes it and gains nothing on the positive side. But since individuals are capable of transcending negative moral influence in their environment, whether from parents, peers or from larger society – regardless of how common this may or may not be – then a certain amount of individual moral responsibility has to be added to environmental influence. Were we to deny this individual moral responsibility – this individual choice – then we would be left with a very deterministic view of society.

All this is not to say that Okin does not make some very valid points. But in as much as she does this off the assumption that maternal love is an unequivocal good and that "to separate reason from feelings" (230) must fundamentally and negatively affect social justice, I’m not sure I agree with her.

One further point: Issues like caring and empathy are human capacities, not specifically female ones. Their socially accepted preponderance in one group (females) rather than another (males) may simply be a cultural bias in our time. But regardless of whether they are more common in men than women, I feel that they should be cultivated in both.

Kant, Immanual. "Groundwork for the Metaphic of Morals".  2006. PDF. Ed. Jonathan Bennett. (Nov. 2006). 20 Aug. 2007 <>.

Okin, Susan Moller. "Reason and Feeling in Thinking about Justice." Ethics 99.2 (1989): 229-49.

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