chapter  3
23 Pages


My purpose in this chapter is to go on to critique in more detail both the general privileging of rationality - on which autonomy relies - and the appeal to closed and homogeneous categories. In particular, the supposed gender neutrality of the universal subject of mainstream Western philosophy - which is taken up uncritically in bioethics - will be exposed, not simply as masking gender privilege, but as a necessary feature of the modern episteme. The question arises as to why and how that particular discourse has been successfully positioned as the ‘right’ or ‘true’ one, and who its agents must necessarily be. What I am suggesting is that ethics, and indeed all philosophy, must be read textually as performing the very strategies of closure and exclusion which make truth claims possible, but which are taken as categories of the real. Moreover, what may appear to be no more than a contingent and political exclusion of women turns out to be a move that cannot be reformed, for it lies within a system which is founded on the very principle of exclusion. If women are to be valorised, then the paradigms of modernity must be subjected to a process of radical deconstruction. On the simplest level, as a reading of comparative philosophy should begin to show, any number of systems may offer alternative views of moral agency, and it is as well to remember that modern Western philosophy, though it lays claim to universal applicability, does not exhaust all forms of epistemology, ontology and ultimately ethics. For the present, however, it is enough to show that the Western tradition itself is far from unitary in its understanding of the essentials of moral personhood and moral agency.