On Moral Unintelligibility: Beauvoir’s Genealogy of Morality in the Second Sex

Sabina Vaccarino Bremner

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This paper offers a reading of Beauvoir’s Second Sex as a genealogy of ‘morality’: the patriarchal system of values that maintains a moral distinction between men and women. This value system construes many of women’s experiences under oppression as evidence of women’s immorality, obscuring the agential role of those who provoke such experiences. Beauvoir’s examination of the origin for this value system provides an important counterexample to the prevailing debate over whether genealogical method functions to debunk or to vindicate: while the currently dominant moral system may have been historically necessary at certain stages in human development, Beauvoir nevertheless debunks it; only the value system itself now remains, without its precipitating needs. Thus, Beauvoir’s critique reveals what I call the moral unintelligibility of women’s experiences of oppression: women encounter difficulty in making sense of the harms wrought against them because the operative value system obscures them as harms in the first place, instead construing women themselves as immoral. Against the prevailing construction of moral blame and responsibility, Beauvoir’s solution is the political virtue of moral invention, a virtue epistemic as well as moral, collective as well as individual.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)521-540
Number of pages20
JournalThe Monist
Issue number4
Early online date13-Sept-2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2022
Externally publishedYes

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