Discussion Paper Submission

SAAP 35th Annual Meeting – March 13-15th

Michigan State University



Title:                 Receptive Perception, Particularized Justice, and Moral Agency




Beginning with John Dewey’s insight that there is an important distinction between perception and recognition, this essay argues that how we perceive the world and others in it (especially in our interpersonal relationships) is as central to moral agency as how we act and whether or not these acts adhere to abstract principles of justice.  In fact, part of achieving justice more broadly conceived requires attention to our ways of perceiving and our ways of attending to and with the other.  In developing this argument, I delineate four modes of perception, two of which are consistent with the actualization of particularized justice and two of which are deleterious to its actualization.  The four perceptual modes (loving, sympathetic, arrogant, and sterile) are developed in conversation with the pragmatist, critical feminist, and the ethics of care traditions.  


How we perceive the world and others in it is as central to moral agency as how we act and whether or not our actions adhere to abstract principles of justice.  In fact, part of achieving justice more broadly conceived requires attention to our ways of perceiving others in particularized relationships.  The conception of moral agency developed in this essay, what I call esthetic moral agency, has particularized justice at its core, made possible by what I call “receptive perception.”  Actions lacking in receptive perception, especially in connection with interpersonal relationships, are lacking a certain quality necessary for truly ameliorative[1]  relations and transactions to occur. We can see this when we imagine, for example, the salubrious results that can occur between individuals who, if only for a moment, manage to be present for each other in a “deep” way or, in contrast, the void one feels when we are, for some reason, unable to be truly “with” a friend during a difficult time, even while we might be physically present, doing and saying the right things.  Though the ability to be receptively present is not always in our control (we may be too ill to be present, too busy, or the other individual may be non-receptive to our otherwise receptive perception), it does contribute to how effective we can be as agents in the world.  A habitual inability to be present in this receptively perceptive way diminishes the quality of the relationship possible as well as the overall outcomes we can effect.  In the process of developing a conception of moral agency that places primacy on the need for receptive perception, I delineate four modes of perception (loving, sympathetic, arrogant, and sterile), two of which are consistent with particularized justice and moral agency and two of which are deleterious to its actualization.  I will begin with an overview of what receptively perceptive moral agency is and follow with a more nuanced account of perception and its different forms. 


I. An Overview of Moral Agency as Receptively Perceptive Moral Agency

Recognition is perception arrested before it has a chance to develop freely.  In recognition there is a beginning of an act of perception.  But this beginning is not allowed to serve the development of a full perception of the thing recognized.

                                             -  John Dewey[2]


This quotation from John Dewey’s Art as Experience captures his emphasis on the distinctions that he makes in the ways we are and, importantly, are not “present” to others when transacting in the world.  This distinction forms the context in which Dewey argues that in order to be fully ameliorative and, hence, fully moral in our agency, we must attend not only to our actions, but to our way of being present (or not) when transacting.    

Like Dewey, this essay looks at the central role that perception must play in relational conceptions of moral agency.  I argue that providing an account of perception as part of an account of moral agency, especially one that prioritizes the necessarily relational nature of our existence as human beings, offers a more accurate account of what moral agency requires, and helps to answer the criticisms that are often leveled against types of moral theories that hold the fostering of relations with particular others as an ethical priority. 

Critics of relationally-based types of moral theorizing find these systems of morality problematic because there is a tendency with such theories to sacrifice the rights of the individual in the interest of cultivating close relations, i.e., caring relations, with others.[3] These insights point us toward the need to emphasize justice as a “respect for persons,” making certain that the demand to foster relations characterized by attuned caring and motivational displacement of the “caring” for the “cared-for”[4] does not lead to the oppression, even abuse, of the caring individual.[5]  Further, this suggests the need to attend to particularized justice, as well as abstract justice, when considering requirements for moral agency.  While abstract justice protects “broadly humane” [6] notions of justice, particularized justice, as I define it, looks more closely at the internal dynamics of particular relationships under consideration and includes an assessment of the mode of perception employed by all parties involved as part of the evaluation. 

