Ethical Reasons and Political Commitments

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Political commitments to resist oppression play a central role in the moral lives of many people. Such commitments are also a source of ethical reasons. They influence and organize ethical beliefs, emotions and reasons in an ongoing way. Political commitments to address oppression often contain a concern for the dignity and well-being of others and the objects of political commitments often have value, according to ideal moral theories, such as Kantian and utilitarian theory. However, ideal moral theories do not fully explain the ethical reasons political commitments engender. First, ideal moral theories do not explain the normative priority that agents give to politically committed ethical reasons. Their profound effect on a politically committed agent’s ethical deliberation and choice and the precedence they are given over other ends cannot be wholly understood through the moral obligations within ideal theories. Second, although politically committed reasons are valuable in ideal theory for the benefits they bring to others, they are not fungible with other reasons ideal theory would regard as having equal ethical value. A person might substitute another beneficial humanitarian aim for that to which she is politically committed and nevertheless regard herself as having done a morally wrong thing for failing or betraying her commitment. Politically committed ethical reasons are also motivated and informed by the social location of agents and their relationship to structures of oppression. Although there are universal ethical reasons to oppose oppression, this means that some of a person’s actual ethical reasons will be irreducibly particular.


Contribution to Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Theorizing the Non-Ideal, a collection of feminist essays that self-consciously develop non-idealizing approaches to either ethics or social and political philosophy (or both).


Feminist Ethics and Social and Political Philosophy: Theorizing the Non-Ideal,