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Category Archives: General
Abolhassan Sadighi, Villanova University
“Reparations and Profiling After Ridding of Race” by Abolhassan Sadighi deals with the concept of race primarily in America, the nation that most propelled the need for race’s creation and continual usage, and first examines the history of race, determining it to be a social construct with no biological merit. While the morality of the creation and usage, as well as their resulting perceptions and problems, are discussed, the focus is on reparations and racial profiling. Reparations, particularly certain types of affirmative action in this case, are determined to be fair as long as they parallel the systematic removal of race as an active conscious and subconscious social determinant. Racial profiling is determined to be immoral, not because of the racial aspect but because of the use of profiling in general that is immoral across the board. Since America catapulted the concept of race as a justification for its past injustices, Natural Rights views prove the points made and show how any other theories or views would only continue the “American Paradox” that has negatively affected too many people for too long.
Elizabeth Giles, University of Miami
If certain theories about action are correct–ones that say that an action can be formulated as a ‘bringing about of a certain result’–is there any hope for ethicists who want to make a means/ends distinction? In this paper I will be delving into this issue on the side of applied ethicists who would like to maintain something like a means/ends distinction. My guiding example will be a pacifist’s commitment to peace. I will be arguing that pacifists can justify their action as peace producing by invoking a means/ends distinction captured in Philip Pettit’s distinction between honoring and promoting a value. Although I concede that an action can be formulated as a ‘bringing about of a certain result’, I do not think that this move negates the spirit of the means/ends distinction. Since action is temporally thick, ‘the certain result’ brought about by a given action will depend on what point in time you consider that the action as complete. Also, since most actions have a rich resultant outcome with many ‘consequences’, determining which results are relevant to the value in question differentiates actions in a way analogous to how the traditional means/ends distinction serves to distinguish actions.
Elisa Ruhl, April 26, 2003
The founding twentieth-century work of Freud, Piaget, and Kohlberg established the psychodynamic, social learning, and cognitive theories of Western moral development that have come to be accepted today (Bukatko): ultimately emphasis lies on the social interactions in the early stages of development as the principle determiner of an individual moral code. If moral development in children is necessarily influenced by society, then on a large scale, this effect on American children promotes self-interested individualism and moral relativism because of the values and messages endemic to general American culture. Carol Gilligan expanded Kohlberg’s theories to expose the distinctions between social comprehension of male versus female moral agency, emphasizing the significance of the “care ethic” among females. Because of severe differences in socialized gender identities, Muslim cultures place an extreme value on maintaining this care ethic among females to varying degrees. In its strictest sense Islam requires religious and therefore moral interpretation exclusively by males; females are considered too emotional and irrational, unfit for duties outside of the home. Where feminist liberation has progressively been blurring the lines of gender roles among modern Western cultures, foreign Muslim modernity on the surface equates to repression (Bernal), because of a tendency to judge values different from our own. Culture defines ourselves yet limits our understanding of others when they are forced through an unaccommodating sieve. This paper explores these issues surrounding the perceived subjugation of Islamic fundamentalist women and the implications for moral agency among females — specifically from a Western perspective.
Before diving into specific features of Muslim culture, a working definition of “American culture” would be helpful, as well as an explanation of my basis for such a premise. I am operating from an admittedly narrow scope, collectively identifying traits and behavioral patterns that emerge across the numerous cultural distinctions among populations within the United States. Because my comparison will focus on cultural characteristics espoused by the particular religion of Islam as it materializes in Middle Eastern and North African nations, perhaps a more thorough study would include evaluation of the various religious and ethnic entities that are present in the United States, including Muslim American institutions. Such breadth is not within the range of this project.
“Culture” here then is classified as the general social characteristics presented by typical education, media, and government policies and the ensuing reactions of citizens to these conditions. I propose here that it’s difficult to imagine a particular moral theory objectively being applied to a culture that holds different values than those from whence the theory evolved. There is no Archimedean point when comparing cultural outlooks, as feminist philosopher Lorraine Code has noted in Engendered Spaces:
The stories that are implicated variously in the making of knowledge and epistemology are neither homogenous nor independent of one another.… [R.G.] Collingwood’s ‘question and answer logic’ aims to attend to the voice of past history- and philosophy-makers, to engage, empathetically with the problems that engaged them (Code 154-6).
Cultural stories are not justly served through coalescence. Recognizing common traits perhaps allows the compassion required for sincere empathy towards a different group or individual, but to assume there is one universal female experience — to “add women and stir” — denies both cultural legitimacy and identity. Likewise, isolation is a roadblock to understanding:
Elizabeth Potter shifts the site of knowledge production into communal, interactive, epistemic negotiations, maintaining that isolated individuals ‘cannot produce language — much less the knowledge it embodies.’