            In this way, this essay engages in conversation with those traditions of moral theorizing, such as the ethics of care tradition, that place fostering relations with others at its core, but does so with critical awareness of the challenges, and even dangers, that accompany this type of approach to ethical theorizing.  I argue that an important aspect of achieving particularized justice requires attention to the modes of perception with which we perceive and are perceived by others, especially as we perceive and are perceived within interpersonal relationships and in aspects of these relationships that are often beyond the view of others.  With attention to perception at this level, the requirements for justice go deeper than those required for abstract justice alone and make possible richer connections and deeper understanding with particular others, while also being cognizant of and on guard against relationships that are relatively destructive for one or both individuals.  Addressing these concerns leads us to a nuanced account of moral agency that has perception at its core and highlights how careful attention to our own as well as others’ modes of perception can lead to greater degrees of actualized justice and more fulfilling human relationships in general. 

            Ultimately, I argue that at the center of this conception of justice is a moral agent who is relationally attuned with particular others but is so without sacrificing himself or herself to the point of being lost to the other or, worse, even consumed by that other to the point of erasure.  This requires the ability to perceive the world in ways that are consistent with both forms of justice (abstract and particularized) and the ability to recognize when others do and do not perceive in ways that go beyond mere recognition.  I offer a visual depiction of this conception of moral agency, what I call esthetic moral agency, below.[7]














Looking at the diagram above, the outer most circle represents the necessarily transactional nature of all existence.  Though we are necessarily transactional beings,[8] these transactions are not always ameliorative in nature.  In fact, many transactions are even destructive, failing to meet even the most basic criteria of moral action. Thus, we have a need for abstract justice, which is depicted in this diagram by the next-to-largest circle.  Abstract justice in this model of moral agency serves as a limiting condition to moral action.  As such, its role is to ensure, at the level of our very basic existence in the world, that our actions are guided by the broadly humane values that respect the inherent dignity of all human beings, even if we never come to know those other human beings in an intimate way.  For example, though most of us do not know migrant farmer workers in an intimate way, we still have an ethical obligation to act in ways that do not infringe on their basic human rights.  Similarly, though we do not know and likely will not ever come to know individuals suffering from starvation within the United States or abroad (Darfur comes to mind), we still have a basic moral obligation to provide for their basic needs and must guard against instituting policies that make their conditions worse or otherwise continue to fuel the current conditions. In this way, abstract justice serves as a limiting condition on moral agency but does not represent its full achievement.  More specifically, it does not speak to the positive responsibilities that we have within interpersonal relationships with close others and, if relied on as our only standard for moral assessment and decision making, would problematically offer affirmation to, for example, an emotionally unavailable individual (perhaps a parent) whose actions are unproblematic in terms of abstract principles of justice (the parent consistently and regularly provides food, water, shelter, etc. for the child and does not physically abuse the child), but whose actions are lacking in terms of receptive presence and availability to the other.  Hence, this analysis pushes us toward an account of moral agency that takes into consideration the conditions required with and to others with whom we are or should be more intimately connected and committed.

            The middle circle of the above diagram seeks to address this concern and represents the conviction that, since we are transactional beings and effect change in connection with others, a central condition of moral agency must be fostering caring (affectively attuned and intelligently sympathetic) relations with at least some others.  This is necessary in order to make possible transactions that afford greater amelioration for all parties involved.  A problem remains, however.  As experience tells us, even “caring” relations may be characterized by perception that, though rooted in a love or admiration for another, may still be either dominating or disengaged and, thus, is unameliorative.  Hence, what we need is caring that is informed by perception that allows us to know the other’s “world” and transact with the other more helpfully and more amelioratively, yet also with an eye toward, when necessary, self-protection.  This points us toward the second inner-most circle, representing receptive perception.

            Perception that is of a receptive nature (what I call loving or sympathetic and describe more fully in the next section) makes particularized justice possible by providing the individual with the necessary tools to be present with and for the other without losing himself or herself to the other.  Possessing this ability leads to the possibility of esthetic moral agency, represented by the inner-most circle.  The esthetic moral agent is not only caring and possessing of receptive perception, but his or her existence is also characterized by praxis, i.e., the quality of putting into action the insights made possible through the fostering of relations characterized by receptively perceptive caring.

