Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Tobin, Theresa W.

Second Advisor

Urban Walker, Margaret

Third Advisor

Snow, Nancy


This dissertation examines the viability of a feminist ethic of flourishing. The possibility of a eudaimonist, or flourishing-based, ethic adapted for the needs of feminist ethics and politics has recently been raised by a number of feminist moral philosophers. However, in these discussions, the degree to which an ethic of flourishing requires a substantive conception of human nature has not been adequately addressed. Flourishing-based ethical theories appear to require a substantive account of the kind of thing whose flourishing is to be promoted, while contemporary academic feminism is characterized by a strong suspicion toward claims about human nature. Chapter one situates this problem in the current literature and reframes feminist anti-essentialist objections to nature claims. Chapter two analyzes three historically influential exemplars of the ethics of flourishing: Aristotle, Hume, and Marx. Employing the analytic categories developed in chapter two, chapters three through five assess the work of Rosalind Hursthouse, Martha Nussbaum, and Lisa Tessman for their adequacy to serve as the basis of a feminist ethic of flourishing. I argue that each has something of value to offer and yet each is problematic when it comes to how they appeal (or fail to appeal) to human nature. The central argument of this dissertation is that, properly understood, a theory of human nature can be a critical resource for a feminist ethic of flourishing. As such, feminist moral philosophers who would condemn oppression, gender-based subordination, and other injustices by appealing to an ideal of flourishing that is being denied or cut off, would benefit from greater attention to the assumptions about human nature that such theories of flourishing entail. On the view defended here, a normative conception of human nature is a necessary methodological element of a flourishing-based ethical theory that illuminates the reasons one has in support of a particular vision of flourishing. While I leave open the question of how such a conception of human nature could be objectively justified, this dissertation argues that a theory of human nature can serve as a normative resource for feminist moral criticism within a flourishing-based ethical framework.