Americans who judge foreign cultures according to their own criteria of valuation are guilty of isolating themselves from the context of Muslim identity. Collingwood’s call to “engage empathetically with the problems that engaged [those we’re studying]” requires isolation in the sense of objective impartiality, yet inclusion to the degree of appreciating distinctions as parallel rather than inferior.
W. Arens has discussed this concept in the field of archaeology: academic attitudes support social theories that are necessarily biased, because the theories consider the primary culture to be the “normal” starting point. Such was Carol Gilligan’s research motivation, as well. Having assisted Lawrence Kohlberg’s studies on moral development in children, she objected to the practice of studying boys first, drawing generalized conclusions, then embarking on follow-up studies among girls. Female moral development, because different from the ways males processed information, was determined to be deficient. It is a fallacy to presume that cultures are qualitatively diverse just because communal values are not identical. Indeed, it is these value distinctions — American individualism versus Muslim solidarity — that help distinguish one culture from another.
The democratic ideal itself directly involves Americans in shaping cultural traits through the power of representation. Specific interaction is found in school board meetings, community watch groups, legal proceedings, and political elections. The voice of the masses speaks through these and other forums, directing the norms and principles that the collective society is deemed to value.
Morality likewise issues its appeal largely on a societal level, proposing values and goals which are in turn directed as individual priorities. Political theories that emphasize least intrusive government and maximal individual autonomy reinforce the relative nature of moral decisions, exemplified through a woman’s right to abortion, movements to remove legislative barriers to drug use, and even the democratically-perceived fundamental rights to religious freedom and choice.
Measuring success by financial gain and power by wealth, consumerism becomes a nationalistic virtue. Social consciousness and collective responsibility are reduced to issues of individual motivation and accountability, under the generalized presumption that all people “are created equal.” The society is perceived to thrive as a unit of successful individuals, each pursuing self-determined paths of accomplishment — via the power of personal decision. Individual decision-making is held responsible for financial gain, and success is measured in these economic units. The clichéd “American dream” looms contingent on material wealth: on stable employment, increasing wages, home ownership, and savings for college tuition and retirement.
An ironic effect of promoting capitalistic success as the principal personal motivator is an increase in the social unrest the theory seeks to alleviate. Goods are perceived as benchmarks of success and presented as goals worth striving for. Extreme distribution of wealth, however, prevents mass populations from achieving these ends through legitimate means, thus morally objectionable acts — such as selling drugs to impoverished neighbors — become the most accessible bridge to wealth and perceived freedom. There is a gap between means and ends.
Furthermore, tendencies in judgments concerning moral acts appear to suggest that self-regarded consequentialism is a primary concern, even among social groups and national focus in many areas, such as the least intrusive government toward maximal individual autonomy mentioned earlier. Is an action morally wrong if it hurts no one beyond oneself? The emphasis on financial advantage encourages actions that maximize personal gain, from sneaking expired coupons past an unsuspecting grocery clerk to embezzling millions of dollars from creatively-accounted-for corporate profits. Despite rule-oriented messages specifically prohibiting particular behaviors, mixed messages reinforce a relativistic moral approach, perpetually stagnating moral development within an egoistic perspective.
Despite what I refer to as “capitalist consequentialism,” an overriding American virtue imposes the superlative value of individual freedom as a presumption of human rights across the globe. I proceed here with the recognition of an American tendency to find fault with situations that restrict personal liberty, perhaps to the degree of deducing that any culture imposing limitations on the sovereignty of women is subsequently violating their rights. I acknowledge this first to moderate any suspected personal bias on my part as an American author, but more importantly because the influence of such American social stereotypes upon my subject of moral development among foreign Muslim females is legitimately relevant.
Modern Islamic Identity
In an extensive report on the evolving Islamic condition in the north Sudan, Victoria Bernal describes a return to religious fundamentalism as the Arab world’s response to pressures from Western capitalistic competition (38-42). The past several decades have witnessed an increase in the strength of Muslim fundamentalism worldwide, with revised laws and cultural practices that seem extremely conservative compared to the less restrictive tolerance that was in effect comparatively recently (38). While she contends that the “return” to “tradition” is more of a change towards new ways than revisiting prior constraints, Bernal confirms that Muslim cultures are definitely changing. She associates this momentum with a complex trend among impoverished and emerging nations to imitate wealthy states like Saudi Arabia.