            Thus, an individual who is capable of ameliorative moral agency, i.e., esthetic moral agency, will seek to immerse herself in the context of the transactions within which she is operating, and will do so most effectively if she habitually perceives her experience with an esthetically informed receptive type of perception.  Specifically, this agent will perceive the world with either loving or sympathetic perception, as a result will be better able to transact with others in caring ways, and will be most likely to achieve and to create previously unimagined ameliorative results. The agent who puts these possibilities into practice, and does so consistently over time, is an esthetic moral agent.

            The foregoing is an overview of my conception of moral agency and how it is actualized through both particularized and abstract forms of justice. To fully understand the nuances of this type of justice and this form of agency, it is necessary to further delineate the different modes of perception to which I have thus far referred but not yet developed, and to connect these with the ability of the individual to foster amelioratively relational connections with others.  Borrowing first from the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, and then from the contemporary critical cultural theorist María Lugones, I develop an account of perception that is conducive to moral agency and recognizes that how we perceive can either facilitate or thwart otherwise well-intentioned actions.

II. Modes of Perception: Receptive and Non-Receptive

            All the relationships we have are necessarily and inherently colored by our ways of perceiving our world and others in it.  The result is a kind of bias that, though necessary for motivating action and thought, can also be problematic.[9]  This suggests that we must couple what might otherwise be called right or acceptable actions with perception that is sensitive and intelligent if our actions are to be truly ameliorative.  By “sensitive” perception I mean that the individual must partake in more than what Dewey calls mere “recognition” alone.  Whereas “recognizing” the other may be achieved even while being largely “disinterested, detached, and ‘psychically distant’,”[10] “sensitive” perception (what I call “receptive” perception) requires a dynamic and active process of receiving that with which we engage.  Unlike recognition, receptive/sensitive perception “is an act of the going-out of energy in order to receive, not a withholding of energy.”[11]  It is this form of perception and this distinction between recognition and perception that is seed for what I believe is required of the esthetic moral agent.  In other words, not only must the moral agent attend to the quality and extent of connectedness she is able to achieve with others, she must also contextualize these connections within her modes and habits of perceiving.  This is necessary, in part, in order to achieve connections with others that are rich in nature and ameliorative to all who partake.

            María Lugones, a contemporary critical cultural feminist theorist, has similar insights and helps us move beyond what Dewey offers to further explain the role and import of certain forms of perception in achieving moral agency.  More specifically, while Dewey’s discussion of recognition is insightful, Lugones’ concepts of “‘world’-traveling,” arrogant perception, and loving perception can further our understanding of what is required for the actualization of receptive perception by focusing more intently on interpersonal relations and on dynamics of power and privilege that are connected with the ways we perceive in the world and in our relationships to and with particular others.  Lugones’ work is the starting point for my own development of a systematic account of different modes of perception and fuels my additional contribution to the understanding of perception; namely, my addition of sterile and sympathetic modes of perception to Lugones’ conceptions of perception as either loving or arrogant.

            As Lugones’ argues in “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling and Loving Perception,” being able to enter into the “world” of another requires the ability to enter into the midst of the other, and this requires the ability to “travel” to their world.  Traveling to the “world” of the other allows one to enter into, communicate within, and communicate between “worlds.”  By “world” Lugones intends a kind of “felt” context of experience.[12]  However, a particular “world” is often difficult to describe to those who do not share the experience, especially those who are not in positions that require entering and functioning in different “worlds” on a regular basis.  To “travel” to other “worlds” is to travel in perspective, in spirit, and in affective attunement with the world and with others in that world.  Because we necessarily effect change in transactional relations with others, travel is necessary for amelioration of present conditions to occur.  This type of connectedness is ethically basic and, for this reason, so too is traveling to the “world” of others. 

            When we travel to the world of the other and open our own world up to outside travelers, we improve the chances of transacting with others in ways that achieve ameliorative outcomes.  Caution when “world”-traveling is, however, necessary.  This is why Lugones’ distinction between “loving” and “arrogant” perception is important.  Travel with “loving” perception can be conducive to ameliorative relations.  Travel with “arrogant” perception, however, thwarts ameliorative relations and can lead to relations that lack the particularized justice that this project advocates.  In what follows I will delineate each form of perception, including my additions to Lugones’ forms of perception and justification for why these additions are necessary.

