Daily Archives: Friday 25 January 2008

Friday Feminist – Iris Marion Young

Insistence on the ideal of impartiality in the face of its impossibility functions to mask the inevitable partiality of perspective from which moral deliberation actually takes place. The situated assumptions and commitments that derive from particular histories, experiences, and affiliations rush to fill the vacuum created by counterfactual abstraction; but now they are asserted as “objective” assumptions about human nature or moral psychology. The ideal of impartiality generates a propensity to universalize the particular.

Where social group differences exist, and some groups are privileged while others are oppressed, this propensity to universalize the particular reinforces that oppression. The standpoint of the privileged, their particular experience and standards, is constructed as normal and neutral. If some groups’ experience differs from this neutral experience, or they do not measure up to these standards, their difference is constructed as as deviance and inferiority. Not only are the experience and values of the oppressed thereby ignored and silenced, but they become disadvantaged by their situated identities. It is not necessary for the privileged to be selfishly pursuing their own interests at the expense of others to make this situation unjust. Their partial manner of constructing the needs and interests of others, or of unintentionally ignoring them, suffices. If oppressed groups challenge the alleged neutrality of prevailing assumptions and policies and express their own experience and perspectives, their claims are heard as those of biased, selfish special interests that deviate from the impartial general interest. Commitment to an ideal of impartiality thus makes it difficult to expose the partiality of the supposedly general standpoint, and to claim a voice for the oppressed.

Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, 1990