Women Kan’t stay home

Will feminists in the Church begin counting time in terms of AJBT (After Julie Beck’s Talk)? In commemoration of the first General Conference after the now- infamous “Mothers Who Know”, I offer the following:

I will admit that I am no expert on Kantian moral philosophy. Somebody out there in the Bloggernacle is bound to have done some serious graduate-level studies on his philosophy. If so, feel free to help out here (that goes for all the rest of you too). However, I think I probably read Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals no less than a half-dozen times during my undergraduate years. So I hope I learned something…

It seems to me that the Church’s counsel that women (and particularly mothers) should remain in the home is grounded primarily in a utilitarian ethic. Utilitarianism (a branch of consequentialist ethics), in short, views the moral quality of an act based on the consequences of that act. Women are asked to stay home because the consequences of that act, the better rearing of children and a higher quality family and home life. On the other hand, it might also be grounded in a theory of virtue ethics, which would view the decision to stay home as evidence of a desirable character trait, such as selflessness or charity. (I am not sure that a virtue ethicist would see obedience qua obedience as a virtue.)

But what about a deontological theory, one based on duty? Can a rule of “women should remain in the home” be grounded in deontological moral philosophy? Probably the most famous of the deontological theories is Kant’s categorical imperative. In its first formulation, Kant said “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” Can we will that our notion that women ought to stay home be universalized? As a practical matter, I am not sure that the removal of all women from the market economy is even possible. Furthermore, I don’t think that such a thing would be desirable. Many women (perhaps most women) make valuable and essential contributions in their workplaces, including such formative areas as medicine and education. Also, are we sure that all women would make more valuable contributions in the home? From personal experience, I doubt that very seriously. On the other hand, I think that the opposite rule, that “all women should work outside the home”, fails the first test of the categorical imperative as well.

The second formulation of the categorical imperative is as follows: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end.” This is diametrically opposed to a consequentialist ethic, and, as I noted above, I think that is the primary ground in moral philosophy for the Church’s counsel. It would be difficult to see how asking women to remain in the home in order to improve the quality of their family’s home life and to raise children does not treat them as means to those ends. However, the second formulation says that we should not treat others “merely as a means to an end.” Is there some way in which asking women to remain in the home treats them as an end-in-themselves? For some women, perhaps this is true. But for many, such as those who overtly objected to elements of Pres. Beck’s last Conference talk, they do not feel as though they are being taking seriously as individuals apart from their families and children (this was my primary interpretation of the backlash to that speech in my earlier post on that subject). Again, another rule that demands that all women enter the workforce, presumably in order to increase the GDP or to push the cause of feminism forward, would just as easily fail this rule.

The third formulation is “Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.” This third formulation seems to simply run both the first and second together. We must ask whether we can will a rule that will treat all those under that rule as ends in themselves. I won’t analyze this separately, since the rule already failed both of the first two rules.

Where does this leave us? As you might have guess, Kantian moral philosophy is all about how you define and delimit the rule. While we might more readily accept a rule that some women or my wife/sister/daughter/etc. ought to stay home, Kantian philosophy would reject them all, since they must in the end be universalized. What Kantian ethics might support is a rule that allows individual women and their families to choose their own situation. Leaving women an open choice as to their situation is a rule which can (and in my opinion ought to be) universalized (it is essentially the rule that operates outside the Church), and furthermore it treats women as ends in themselves (though whether it treats their children as means only is an open question in my mind).

I want to know people’s thoughts, especially those who might have a little more background in moral philosophy who can help me work out the kinks in this admittedly under-developed and cursorily-described hypothesis (or if necessary, shoot it down altogether).


6 thoughts on “Women Kan’t stay home

  1. I don’t have the background you are requesting for a comment. I’m looking for some information concerning a study completed by the church about 8 to 10 years ago with youth and their activity level in the church. It looked at youth whose mothers worked and those whose mothers stayed home and found no difference in a child’s activity level in the church.I’m hoping someone may have this information about this study and can share it.I apologize for any digression from your topic.

  2. TK, I have heard about the study you are talking about. I don’t know if either of these two are it, but they talk about some of the same general topics. Hay, Steven D. 1995. “Maternal Employment, Parent-Adolescent Closeness and Adolescent Competence.” Ph.D. Thesis, Brigham Young University.Abstract: This study examined the relationships between maternal employment, adolescent employment, extracurricular activities, and closeness between parents and adolescents among a sample of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A related focus was the relationship between parent-adolescent closeness and adolescent competency as represented by educational aspirations, self-esteem, and juvenile delinquency. It was found that maternal employment was not significantly related to parent-adolescent closeness. The strongest variable predicting LDS adolescents’ closeness to their parents was the adolescents’ perception of their parents marital quality. Parent-adolescent closeness was significantly related to girls’ self-esteem, and negatively related to adolescent juvenile delinquency for both boys and girls. Maternal employment was positively related to victimless delinquency for both boys and girls. Close parent-adolescent relationships promote adolescent social competence. Wilcock, Robert Orvel. 1992. “Adolescent Influences on Young Adult Religious Family Values.” Ph.D. Thesis, Brigham Young University.Abstract: Using longitudinal design this research assessed the degree to which an adequate conceptualization and measurement of religious family values could be conducted. Questionnaire responses from 560 young adult LDS Males, originally studies in 1981, were analyzed revealing a cluster of values centering around family home evening, scripture study, family prayer, and moral behavior formed one dimension of religious family values. Three other related value dimensions were also identified, viz. birth control, divorce, working mother. A LISREL model was developed and tested which showed that the family, peer, and religious influences all contributed to explaining variation in young adult religious family values. Adolescent religiosity emerged as an important intervening variable which also influenced whether or not the young man chose to serve a mission for the church. Of the exogenous variables, home religious observance was the single most important influence on young adult religious family values. The direct effect over nine years suggests the strength of family socialization in a specific relationship to special values. These findings have important implications for those wanting to better understand how religious, familial, and peer influences combine to shape the adolescent’s world, which in turn influences young adult religious family values some nine years later.

  3. Note from administrator: anonymous comments attacking the raison d’etre of this blog will be summarily deleted. If you have a comment to make, you can either 1)engage with the content anonymously, 2) or get a name and mount an attack. What you can’t do is throw stones and then run and hide behind your anonymity.

  4. Great post. I msut confess I read your coment at T&S that you wife is in the field I am interested in. Does she have a blog? Where is she doing her PhD?

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