Arrogant Perception: A Non-Receptive Form of Perception

            For Lugones, when we perceive the world with “arrogance” and “travel” with this arrogance, we attempt to “graft [our] substance” onto the other and we view our relationships with others as something for us to use for our own purposes.  In other words, we view the other as someone for “using, taking for granted, and demanding … services of in a far reaching way.”[13]  This connects with the conscious or unconscious goal of arrogant perception; namely, to conquer the world and to know the world and others in it imperialistically.  With this goal, we tend to “consume” the other for our own benefit, viewing the world as something to construct and to impose meaning and value upon in such a way that it is advantageous to our own needs, desires, and/or concepts of the “norm,” but not necessary to or even with consideration of those with whom we transact.  With this perception, we know the others’ world but our purpose for knowing it and our attitude when negotiating through it is one characterized by a myopic and selfish point of view rather than a more holistic one.[14]  Young children, naturally and developmentally appropriately, tend to view their parents with a kind of arrogant perception. They see their parents as existing for their own use and benefit and may even be surprised to realize that their parents have life goals and aspirations that do not revolve around the child. One role of a parent is to foster growth in the child, facilitating a move from viewing the world as existing for their own use and benefit to understanding their existence in relation to others, others who have distinct needs, goals, and aspirations.  While this kind of myopic vision characteristic of arrogant perception is developmentally understandable when seen in children, it is deleterious to relations and individuals growth if sustained over time or if habituated as the preferred mode of perceiving the world.  For example, in a spousal relationship, if one individual in the relationship habitually views the other as existing for his or her own benefit, as a tool in their life to fill certain needs and complete certain tasks, the relationship is likely to be much less rich than it otherwise could be and will not thrive in the way it could if a more receptive and reciprocal form of perception were employed.  Relationships lacking in receptive perception result in individuals who live “in the midst of each other”[15] without truly knowing or being present to each other and, as a result, the relationship will be limited and the growth of the individuals and the relationship will be hindered.

Loving Perception: A Receptive Form of Perception

            In contrast to arrogant perception, loving perception involves an “openness to surprise” and to being shaped, even constructed, by our transactions with others.[16]  Unlike arrogant perception, those with loving perception do not seek to conquer or control the other.  Loving others requires that we travel to their “worlds” as a way of identifying with them, because, as Lugones clarifies, “by traveling to their world we can understand, what it is to be them and what it is to be ourselves in their eyes.  Only when we have traveled to each other’s ‘worlds’ are we fully subjects to each.”[17]  In other words, according to Lugones, it is only when we perceive the other with loving perception that we are able to be fully present with the other and, in terms of my conception of moral agency, it is only then that we are able to fully actualize moral agency and the ameliorative outcomes that may result.  To further the parent-child example offered above, until the child learns to see the parent fully, as a being who exists with greater complexity and nuance than the parental relationship alone, the relationship between the parent and the child will be limited, even if healthy and as good as a parent/child relationship can be.  Similarly, but more problematically, a spousal relationship without loving perception will be incomplete, thwarted by a lack of mutual knowledge and understanding of each other.

            Loving perception, in contrast with arrogant perception, allows the agent to know the other, and therefore makes it possible for the agent to cultivate deeper relationships and to effect more purposeful and positive change.  Further, the concepts of loving and arrogant perception help to explain a distinction between caring that is arrogant and caring that is loving and, because of this distinction, help to answer criticisms leveled against the ethics of care.  Advocating caring relations characterized by loving perception and rejecting arrogant forms of caring gives license to reject moral systems that idealize self-sacrificial practices to the point of condoning, at least potentially, the maintenance of oppressive relations.  A relationship characterized by an arrogant form of “caring” would not fit the definition of a truly caring relationship and suggests that justice, understood in not only abstract terms but also in particularized terms, would be incompletely achieved in that particular relationship.  These conceptions of perception help to explain the contrast between ameliorative caring and arrogant caring.  In addition, they also help to clarify how acts performed with “loving” perception have greater ameliorative potential than the same acts performed with “arrogant” perception.  For example, a friend who perceives his or her partner with arrogance cannot know his or her partner well enough to engage in acts or even in conversation that reflects a deep understanding of the partner and, for this reason, the relationship between individuals, even individuals who love or deeply care for each other, can only grow to a limited point unless more receptive forms of perception are habituated by both individuals involved.

