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Moral UnderstandingsA Feminist Study in Ethics$
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Margaret Urban Walker

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195315394

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195315394.001.0001

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made a slave, born a woman

made a slave, born a woman

Knowing Others' Places

Moral Understandings

Margaret Urban Walker

Oxford University Press

In Shame and Necessity, Bernard Williams uses the idea of a “necessary identity” ascribed to women to explain why ancient Greek society viewed the condition of slavery as coercive, but viewed the condition of women as inevitable. Williams fails to notice that female sex did not for the Greeks in itself constitute a social identity; rather, it is the fact of coercion into a social role that is denied in the case of women but not slaves. The key fact, then as now, is that justifying some people's subjection by others requires making coercion hard to recognize and easy to deny. Social arrangements that make identities appear necessary include naturalizing, privatizing, and normalizing the ascription of identities, and disqualifying the voice and testimony of those who bear them. Identities are made to appear necessary by a combination of force and epistemic rigging through physical, social, and legal arrangements.

Keywords:   coercion, epistemic rigging, identities, normalizing identities, privatizing identities, slavery, testimony, voice, women, Bernard Williams

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