The gender of ethics : sexual and moral identity in Rousseau, Freud, and Kierkegaard
This thesis argues that questions of ethical life, moral identity, and gender are inextricably involved, and that an appropriate conception of each is necessary for the thinking of the others. In particular it seeks to demonstrate that the way in which freedom is conceived in its relation to moral identity and ethical life has profound implications for the thought of gender relations. It is further argued that the writings of Kierkegaard open up a way of relating freedom and the finite that offers the possibility of re-thinking gender. The writings of Rousseau and of Freud are examined to show the interdependence of their philosophical anthropology and the systematic subordination and exclusion of women that operates in each of them. In each case it is shown that, despite the very different, and even opposed ways that they construe the nature of moral identity and its relation to ethical life, a parallel gender polarity is at work. In Rousseau male moral identity rests on independence from society and infinite, excessive freedom. This is brought into relation to the mundane world of ethical life through gender. Women are denied independence and moral identity and made responsible for social being. Their subordination is such that dependence on them does not destroy the integrity of men. The crisis of this unstable structure is demonstrated through a reading of Rousseau's novel La Nouvelle Heloise, the death of whose heroine is shown to be the moment of collapse of the Rousseauean synthesis. In Freud moral identity is achieved through the identification of the self with social authority. The finite freedom that can be thought in psychoanalysis rests on a fusion of ethical and moral life. The "depersonalisation" of the super-ego is the road to liberation. Through the gendered experience of the Oedipal drama this path can only be taken by men. Woman are again exclude from moral identity, being allowed only a "masochistic" relation to the Law. The crisis of this structure is found in the notion of the "archaic heritage", which it is argued, represents a collapse of Freudian thought. Finally both Freud and Rousseau are brought into relation with the psychological writings of Kierkegaard, whose distinctive notion of freedom and faith is held to address the limitations of both sets of writing. Infinite freedom is made to co-exist with finitude. The implications of these writings for the thought of gender is briefly explored through other of the writings of Kierkegaard.