            Thus, we can see that the distinction between arrogant and loving forms of perception is meaningful and important.  However, there remains a problem with this account.  One area of concern is the overly-polarizing nature of Lugones’ notions of loving and arrogant perception.  The extreme distinction between these two forms of perception, while helpful in providing a road map for further analysis, tends to reinforce dualistic conceptions of the world, creating a seemingly absolute distinction between the two perceptions and, in this way, contributes to an impression, even if unintended by Lugones, that one is either entirely “loving” or entirely “arrogant.”  Though an exhaustive account of all variations on and degrees of perception is neither possible nor productive for our purposes, two additional ways of perceiving – one for each broad category of receptive and non-receptive perception – does prove helpful.  First, we will look at my notion of sterile perception, a type of perception that, like arrogant perception, is deleterious to actualizing moral agency, yet is also importantly different.

Sterile Perception: A Non-Receptive Form of Perception

Like arrogant perception, sterile perception is problematic because it does not engage the other with the necessary type of affective connection that would allow for understanding the other “within the midst” of the other’s lived existence.  However, I posit this notion of perception because it is also different from arrogant perception in important ways.  With sterile perception, the affective (non)engagement with the other is one of indifference or distraction rather than one of domination and control.   In this way, sterile perception involves either a conscious or unconscious attempt to minimize emotional engagement with the other.  In contrast with arrogant perception, the result is a lack of enough interest, commitment, or focus on the part of the individual agent toward the other to seek either to control or to dominate the other.  With sterile perception, the perceiver exchanges with the other only as is necessary to limit further transactions and engagement with the other or to fit the exchange with the other into a predetermined format or purpose.  

To complicate the issue further, sterile perception has a tendency to be masked in actions, statements, and intentions that would point any cursory analysis toward a favorable evaluation of the moral status of the perceiving individual.  For example, an individual may “go through the motions” (say the right things, stay within abstractly just guidelines, and/or define himself or herself in caring ways or by caring roles) while never fully engaging the other.  Often, sterile perception leaves the one perceived with a sense that the sterile perceiver is placating the perceived or attempting to “neutralize” the situation for the purpose of moving forward with his or her own personal agenda, without full or meaningful consideration of the perceived.  Further, in contrast with arrogant perception, which involves a proactive attempt on the part of the perceiver to dominate the other, sterile perception is characterized by a withdrawal of action and reaction, and results in general disengagement with the other.  One need only imagine an office visit with a disinterested physician, who seems to be going through the motions rather than truly attending to you, to know what being perceived with sterile perception might feel like.  The physician may say the right things, but he or she does so without being present and without fully hearing the patient, and does so while being most interested in diagnosing the patient in order to move on to the next. 

Thus, sterile perception, like arrogant perception, is a non-travel-conducive form of perception to be avoided.  For this reason, an agent attempting to be an esthetic moral agent must work toward eradicating not only arrogant but also sterile perception from his or her own approach to the world, and should become cognizant of when he or she is being received by others with either form of non-travel-conducive perception.  In part, this awareness is necessary because it is potentially self-denying to respond always with loving perception when one is consistently received by a particular other with either arrogant or sterile perception.   For this reason, a more nuanced account of travel-conducive perception is needed.  Turning our critical attention to Lugones' notion of loving perception offers a good start.

Sympathetic Perception: A Receptive Form of Perception

            Like arrogant perception, Lugones’ notion of loving perception is also overly polarizing and fails to capture the possible nuance in types of perception that are conducive to morally ameliorative relationship and transactions.  One significant problem with loving perception alone is that, if strictly followed and adapted fully, it can lead to oppressive relations.  Loving perception calls on us, in Lugones words, to be “open to surprise” and open to “being constructed” by the other.[18]  Though appropriate in intimate relationships of trust and genuine care, embracing this kind of “playfulness,” as Lugones calls it, is neither appropriate nor wise in all cases.  For example, while one does not want to be arrogant or sterile in a work environment, it would also be problematic if one were uncontrollably “loving” (“open to being constructed”) in this environment.  Assuming this mode of transactional existence in such an environment can lead to unbalanced and unhealthy relations that are one-sided and conducive to limited growth of one individual (if growth occurs at all) and stagnation in growth of the other.  Instead, what is often called for is a form of perception that I call “sympathetic” perception.