Successful involvement in the “capitalist world economy” through oil trade has offered opportunities for prosperity among select Muslim people (39). Cultures as distant as Malaysia have embraced the socio-political ideals of their most successful role model, striving “to be ‘good Muslims’ by emulating Saudi Arabian practice” (41). Beyond actively rejecting Western values and “express[ing] resistance to Western domination… Islamic fundamentalism… embraces a positive identity… and a vision of prosperity and civilization” more advanced than that the agricultural, subsistence-based populations have experienced (42).
As indigent male Muslims like the rural Sudanese travel for income as migrant workers, they are exposed to the sharp cultural distinctions evidenced in flourishing Saudi Arabia. The styles of clothing, modes of decorum, and absence of women from public view are perceived as synonymous with higher culture. Adopting similar practices as those observed in Saudi society unifies Muslim factions across various nations and simultaneously raises the bar of what constitutes success. Much as capitalism in America motivates people to seek financial gain, the visible evidence of a stable market economy in the Persian Gulf inspires Muslims to attain the privileges of wealth. Because the religious order is so closely intertwined with the government and social milieu of successful Muslim nations, a strict approach to Qur’anic interpretation becomes the prescription for similar success among aspiring populations (Bernal). In this regard, the values of individuals within Muslim cultures, like those from the West, are influenced by societal goals.
Social Learning Theory
That this change is occurring among Muslim cultures is indisputable. Bernal offers a motivational theory that parallels my hypothesis about the effects of capitalist values on Americans. Social learning theory defines conditioning as the process of developing attitudes and behavioral tendencies in direct response to experiences and observations of others — parents, peers, and other members of society. Decisions about which actions are morally the best options are guided in the child by a “fear of punishment for violating rules and self-rewards for good behavior” (Bukatko 537). The conditioned behaviors that the child learns initially through imitation are through repetition internalized within the child, forming a larger library of action possibilities and outcomes to reference in future similar scenarios (Bukatko 538).
The Essence of Morality
Where children — and adults — in the United States learn appropriate behaviors by observing the actions and reactions of others, the repetition aspect is particularly significant in Muslim cultures. Traditionally, from the age of six Muslim boys have been taught the Qur’an word-for-word, through repetition (MacDonald 287); they learn it “by heart.” This is the foundation of education. The laws of the Qur’an are regarded as literal mandates for good living, and all education from that point forward refers back to the Qur’an for authentication, even today (Torab 236).
Behaviors and beliefs modeled by parents and other adults reinforce the understanding children have of which actions are acceptable and which are not within particular settings and their society. According to M.L. Hoffman’s 1975 research on altruistic behavior, general behavioral attitudes that are held to be valuable to parents tend to be valued also by their children, such as expression of a “belief in helping others” (Bukatko 539). The Qur’anic emphasis is so dominant in Muslim culture that children understand few other options than those that are presented to them as the definition of what it means to be a Muslim. Their very identity is contingent upon abiding by the moral laws prescribed for them, and male or female, they continue the traditions that are modeled for them by male and female adults.
Hoffman also determined, however — at least in Western society — that examples of negative behavior often appear to make a stronger impact than the positive, rule-abiding behavior that is modeled by adults. According to his 1970 study and L.I. Rosenkoetter’s 1973 examination of resistance to temptation, “children are very often likely to follow a role model’s deviant behaviors rather than his compliant ones” (Bukatko 539). This could be attributed to the general nature of guiding rules; acceptable behavior if expected will be modeled with rare comment or notice. Behavior that violates the codes children have learned and come to recognize as expected, however, is more noticeable by its sharp contrast to conformity. Transgressions and transgressors would also be more likely to be subjects of scorn and criticism, verbal or otherwise. Yet perhaps because children view adults as the primary rule-makers, thus moral authorities, witnessing just one adult blatantly violating a rule — without permanently-debilitating consequences — opens another possibility to the child’s repertoire of behavioral choices.
The severe consequences frequently bestowed upon transgressors of Muslim law generally prevent negative behaviors from being adopted, a case of effective deterrence, even if considered cruel or unusual by American terms. A 1990 demonstration protesting recent Saudi Arabian bans on women driving and being involved in politics ended with a serving of punishment issued to the families of the female protesters:
[Husbands and wives had] their passports confiscated, those employed as teachers were suspended from their jobs, [and] some were subsequently harassed by phone callers accusing the women of sexuality immorality (Doumato 32), [a crime sometimes punishable by being stoned to death] (Berman).
