chapter  4
30 Pages

Feminist ethics

Poststructuralism, then, and its further development into a thoroughly postmodernist philosophy, represents a critique not just of the failures and inadequacies of liberal humanism but a radical deconstruction of the determining features of modernism: self-presence, reason, transparency of meaning - all those things in fact which constitute the Cartesian cogito. And once the much discussed ‘crisis in modernity’ is acknowledged, there is no escape either to the certainties of the pre-modern or Classical period. Although the critical focus has been on the post-Enlightenment period, the Western logos itself, with its roots in ancient Greek philosophy, is problematised as a whole, and particularly in its fundamental predication on full presence. Claims for the stability and taken-for-granted structure of truth are shown to be no longer reliable, and the authority of the transcendent speaking voice with its unmarked appeal to universality is stripped of its grounding. Accordingly, postmodernism rejects the teleological assumptions of what Lyotard (1984) calls the ‘grand narratives of history’, preferring instead discontinuous, contradictory and multiple discourses. Now it is precisely this emphasis on the notions of diversity, plurality, process and provisionality which has made the deconstructive move so seductive for feminist philosophy. If, as seems evident, the oppression of marginalised groups is coincident with some manoeuvre which allows the dominant group to claim its own discourse as universal and necessarily true, then the insights of poststructuralism in general lend credence to the belief that it need not be so. In opening up the cracks in any discourse, in exploring the leakiness of the logos, poststructuralism offers both an indication of how the master narratives might be challenged,

and the assurance that alternatives are of equal, albeit problematised, validity.