Like loving perception, sympathetic perception involves putting oneself in the place of the other so that one might understand better what it is like to be the other and to experience the world as the other experiences it.  However, sympathetic perception does not necessarily involve an unguarded openness to being “constructed.”  Instead, the traveling individual engages with the other with informed caution and openness to the possibility that the traveling may afford individual growth and transformation.  However, the individual reserves this possibility for those relationships and occasions when the partners in the transaction achieve appropriate levels of trust, and when these relations are not colored by perception that is either arrogant or sterile in nature.   

For example, a parent may take on sympathetic perception when transacting with a difficult teenage child who, as is common for this age, is focused on her own concerns and quite willing to “consume” the parent and “construct” the parent to her own liking.  This relationship is likely one in which both individuals love each other; however, because of the tendency of the child to view the world (and especially the parent) through arrogant perception, it would be problematic for the parent to assume an unguarded position of loving perception, characterized by a willingness to be “constructed” by the other, in this situation.  Doing so would reinforce arrogant perception in the child, could lead to oppressive and ineffectual outcomes for the parent, and would be deleterious to fostering loving perception in the future.  In contrast, assuming sympathetic perception in relation to the difficult teenager leaves the door open for fostering loving perception in the future and, in the present, allows the parent to be available to the child in ameliorative ways without being “constructed” by the child to the child’s own liking.

Because we cannot know for what relationships and on what occasions approaching situations with loving perception will be appropriate, one should approach almost all new relationships and all new situations with this cautious, “sympathetic” form of receptive perception.  Once the agent establishes a relationship, he or she can then assess whether or not advancing to loving perception is appropriate, at what times and for how long.  We will know assuming the mode of loving perception is appropriate, or at least possible, when we find ourselves in a relationship where we not only perceive the other, but we are also perceived by the other with sympathetic perception.  Conversely, we will know not to venture beyond sympathetic perception when we find that we are the target of arrogant or sterile perception.  In this way, we must be flexible in the type of perception we assume, starting almost always in the sympathetic mode and entering the loving mode only when the situation and the relationship as a whole is conducive to doing so. 

III. Conclusion

With this account of perception as including the four modes outlined above (arrogant, sterile, loving, and sympathetic), I have provided at least a general sketch of what we must consider when attempting to actualize particularized justice within seemingly caring relations.  In addition, I have provided an account of the necessary connection between being a moral agent and being able to perceive the world with receptive forms of perception.  Rather than discussing justice as a broadly conceived, abstract concept (a concept too broad to be applied meaningfully to interpersonal relationships), particularized justice, as I conceive it, is part of how we should understand a comprehensive notion of justice, and is also central to relational conceptions of moral agency.[19]

            Thus, we must attend to justice not only on an abstract level, but also within seemingly caring relationships, even when those relationships may, from the outside, seem to be positive, even desirable.  In these relations, we may have satisfied requirements for abstract justice – justice in the sense of respecting individual’s choices and expressed interest – but not successfully achieved this in terms of particularized justice.  Justice on a particularized level requires more attention to the dynamics of the relationships of concern and it is here that attending to modes of perception plays a central role.  As discussed above, sympathetic and loving perception are conducive to particularized justice, whereas sterile and arrogant modes of perception are not.  The esthetic moral agent will be that agent who habitually assumes sympathetic perception and has the ability to transition to loving perception when the quality of the relationship as a whole permits.


Works Cited

Dewey, John.  John Dewey: The Middle Works: 1899-1924. Edited by Jo Ann Boydston, 15 vols.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1976-83.


________.  John Dewey: The Later Works: 1925-1953.  Edited by Jo Ann Boydston, 17 vols. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981-90.