The Saudi government’s reaction was swift and far-reaching,
inject[ing] fresh vigor into the image… of ideal Islamic womanhood as secluded wife and mother.… a television programme featured a group of little girls singing a song with the words, ‘I am a Saudi woman and I do not drive a car’ (ibid.).
The names of specific demonstrators were posted publicly as “‘… the sluts who advocate vice and corruption on the earth’” (ibid.). Of the 49 names listed, many from “well-known families,… prominently displayed at the top were the names of five women with the title ‘doctor’” (ibid.).
Women in the workforce, particularly functioning in roles traditionally reserved for men, were trouble-makers whose crimes would not go unpunished. The humiliation brought to their families by raising their voices against authority became an example of the intolerance for negative role modeling. Furthermore the demonstration backfired by prompting a reactive campaign to further tighten the gender-specific chains. Saudi leaders saw their country as first and foremost an ideal Muslim community under threat of Western influence, such as the women’s liberation inspired partly by American female military presence. Those who dared to question divinely-ordered law were hoisted as examples of weak, inferior souls — and subsequent proof of the wicked chaos that erupts when women are allowed outside the home.
More significantly, orthodox Islam asserts that human beings lack the capacity to effectively determine right from wrong on their own:
Man [and certainly not woman] has no such faculty… the moral law depends upon the will of God and must be revealed by Him through the prophets… ethics are absolutely dependent upon revealed religion (MacDonald 287).
The structure for imparting this information is based on legendary stories of sages, prophets, and saints, whose wisdom through “illumination and supernatural powers [has been] bestowed by God” (288). All knowledge that humans claim can through Islam be traced to direct revelation from God (ibid.):
Men do not ask what the right thing to do under such and such circumstances may be; they ask what the Prophet did or said.… ‘The paths of our fathers — the old paths — we will follow’ (MacDonald 290).
Does this pose a paradox? A man must, it seems, hold some degree of epistemic faculty in order to identify true from false revelations. This reinforces the very point of contemporary Muslim fundamentalism, however: they’re striving to return to the laws God directly revealed to the prophet Mohammed, rather than live by the corrupted, degenerated interpretations of centuries since. More significantly is the message Mohammed is believed to have revealed: human life is a physical extension of religious experience, therefore every aspect of life must be directed toward the glory of God. Man is incapable of discerning moral truths on his own not merely because of rational limitation, but because according to Muslim creed there are no moral truths outside of religious grasps.
While several religious practices in the United States make similar claims about mortal inability to discover the path to righteousness independently, a key difference is the separation of authority of church and state. The American democratic legal system is secular; it is not based on divine command theory. There may be influences inspired by religious beliefs among its citizens — Americans sometimes vote for representatives who claim particular platforms often based on religious ideologies, such as the right-to-life anti-abortion stance — but the systematic structure of the legal system is independent of the types of spiritual commandments that determine Muslim law.
An Engendered Faith
Another key aspect of Islam is that it is an engendered faith, maintaining strict separation of men and women in religious and domestic practices. Not only is humanity in general unable to grasp an understanding of right and wrong unaided by divine command, but Muslim females are essentially regarded as everlasting children, too “overruled by emotion” to be responsible for their own lives, much less to make decisions that affect the lives of others (Torab 237):
[Islam justifies] women’s exclusion from leading religious posts. Women are… excluded from becoming judges.… Men often denigrate women’s talk as malicious gossip… and religious practices as merely superstitious (ibid.).
Women are declared “deficient in reason and faith” and yet this inequity is perpetuated by the separation. Religious rituals are distinctly male and female. Men attend prayer at mosques, women in the home (Torab 235). At prayer ceremonies, Iranian women cover their faces with black veils, exposing only one eye to see, “in order to envelope themselves fully from the gaze of unrelated men” (241). In the Sudanese village of Wad al Abbas a formerly-accepted practice of a bride dancing as part of her public wedding celebration has been abandoned; it is now recognized as “haram (forbidden and sinful) for a bride to dance in the company of men” (Bernal 46-47). No longer part of the matrimonial celebratory feast, alcohol has been banned in a community that once publicly produced it, prompting the “emptying of wares of bars and liquor stores into the Nile [River]” (49).
In the same society that looks to elder females as the “guardians of local culture” the respect for such knowledge is giving way to a unilateral embrace of masculine progress (52):
Women are regarded by men and women alike as ‘backwards,’ ‘ignorant,’ and irreligious… folk knowledge [is] simply regarded as nonsense (ibid.).
