Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities, by Cynthia Willett. Routledge Press, 1995

John McClendon
1996 Auslegung a Journal of Philosophy  
In the context of the hegemonic Anglo-American tradition of specialization, where disparate disciplinary foci are restrained and demarcated in such a manner that discursive and dialogical processes are the solemn domain of technicians of thought, Cynthia Willett's Maternal Ethics and Other Slave Moralities is a rare and refreshing philosophical text. The former Kansas University philosopher, now on board at Emory University, spans several intellectual traditions in grappling with the pressing
more » ... estion of ethical subjectivity. Intent on not falling prey to the nagging dualisms so often illustrative of philosophical texts in the Eurocentric/paternalist tradition, Willett excavates the experiential and axiological gems embodied in the intellectual cultures of the putative "marginalized" regions of this society. Willett's excursus into the manifold traditions of feminism, Africana Studies, post-modernism, and psychoanalysis is structurally adjoined and sustained by a process of reconstruction to which the presuppositions undergirding the Eurocentric bifurcation of self/society, mind/body, and stoic/erotic (here primacy is afforded the first element of each couplet) is radically reconfigured in view of her theory of recognition. The prima facie antithesis in each couplet, Willett detects, is an axiological distortion that is penultimately destructive of the dialectical relationship encompassing both terms and is more fundamentally a species of cultural pathology. By situating the Eurocentric conception of ethical subjectivity to the realm of cultural pathology, Willett is not merely employing an inversion of opposites, where the putative "marginalized" simply assume the locus formerly inhabited by the Eurocentrist/paternalist and hence the last becomes the first; instead what portends is a radical reformulation of philosophical perspective, explicitly at the level of ethical inquiry and implicitly with regard to wider terrain of metaphilosophy. The Western, Eurocentric, declarations of the universality of reason, and its ancillary claims to objectivity and neutrality, Willett unveils them as not only false universalities, i.e., the disguised voice of the oppressor, but furthermore, she confronts the basic assumption that coincides with the more traditional approach to philosophy, viz., the universalizing project per se.
doi:10.17161/ajp.1808.9422 fatcat:3sd32elgkfbs5gzzrxhwhlhgqy