Dewey, John and Arthur F. Bentley.  Knowing and the Known.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1949.


Friedman, Marilyn.  “Beyond Caring: The De-Moralization of Gender.”  In Science, Morality & Feminist Theory: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Vol. 13, eds. Marshal Hanen and Kai Nielsen, 87-110. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1987.


Frye, Marilyn.  “In and Out of Harm’s Way: Arrogance and Love.”  In The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory.  Trumansburg, New York: Crossing Press, 1983. 


Gilligan, Carol.  In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.


Gowans, Christopher.  “After Kant: Ventures in Morality without Respect for Persons.” Social Theory and Practice 22 (Spring 1996): 105-129.


Green, Judith M.  “Alain Locke’s Multicultural Philosophy of Value: A Transformative Guide for the Twenty-First Century.”  In The Critical Pragmatism of Alain Locke, ed. Leonard Harris, 85-94. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.


Hoagland, Sarah L.  “Some Thoughts about Caring.”  In Feminist Ethics, ed. Claudia Card, 246-263. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1991.


Houston, Barbara. “Prolegomena to Future Caring.”  In Who Cares?: Theory, Research, and Educational Implications of the Ethic of Care, ed. Mary M. Brabeck, 84-100.  New York: Praeger Publishers, 1989.


Lugones, María.  Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003.


________.  “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling and Loving Perception.”  In Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, eds. Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall.  Boston: Unwin Hyman, Inc., 1989.  Originally in Hypatia 2, no. 2 (Summer 1987): 3-19.


Noddings, Nel.  Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984/2003.


________.  The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 1992.


Sullivan, Shannon.  Living Across and Through Skins: Transactional Bodies, Pragmatism, and Feminism.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.



[1] With the term “ameliorative,” I embrace John Dewey’s understanding of the term as “better-making” and the idea that, as Dewey explains, “the specific conditions which exist at one moment….may be bettered.”  Amelioration “…encourages intelligence to study the positive means of good…and to put forth the effort for improvement of conditions.”  For this author, what is “better” must attend to a basic respect for the dignity, freedom, and equality of all human beings.  For Dewey’s above discussion on his conception of amelioration see The Middle Works: 1899-1924, 3d. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1976-1983), 12: 181-182.  Future references to the Carbondale critical editions of Dewey’s texts will be parenthetically noted in customary fashion, first designating The Early Works (EW), The Middle Works (MW), or The Later Works (LW), and then designating the volume number and page (e.g. LW 8:2, means The Later Works, volume 8, page 2.)

[2] John Dewey, Art as Experience, LW 10: 59.

[3] See, for example, Barbara Houston’s “A Prolegomena to Future Caring,” in Who Cares?: Theory, Research, and Educational Implications of the Ethics of Care, ed. Mary M. Brabeck (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1989), 91.  Also see Sarah Hoagland’s “Some Thoughts about Caring,” in Feminist Ethics, ed. Claudia Card (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1991), 246-263, Claudia Card’s “Caring and Evil,” in Hypatia 5, no. 1 (Spring 1990), 101-108.  These authors are responding critically to the ethics of care tradition as represented, primarily, by Nel Noddings (Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, 1984), and to Carol Gilligan (In a Different Voice, 1982).  In this brief essay, I do not explicate the ethics of care position and supporting arguments, but my arguments are in appreciative conversation with this tradition.

[4] For a fuller development of these concepts and to Nel Noddings’ ethics of care approach to moral theorizing see Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, 2nd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984/2003).  See also Nel Noddings, The Challenge to Care in Schools: An Alternative Approach to Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 1992), esp. 15-27, for further elaboration of concepts central to the ethics of care approach advocated by Noddings.

[5] Christopher Gowans makes this point when he discusses the import of attending to principles of justice, especially when defined as “respect for persons,” even while we also acknowledge that “any plausible moral philosophy will have a place for benevolence.” See Christopher Gowans, “After Kant: Ventures in Morality without Respect for Persons,” Social Theory and Practice (Spring 1996), 9.