The shameful view of the irrationality of females was witnessed by Bernal in the Sudan village, as women wailed, shrieked, danced, and chanted at a funeral where white-robed men prayed quietly on mats. The women were forcibly removed, like children taken to the lobby at a social performance they were ill-equipped to respect, only they were chased and beaten — even a young mother nine months into her pregnancy (54). The hysterics are reminiscent of the zar cult of spirit possession, considered non-Islamic “and almost exclusively a female activity” (53). The local customs females are intimately connected with are looked down upon through the wisdom of pious men who have traveled and witnessed the Muslim ideal.
Gender-specific religious practices in Iran also focus on the piety of one’s spiritual commitment. A female prayer leader in Teheran is regarded as near-saintly by the women who attend her three-hour jalaseh gatherings, scavenging for her leftover cake crumbs and tea cup, convinced that her presence had blessed the food remnants (Torab 236) — this despite her insistence that as a mere female she can have no true knowledge of morality (237). She knows only what she’s been taught through male dispensers of Qur’anic wisdom, and this understanding she has gained through debatably coercive measures. Constructing a “temporary,” non-physical marriage between her young daughter and local male clergyman allowed her to make eye contact with and speak to the unrelated male responsible for her education (239).
“In this case a woman made a socially acceptable and creative use of [the potentially-stigmatized but legal arrangement] in order to further her education and piety” (239). Despite what free American women might deem subjugation, this Iranian woman sees moral agency as enacting the Qur’anic principles — and she advances her own self-concept while remaining virtuous.
Personhood is indivisibly identified in her faith with intention:
Intention is considered to be more important than the act itself.… Intention is a bridge that links the inner and outer self.… All intention must be followed by action.… faith means being subject to the will of God, [and] she speaks of intention in ways that imply that individuals also have wills of their own.… [Intention] can transform not only relationships between people, and between them and God, but also the personal experience of putatively “natural” facts such as gender (Torab 240-241).
Her agency is justified by her pure intentions to deepen her faith. Because her aim is pious, she sees no contradiction in taking advantage of loopholes within social law. The end justifies the means because both are bolstered by pious intentions. Becoming a religious leader is altruistic in the respect that she devotes her energy toward deepening the religious faith of women in her community. It is self-regarded, as well, because she achieves more complete “personhood” through ascetic devotion to Islam, despite her gender deficiency (241). The values appropriated by her community are her motivations, as well: she achieves spiritual wealth through a consequentialist action that ascends Islamic stairs.
Upward Mobility and the Ethic of Care
In her book In a Different Voice:Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, Carol Gilligan explores a comparable situation among American females, who appear to rationalize moral decisions with more regard for other people than males would in similar situations. This phenomenon is associated with an “ethic of care,” the inclination to show compassion and act in accordance with the concerns of others — often at the expense of one’s own interests. Gilligan sees this tendency resulting from the socialized position of females:
The experiences of inequality and interconnection, inherent in the relation of parent and child, then give rise to the ethics of justice and care, the ideals of human relationship — the vision that… despite differences in power, things will be fair;… that no one will be left alone or hurt (62-63).
Gilligan would see the Iranian woman’s response to her situation as befitting her image of herself as situated in the world, maximizing the options that are open to her. “The reinterpretation of women’s experiences in terms of their own imagery of relationships thus… provides a nonhierarchal vision of human connection” (62). This reinstitutes the stability and moral grounding of relationships that otherwise would degrade the female when viewed in the (perhaps more accurate) hierarchal order (ibid.). Ordeal is opportunity. The pious woman offends as few others as possible while concurrently advancing her capacity to positively influence the lives of others. Her own advantage — achieving an education and spiritual self-actualization — is realized only within the stipulation that she follow the rules and not offend those around her. Is this an externally-imposed restriction? Possibly. But her status as a moral agent possessing an independent will indicates that she is capable of making choices that despite their difficulties would in fact challenge society’s directives. She chooses the path that reinforces the integrity of relationships.
The marital restrictions of Muslim law reinforce the concept of woman’s place as wife and mother — to the extent that she conjugally satisfies and doesn’t interfere with the intentions of her husband. Divorces are granted at the discretion of the male and polygamy continues to be accepted in many cultures, including Turkey as recently as the 1980s despite the abandonment of Muslim law for secular, seen as progressive by Western nations (Rahman 454). Traditionally “if a husband deserted his wife or was missing for a period, the woman could marry again,” within time periods ranging from one to ninety-six years (Hanafi law reasoned “that the average life expectancy is about ninety-six years, therefore the wife can remarry only when her husband can be presumed dead”) (460). Maliki law, more commonly adopted, set the time at four years, the maximum gestation period Imam Malik himself claimed to have observed (ibid.).
