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What are the major criticisms contemporary feminists (specifically those discussed in Virginia Held's article) make against traditional ethical theories?
Traditional ethical theories, according to Held, and many feminist philosophers, tend to claim they are gender neutral, but in fact, they privilege the experience of men. Take, for example, the tradition of the social contract that pervades the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and others. An ethics of contract (contractualism) is based on the idea that in society conflicts must be resolved, controversy abated, but this view is from a man’s perspective. Thus, the moral framework is based on resolving the issues of men in the public sphere. Ethicists have discounted the private world of mothers and their children, in favor of what plays out in the world stage. Why is this a problem? If Ethics is supposed to provide a normative model for how people should act, then it should be applicable to both men and women. Part of the problem is due to the history of philosophy which has been primarily written by men. Feminist moral theorists confront this problem, and by doing so, offering the experiences of women as a counterpoint to male dominated ethical theories. For example, the ethics of Kant suggests that all human beings have the potential to be rational actors in the public sphere, but what Held tries to show is that often interactions between people is made up of equal power positions. Not only between women and men, but between parents and children. A mother must care for her child, but also negotiate her own needs with that of a dependent person; compared to Utilitarianism, for example, that argues the greatest good ought to be for the greatest number of people, the assumption is that everyone is an equal partner in the distribution of the good. Philosophers typically have not looked at the role of mothers enough in formulating theories. The relationship between a mother and child is one based on care, cooperation, and building community....
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