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Critically evaluate the contribution of feminist thinking to the study area of political philosophy, placing particular focus on the works of Iris Young, Carol Pateman, and Hobbes

Social contract theorists such as Hobbes have been very influential on political philosophy. He wrote in a time when society was dominated by men, the societal hierarchy revolved around the masculine, and women largely accepted their relegation to the role of caregiver and wife. Western political philosophy has been dominated by conceptions of unity and homogeneity. Difference has traditionally been suppressed in favour of oneness and the universal in terms of citizenship. Heterogeneity and personal desires and passions are thought to have no place in politics and the structure of human civilizations. Feminist thinking has challenged these pre-conceptions, as they have tended to make the exclusion of the female a necessary part of Western political ideologies.  Feminist writers such as Iris Young and Carole Pateman have been able to re-evaluate long-standing political concepts and their relationship to the position of women in society, suggesting reasons for why it is that they have spent history languishing outside the political sphere.  

By examining the foundations upon which political philosophy and social theory are based, feminist thinking has something practical to contribute. As Iris Young puts it, using the feminist thinking of writers such as Irigaray and Kristeva, we can produce "important results for political philosophy and practical emancipatory politics." In her view, the aim of such thinking is to "…build a vision of positively heterogeneous and sensuous public life."  By stating such aims, feminist writers like Young and Carole Pateman contribute different perspectives and different goals for political philosophy. In doing so, they awaken new questions for the study of politics and social contract theory to do with the nature of unity and diversity, gender and equality, and reason itself.

She suggests that Habermas' idea of communicative ethics, whereby reason and truth are not grasped through intuition, but worked out through discussion, is closer to a view for an inclusive political framework, although she finds that his version of it does not hold up under scrutiny, and actually implicitly reproduces the opposition between reason and desire. With a competent communicative ethics, however, women (and minorities) would be able to participate in political life, through the acceptance and understanding of individual perspectives. 'Reason' as it is needed in the political sphere, would be derived from the sum of particulars, rather than attempting to hold on to the 'illusory' impartial ideal.

The implications ideas and arguments such as these have for political philosophy is that they shift the way in which the civic public can be viewed, and broaden the theoretical possibilities for the political domain. Feminist thinking exposes the dubious logic behind the foundations and philosophies of the patriarchal political state, hitherto taken for granted as generally 'correct' or having been derived from nature and pure rationality. They refresh the question 'what is reason?' and demand that the theories underlying the structure of society be re-examined. Can our political culture remain as it is once we have looked into its ideological foundations, those of impartiality, justice and reason, and still find it sound, once we have considered the fact it has at its genesis an unjust conquest over one gender by the other? These are questions that feminist thinking has allowed political philosophy to raise. And politics itself has indeed changed under the influence of feminism and movements towards equality and against discrimination. In the twentieth century in particular, steps taken towards the emancipation of women have helped to ensure a global consciousness of the female political right, although there is still some way to go to ensure that the generally white and masculine domination of politics and indeed of philosophy and reason itself, becomes more inclusive. But as well as the marriage contract, we now have 'civil partnerships,' which have no connotations of conjugal or patriarchal right. In the last few decades, it has been accepted that a husband can be guilty of raping his wife: the conjugal right no longer exists in the laws of our state. Writers such as Young and Pateman have taken the patriarchal contract theories of old scholars such as Hobbes, and used their logic and 'reason' to demonstrate the irrational subjugation of women throughout history, and made the way for women to take on a larger role in global politics. They have brought in the serious arena of political philosophy Mary Astell's question: "If All Men are born Free, how is it that Women are born Slaves?"

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