Technically the Qur’an declares husband and wife “equal [in marriage,] except that since the male is made responsible for the maintenance of the family, he is in that respect ‘one degree higher’” (Rahman 456). Indonesian law says the man “is head of the family and the wife the head of the household,” and Tunisia further stipulates that because of this, “she owes him obedience” (ibid.). A Saudi Arabian fatwa (religious decree) cites the Qur’an: “Men are guardians of women by what God has favored some over the other” and in true patriarchal fashion, “women and children are cited together as individuals in special need of government protection” (Doumato 33-34).
In the Sudan the financial responsibility is taken seriously, as the men who work abroad do so to financially support their families. The improvements made to their homes mimic the “modern” trends of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, replacing two-foot mud boundary fences with six-foot concrete walls to obstruct the view of their wives from other villagers (Bernal 45-46). “Women generate no income… and are primarily engaged in food preparation, child care, and other domestic tasks” (44) suited to the “natural inborn tenderness” (Torab 237) Gilligan discovers through their attention to relationships.
Whether this regard is socially-imbued or innate is the heart of the nature/nurture debate, but female versus male moral development differs significantly as a result. Where American women make decisions inspired by the recommendations of significant males in their lives, foreign Muslim women similarly maintain peace and order by abiding by the dictates of male-determined moral law.
In the men’s absence, however — and even under their noses by operating within the confines of gender-specific arrangements — Muslim women experience a transcendence that is an important part of their identity. While Sudanese men travel, their wives are left to raise their families, experiencing a “personal autonomy” that “potentially [threatens] male authority in the family and society” (Bernal 58). Women run social functions, handle finances, and even have limited access to education in many areas while “some men are almost like guests in their own houses” (ibid.).
The care ethic that — nature or nurture — keeps females caring for children inside the home also inspires allegiance to the very system that the Western world is inclined to see as imprisoning them. To the Iranian spiritual leader her moral decisions are not complicated. They are guided specifically by the social influences that constitute her world. If as moral psychological theory tells us, emphasis lies on the social interactions in the early stages of development as the principle determiner of an individual moral code, then loyalty to Muslim edicts appropriately follows Muslim female understanding of morally right versus morally wrong, to the further extent that one’s spiritual identity and very “personhood” rests upon it. Americans similarly cannot be expected to abandon the culturally-instilled values that place individual liberty before communal concerns, despite a correlating reinforcement of the personal-gain political system that mimics the fundamental Muslim continuation.
The disapproval Americans find in the female Muslim situation is the result of imposing our own concepts of flourishing on another culture. Carol Gilligan suggests that women should take pride in what is uniquely female moral reasoning — owning and enacting the female care ethic — rather than imprisoning oneself within the guidelines dictated by society. The female Iranian spiritual leader demonstrates this means of self-empowerment, rising upward despite what the West sees as potentially oppressive conditions.
The theories of moral development can be applied to different cultures, and the basic principles I’ve presented are valid in both American and foreign Muslim regards. The gender-specific distinctions have implications for moral agency, but I suggest that the larger issue lies with our perspective and approach to viewing what options are available within what constitutes a culture’s understanding of morality. This goes beyond cultural relativism. My aim has been to show that the language of moral philosophy is insufficient for its task if we limit “moral agency” to the exclusive referent intended by a single culture. Applying individual-centered, consequentialist ethics to the matter, Americans will be inclined to find fault with perceived limitations on human dignity. The Muslim concept of human dignity necessarily differs, however, based on the divine-specific authority that defines morality.
The Muslim female recognizes that she is not entitled to determine universal right from wrong. She has choices, however, and fulfilling her duty to uphold the values proscribed by Islam is her way of maximizing her powers of individual will. She is a moral agent both because she chooses the path of Muslim virtue — as an agent making a decision about moral obligations — and because she embodies the ideals of what morality demands according to her — i.e., her culture’s — very definition.
Arens, W. The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology & Anthropophagy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979
Berman, Paul. “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror.” New York Times Magazine. 23 March 2003.
Bernal, Victoria. “Gender, Culture, and Capitalism: Women and the Remaking of Islamic ‘Tradition’ in a Sudanese Village.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36.1 (Jan. 1994), 36-67.
Bukatko, D. et al. Child Development: A Topical Approach. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.
Code, Lorraine. “Voice & Voicelessness: A Modest Proposal?” Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on Gendered Locations. New York: Routledge, 1995. 154-84.
“Consequentialism.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. University of Tennessee at Martin. Online. Available url: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/c/conseque.htm. 14 Dec. 2002.
