Virtues of the self : ethics and the critique of feminist identity politics
Pollot, Elena Linda Maria
This thesis is situated at the intersection of feminist political theory, identity politics and moral philosophy. Its broader aim is to show the positive consequences of returning the self and its inner activity to the ethical domain for feminist identity politics. To this end, it brings feminist identity politics into dialogue with contemporary developments in virtue ethics, in particular Christine Swanton’s pluralistic virtue ethics. As its starting point, it takes issue with the tendency to reduce the complexity of identity to issues of category. The first part of the thesis problematises this tendency and argues for a reconsideration of the question of identity politics by shifting the focus away from identity per se and towards a more complex picture of the self that is reflective of the constitutive relation between the self and identifications, commitments and values. The work of the post-modern feminists Wendy Brown and Judith Butlers are read as proposing just such a shift away from the identitarian engagement of identity politics of ‘who am I?’ towards a more ethically imbued engagement that centres a complex self with inner depths. Part Two of the thesis extends this reconceptualisation of the problematic of identity politics and elaborates on what it could mean to undertake such a shift and how such a project could be conceived. Drawing on both Michael Sandel’s and Michel Foucault’s formulations of the self, identity and its relation to the good, the thesis develops the argument that the problematic of identity politics, articulated in ethical language, enables the formulation of an argument for giving an account of the good life and that this entails developing a subject imbued with a full inner life. Part Three of the thesis argues that contemporary work in virtue ethics offers the best way to take this project forward, suggesting that it represents a positive development in conceptions of the self and that a complex picture of the person emerges that provides the basis for a richer approach to the ethical concerns raised in identity politics. The thesis concludes by illustrating the potential value of taking those feminist insights into the constructed nature of identity into dialogue with a pluralistic virtue ethical account of the self and suggests that this approach provides new opportunities for understanding and discussing the collective dimension of identity politics in situations of diversity and inequality.