Standard Article


  1. Ann E. Cudd

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee266

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Cudd, A. E. 2013. Oppression. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


“Oppression” names a harm (see Harm) through which groups of persons are systematically and unfairly or unjustly constrained, burdened, or reduced by any of several social forces. Theories of oppression consider the kinds of harms that constitute oppression, what it means for these harms to be inflicted unfairly or unjustly, who suffers and who inflicts oppressive harms, and how they are inflicted. The historical roots of current theories of oppression lie primarily in modern political philosophy, in discussions of liberty, slavery, the subjection of women, and the deprivation and coercion of workers (see Liberty; Slavery). Oppression is now seen as a normative concept that names a social injustice (see Justice) that affects people because of and through their social group status. These group identities or attributions include gender, sexual, racial, ethnic, religious, and class based groups. The main controversies about oppression include which groups are oppressed, but also the main causes and harms of oppression, and even whether oppression is a univocal phenomenon. There are also controversies concerning the possibility of and moral responsibility for ending oppression.


  • ethics;
  • freedom;
  • harm;
  • inequality;
  • justice;
  • legal and political;
  • philosophy;
  • racism;
  • tyranny