Doumato, Eleanor A. “Gender, Monarchy, and National Identity in Saudi Arabia.” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19.1 (1992), 31-47.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. 1982. 2nd ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993.
MacDonald, Duncan B. “The Moral Education of the Young Among Muslims.” International Journal of Ethics 15.3 (April 1905), University of Chicago Press, 286-304.
Narayan, Uma. Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third World Feminism. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Rahman, Fazlur. “A Survey of Modernization of Muslim Family Law.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 11.4 (July 1980), Cambridge University Press, 451-465.
Torab, Azam. “Piety as Gendered Agency: A Study of Jalasch Ritual Discourse in an Urban Neighborhood in Iran.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2.2 (June 1996), Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 235-252.
Whitford, David M. “Martin Luther (1483-1546).” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. University of Tennessee at Martin. Online. Available url: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/l/luther.htm#The Law and the Gospel. 16 Dec. 2002.
NB: “… necessarily influenced by…” does not entail “necessary for the development of.” My point is to apply social learning theories to moral development not expressly through the parental influence Freud suggests or the immediate peer groups identified by Piaget, but from the larger stimulus of general societal values overall. What messages does the culture as whole instill in its individuals? For my purposes, then, this is the source of comparison between American and non-American Muslim female morality.
Azam Torab extensively discusses these ideas based on her observations of a group of Islamic Iranian women in “Piety as Gendered Agency: A Study in Jalasch Ritual Discourse in an Urban Neighborhood in Iran,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 2.2 (June 1996), Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 235-252.
From R.G. Collingwood, An Autobiography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939, as cited in Lorraine Code, “Voice & Voicelessness: A Modest Proposal?” Rhetorical Spaces: Essays on Gendered Locations. New York: Routledge, 1995, 157.
Elizabeth Potter, “Gender and Epistemic Negotiation,” in Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter, eds., Feminist Epistemologies, New York: Routledge, 1993, 164-5, as cited in Lorraine Code, “Voice & Voicelessness: A Modest Proposal?” 158.
My use of the term “consequentialism” refers to the act-based ethical theory that weighs costs against benefits, ultimately determining an action’s moral standing according to the amount of good that results. “Consequentialism,” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, University of Tennessee at Martin, Online, Available url: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/c/conseque.htm, (14 Dec. 2002).
Ethical egoism is referred to as stagnation here based on Piaget’s concept of “expiatory punishment” (Bukatko 542). Punishment is seen as personally consequential, even if the ensuing events have little or nothing to do with the offense committed. This ego-centric perspective of justice is a determiner of an unsophisticated level of moral reasoning according to Piaget. I propose that such egoism is a subsequent by-product of a culture that rewards personal gain above communal concerns. Piaget’s theories are explained in D. Bukatko et al, Child Development: A Topical Approach, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992), 540-543.
A 1984 report estimated “the number of Sudanese working abroad… at over one million,” Labor Markets in the Sudan, (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1984), quoted in Victoria Bernal, “Gender, Culture, and Capitalism: Women and the Remaking of Islamic ‘Tradition’ in a Sudanese Village,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 36.1 (Jan. 1994), 44.
The past centuries’ development of Christian Protestantism emphasizes a break from the Catholic means of knowing God only through translation via priests. Martin Luther’s focus on natural law proposed that man is endowed with an understanding of God’s laws “through the conscience” but that salvation is achieved — rather than granted — through implementation of these laws in living out the righteous path described in the Gospels (Whitford). This is similar to Muslim demands to the degree that eternal salvation is earned through ascetic active agency, but the disparity rests with the means of imparting divine knowledge. To many Christians, man is rational and capable of determining virtuous choices. To fundamentalist Muslims, moral law can only be revealed through God. David M. Whitford, “Martin Luther (1483-1546),” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, University of Tennessee at Martin, Online, Available url: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/l/luther.htm#The Law and the Gospel, (16 Dec. 2002).
The 79th sermon of Imam Hazrat-e Ali helps establish the legal separation of men and women in Muslim communities today, and yet his meaning has been debated. Ali may have solely been referring to his wife Ayesheh, the daughter of the Prophet, who had waged war against him. These words are “taken as truth” by modern pious Muslim women and men who support the separation. Quoted in Azam Torab, “Piety as Gendered Agency,” 237.
The Qur’an has allowed for different types of divorces, including a mandatory three-month waiting period intended to ensure respect of the sacrament of marriage through reconciliation but also to prevent hasty decisions made “in a mood of extreme anger.” Iraq, Persia, and Egypt have in the past decreed divorce by the husband merely telling his wife “I divorce you” three times in one sitting. Fazlur Rahman, “A Survey of Modernization of Muslim Family Law,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 11.4 (July 1980), Cambridge University Press, 459.
