Hypatia 16.3 (2001) 163-166
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In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development.
Perspectives on Equality: Constructing a Relational Theory. By Christine M. Koggel. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.
The goal of Christine Koggel's book is an ambitious one: to bring the insights of relational theory to bear on liberal theory's discussion of equality and justice. Relational theory posits that the self is constituted through relationships with others and not, as in liberal/modernist theory, derived from a universal human [End Page 163] essence. Feminist theorists such as Nancy Chodorow and Carol Gilligan have embraced an aspect of relational theory, object-relations theory, as a feminist alternative to the masculinist definition of the subject that informs liberalism/modernism. Koggel is attempting to bridge the opposition between these two conceptions. Her premise is that liberal theory has had an enormous impact on our understanding of equality and people and thus deserves the serious attention of relational theorists. She contends that applying relational insights to our particular political context of political liberalism will uncover the assumptions underlying its institutional structures and thereby expand our understanding of equality and justice. Koggel asks: what happens when we take the inherent sociality of people as the starting point for discussions of equality? Answering this question, she asserts, will radically alter theories of equality as well as the policies they produce.
The method that Koggel employs to achieve her goals is Wittgensteinian. She sets out to examine how the concept of "equality" functions in the ordinary cases in which we use it. This methodology, she asserts, will establish not only the meaning of the concept but also the centrality of standards and rules that govern its use in the community of language users. Her principal argument is that any discussion of equality presupposes standards and rules that measure difference and equality; these standards become part of the background and are hidden from view. Koggel wants to expose these standards and thereby make it possible for those without the power to establish the standards to challenge them.
In the main body of the book Koggel employs relational insights to reinterpret concepts central to equality analysis. Her scope is broad. She considers Aristotelian procedural equality, liberal formal and substantive equality, and John Rawls's original position. In the context of these analyses of liberal equality theory, Koggel develops what she calls a concept of "moral personhood": a self whose identity and self-concepts are structured in relation to others. What is entailed by this concept is revealed most clearly in Koggel's recasting of Rawls's original position. Arguing that we should retain the original position, Koggel redefines the individuals involved as empathetic rather than mutually disinterested. She argues, "We can think critically about equality and justice only when we are already embedded in social relations of particular sorts" (99). Her revised original position becomes a "dialogue among multiple people with diverse perspectives" (120).
Koggel distinguishes her concept of moral personhood from both the communitarian view and the feminist rejection of the liberal self. Although she relies heavily on Gilligan's theory, Koggel maintains that Gilligan's emphasis on care is, ultimately, inadequate, that it must be expanded to incorporate the broader perspective of all kinds of relationships. The definition of the self she advances is a self rooted in a network of relationships that approaches questions of equality and justice from this perspective. It is this self that is the basis for [End Page 164] the connection between care and justice that Koggel advances at the end of the book. Asserting that she is unwilling to jettison the language of equality, Koggel argues for "caring justice" and "just caring." She concludes the book with an examination of the policy implications of her position by looking at the issue of affirmative action. This analysis illustrates very nicely what Koggel claimed at the outset: that a relational perspective reveals the institutional structures that create inequalities, inequalities overlooked by other perspectives.
Koggel's analysis is impressive in its scope. She brings together a wide...