[6] Here I borrow Judith M. Green’s concept of “broadly humane values.”  For Green, these values include “…human dignity, democracy, freedom, equality, group loyalty, and self-respect.”  See Judith M. Green’s essay, “Alain Locke’s Multicultural Philosophy of Value: A transformative Guide for the Twenty-First Century,” in The Critical Pragmatism of Alain Locke, ed. Leonard Harris (Landham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 87. 

[7] A full account of what makes this agent “esthetic” is beyond the scope of this essay.  However, an abbreviated description of what this agent is may be helpful.  The esthetic moral agent is “esthetic,” in part, because of his or her ability to imagine, as Dewey argues, “remarkably original creations,” which may serve as “alternative aesthetic possibilities to an actual state of affairs.” See John Dewey’s Art as Experience, LW: 10, 38.

[8] I maintain that the self and his or her actions are necessarily transactional in nature because they necessarily occur in connection with others.  In the process of the transactions, the participants construct both the self and the other in co-constitutive ways.  This may be described as an “in-process” or transactional conception of the self.  This transactional conception of the self underlies the arguments offered in this essay and is also consistent with pragmatist conceptions of the self, meaning, truth, and value.  For a more in-depth account of the pragmatist notion of transactional existence, especially as represented by John Dewey, see Dewey’s and Arthur Bentley’s Knowing and the Known (1949), where Dewey first introduces the concept of “transaction” contrasted with “interaction.”  See also Shannon Sullivan’s Living Across and Through Skins: Transactional Bodies, Pragmatism, and Feminism. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001), 14-17.

[9] John Dewey also recognized this and offers this point as part of his description of the “critic.”  He argues that “[e]very critic, like every artist, has a bias, a predilection, that is bound up with the very existence of individuality.  It is his task to convert it into an organ of sensitive perception and of intelligent insight and to do so without surrendering the instinctive preference from which is derived direction and sincerity” (LW 10: 327).  Thus, Dewey’s point as well as mine is that to be biased, though often viewed negatively and as an impediment to actualizing just decisions and outcomes, is something without which we lack motivation and direction to think and act.  Obviously, being and becoming aware of our particular biases is good but to be rid of them completely is neither possible nor desirable. As will be discussed in this essay, certain types of perspectives, which come with certain biases, are more desirable than others.  Whether or not justice is facilitated or thwarted by a particular way of perceiving is a central issue that this essay considers.

[10] LW 10: 262-263.

[11] Ibid., 59-60.

[12] María Lugones, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling and Loving Perception,” in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, eds. Ann Garry and Marilyn Pearsall (Boston: Unwin Hyman, Inc., 1989), 282-283.

[13] Ibid., 277.

[14] See also Marilyn Frye, “In and Out of Harm’s Way: Arrogance and Love,” in The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory (Freedom, California: The Crossing Press, 1983), 52-83, see esp. 67.  Lugones borrows the terms “arrogant” and “loving” from Frye’s analysis.

[15] Lugones uses the phrase “in their midst” in the context of describing how white women tend to view women of color, “ignore[ing] us, ostraciz[ing] us, render[ing] us invisible, stereotyp[ing] us, leav[ing] us completely alone, interpret[ing] us as crazy.  All of this while we are in their midst.”  See Maria Lugones’ essay “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling, and Loving Perception,” 279.  In Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes, which also includes a reprint of the above mentioned essay, Lugones advocates a notion of moral agency that she calls “active subjectivity.”  Active subjectivity requires the agent to act with a “pedestrian view,” “in the midst” of those with whom she or he is transacting.  See various essays in Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2003).  See especially Lugones’ introduction to this work, page 6.

[16] Lugones, “Playfulness, ‘World’-Traveling, and Loving Perception,” 288.

[17] Ibid., 289.

[18] Ibid., 288.

[19] Marilyn Freidman also makes this point.  She argues that care and justice are “mutually compatible” and that justice is “a matter of giving people their due, of treating them appropriately.  Justice is relevant to personal relations and to care precisely to the extent that considerations of justice itself determine appropriate ways to treat friends or intimates.”  See her essay, “Beyond Caring: The De-Moralization of Gender,” in Science, Morality & Feminist Theory: Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Supplementary Vol. 13, eds. Marshal Hanen and Kai Nielsen (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 1987), 98-105, see esp. 98.