Gilligan’s research focused heavily on American women deciding whether or not to have an abortion, in most cases making the decision based on the involvement of the father — both his degree of commitment to raising the child and the likelihood of maintaining an emotional relationship with him. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development.
Bernal reports that some Wad al Abbas (Sudan) women have graduated high school and hold jobs outside of the home, albeit dressed in their mandated towbs or chandor costumes, in Victoria Bernal, “Gender, Culture, and Capitalism: Women and the Remaking of Islamic ‘Tradition’ in a Sudanese Village,” 58. By the early 1990s Saudi Arabian secular female education allowed “a nation-wide system of secondary schools, eleven women’s colleges, and five universities which accept female students” — again with the restriction that they not be trained in professions that would displace men, such as engineering, geology, or meteorology. Eleanor A. Doumato, “Gender, Monarchy, and National Identity in Saudi Arabia,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19.1 (1992), 35.
Jeff Sebo, Texas Christian University
In this paper, I argue that incest, one of the most categorically renounced practices in the world, might just be morally permissible after all. First, I cite two influential arguments in sexual ethics — one from Alan Goldman, the other from John Corvino — and prove that both philosophers are committed to the moral permissibility of incest. Second, I consider two common arguments against incest: the claim that incest causes damage to the conceived child, and the claim that incest harms relationships and undermines the family. In a series of analogical arguments, I prove that each claim entails the impermissibility of acts that are not incestuous, acts that we would not willingly give up; as well as the permissibility of acts that are incestuous, acts that we would be quick to condemn. Finally, I discuss why we are all so opposed to incest even though we have no rational basis for our condemnation. I argue that false myths about incest, propagated not only by the media but also by contemporary philosophers, are the foundation of our prejudice; that we must reform not only our approach to sexual ethics, but also our approach to other moral problems, such as abortion.
Anthony Skelton, University of Toronto
Winner, 2003 essay contest
Henry Sidgwick’s The Methods of Ethics is widely regarded as a philosophical masterpiece. His other works, however, have a dubious reputation. Remarking on the latter, J. B. Schneewind wrote: ‘although interesting for the light they throw on his moral philosophy, [they are] too slight, too occasional, or too little original to be of independent significance.’ This is not true of all of them. Sidgwick’s Practical Ethics offers a novel way of dealing with practical moral issues, and therefore its reputation is undeserved.
In this short note, I will defend Sidgwick’s approach against Sissela Bok’s recent objections. In the first section, I argue that her diagnosis of the view’s alleged difficulties is flawed. In the second, I emphasize elements of the view that help to defend it, noting some affinities it has with those of the later Rawls. In a brief conclusion, I indicate how it promises to alleviate some difficulties facing modern practical ethics.
Julie King, University of Akron
Any time a person is killed their right to life has been violated. But how far will our society go to make sure that justice is paid to the killer? Some people believe that by executing the killer, the problem is being solved. By allowing the murderer to be executed, we are really letting violence run it’s course in our legal system and in our society. It is possible to find a punishment proportional to the crime without requiring execution. It is an excessive step that could be eliminated from our justice system. Evidence will show that the death penalty is not the best punishment to fit the crime of murder. Abolishing the death penalty would give people more respect for the human life and human dignity. It would also reinforce to society the message that only defensive violence is justifiable. There are other ways in which a murderer can be punished rather than by losing their life.
Annie Baril, University of Arizona
From whence are our moral obligations to others derived? If we accept Thomas Nagel’s argument, some degree of altruism, some ?willingness to act in consideration of the interests of other persons?, is demanded of us, on pain of irrationality. (The Possibility of Altruism, 79) If I am properly conceiving of myself as just one individual among other, equally real individuals, then another’s attitudes towards her own needs, interests, and desires (hereafter, welfare) ought to be, prima facie, reason-providing for me. I propose, contra Nagel, that altruism, in this sense, imposes on moral agents demands of equal force whether the potential recipient of moral action is capable of reciprocation or not. Nagel’s argument depends on second-order attitudes: another’s attitudes toward’s her own welfare is what ought to motivate us to act on her behalf. But it is ultimately the attitudes of someone towards her self and her own experiences, not her reflection upon these attitudes, that gives us prima facie reason to act on her behalf. What we see as the motivational force of reasons comes from the attitudes of the subject (which needn’t be second-order) from which these reasons are derived. Therefore the differences between humans and many non-humans (and between the rational and the non-rational generally) are not relevant to the establishment of claims on us as agents.