Virtue Ethics, Social Difference, and the Challenge of an Embodied Politics


  • Shannon Dunn

Shannon Dunn, Gonzaga University, 502 E. Boone Ave., AD Box 57, Spokane, WA 99258,


Following the revival of virtue theory, some moral theorists have argued that virtue ethics can provide the basis for a radical politics. Such a politics essentially departs from the liberal model of the moral agent as an autonomous reason-giver. It instead privileges an understanding of the agent as conditioned by her community, and in the case of social oppression and marginalization, communal virtues may become a vehicle for social change. This essay compares political appropriations of virtue theory by Christian theologian Stanley Hauerwas and secular feminist thinkers Lisa Tessman and Margaret Urban Walker. Hauerwas and feminist theorists both embrace a kind of embodied vulnerability as a political virtue, arguing that it enables more genuine social recognition. The virtue feminist critique is more robust than Hauerwas's, however, insofar as it understands mutual recognition to involve acknowledgment of social difference and the concomitant pursuit of justice.