Chapter

The Argument for Gender Essentialism

Charlotte Witt

in The Metaphysics of Gender

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199740413
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918720 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199740413.003.0004

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy

The Argument for Gender Essentialism

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This chapter argues that gender is the principle of normative unity for social individuals. First, it explains further what a principle of normative unity is and why social individuals might need one. It develops the idea that a social agent must act under a coherent, unified set of norms, and that a coherent, unified set of norms requires a principle of normative unity. Aristotle's discussion of the relationship between a life of virtuous activity and other kinds of lives (and the goods that correspond to them) is used as a model for the relationship between the social role that serves as a principle of normative unity for an agent—referred to as the mega social role—and that agent's other social roles. Second, the chapter explains why it is reasonable to think that gender provides a principle of normative unity for social individuals in societies like ours. Third, it shows that gender norms provide the principle of normative unity for agents in human societies. It considers two alternative views: firstly, that for some agents in some societies the principle of normative unity is another mega social role, like race; and, secondly, that the principle of normative unity is variable depending upon the individual's self-understanding. After considering, and rejecting, these alternatives, it is argued that gender is essential to social individuals because gender normatively unifies social role occupiers so that an individual social agent exists. The relationship between the thesis that gender is uniessential to social individuals and other conceptions of gender essentialism is discussed.

Keywords: gender essentialism; uniessential; social individuals; normative unity; social roles; gender norms

Chapter.  11005 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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